You could practically hear the huge sigh of relief as the Steelers eked out a three-point victory over the Colts last night. It didn’t emanate only from the Steelers’ sideline or the city of Pittsburgh, but rather, the NBC TV trucks. See, Steelers-Colts once seemed like the ideal, glossy Sunday Night matchup — between two powerhouse teams who’ve represented the AFC in the Super Bowl in five of the last six seasons — but that was before Peyton Manning had neck surgery. Without him, the Colts looked inept in their first two games, and the visiting Steelers were installed as heavy double-digit favorites. NBC’s Sunday Night Football was stuck with a potential lemon, with Manning not only missing from the gridiron, but also from their Football Night in America pregame show (even though his former coach, Tony Dungy, is part of the NBC studio crew.) Bob Costas & Co. settled for the next best thing, asking Colts center Jeff Saturday if he could recognize Manning’s trusted hands on his rump. Fortunately, Indy showed some pride and Pittsburgh kept them in the game so that folks tuned in until the final seconds.
When Dan Patrick, Dungy, and former Patriot Rodney Harrison opened up Football Night in America last night, they relied on a dramatic day of results to postpone tackling the night’s meh main event. In Buffalo, Ivy Leaguer Ryan Fitzpatrick outplayed Tom Brady as the long-suffering Bills rallied against the Patriots. (“Fair Harvard! we join in thy Jubilee…”). In Philly, the Giants knocked out Michael Vick and the Eagles, and the star quarterback wondered aloud why defenses were being allowed to rough him up. “I don’t know why I don’t get the 15-yard-flags like everybody else do,” he said at the post-game presser. (I’m guessing, “Because some of the refs love their dogs” is not the answer he’s looking for.)
My favorite highlight of the day was Maurice Jones-Drew’s long run in a monsoon in Charlotte. You rarely see actual games played in these conditions, unless it’s in movies like The Last Boy Scout. Fortunately for the defensive players, Jones-Drew wasn’t packing heat.
Patrick is always right at home with the highlights, tossing in the pop-cultural asides that are his trademark. Napolean Dynamite and David Lynch’s Blue Velvet got shout-outs tonight, causing Costas to swing for the fences with a Guys & Dolls reference that most likely missed the mark. (Though I could be underestimating the NBC football audience: there was a promo for The Sing Off!)
Dungy and Harrison are the perfect pairing of old-school/new-school. An odd mix of Joe Paterno, Richard Petty, and Gandhi, Dungy gets his points across without stealing anyone else’s juice. Harrison has the gift of making conventional wisdom seem profound. For example, he’s “never been a fan of one-dimensional teams,” and the Colts have a chance if they don’t give up many “big plays.” True and truer… pretty much always. Yet I hang on his every word like he’s Vince Lombardi.