- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 2, 2002

Big news, gang: John Madden, the inimitable pro-football commentator, is joining "Monday Night Football," the 32-year-old ABC program that has been sinking in the ratings for the past seven years. Coach Madden is replacing Dan Fouts and Dennis Miller, the comedian who has not exactly become a beloved TV presence the past two years indeed, critics of all flavors have had a high old time beating up on the tart Mr. Miller. His departure, however, deserves to be marked by a few kind words.

Dennis Miller is a fellow who is easy to hammer. Supercilious is a label frequently hung on him, and arrogant is another. One indictment of Mr. Miller, however, is petty, wrong-headed and, not to put too fine a point on it, ignorant. Mr. Miller occasionally uses what sportswriters in particular consider an uptown vocabulary; he is often sniped at for "obtuse" or "obscure" references. All hands and the cook chortled after he referred to a team's futile efforts on one Monday night game as reminding him of Sisyphus, for an instance. Wow how could an oaf watching the tube grasp that?

Mr. Miller, in fact, invoked images and metaphors and historical references that, long ago, would have fit E.D. Hirsch's definition of "cultural literacy," that grasp of the common past which a faintly educated citizen would have understood instantly such as that to Sisyphus, the figure in Greek mythology condemned by the gods forever to push a rock up a hill only to have it slip back short of reaching the top. Obscure? Hardly.

Mr. Miller, categorized as a liberal, even a lefty, merits a nod of appreciation as he departs the ABC broadcasting booth, for an angry comment he made publicly nearly a decade ago. During the 1992 presidential campaign, retired Navy Adm. James Stockdale, for years tortured at the prison called the Hanoi Hilton, was H. Ross Perot's vice-presidential running mate. Adm. Stockdale, a man of courage and intellectual depth, was not terribly telegenic and was mocked unmercifully. Responding to the egregiously nasty remarks about Adm. Stockdale, Mr. Miller eloquently and forcefully excoriated those who sniggered at a genuine American hero, lecturing the louts that if they'd been through what James Stockdale had, they would not be so eager to be churlish. For that alone, Dennis Miller showed mettle and an appreciation of reality.

So good luck to John Madden and onward and upward to Dennis Miller.


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