Category: History

Impeach!

Dan O’Donnell:

Nancy Pelosi is deathly afraid of impeachment. No, it’s not because of a sudden magnanimous surge of camaraderie. It’s because she understands what her fellow Democrats do not: Impeaching President Trump would be an unmitigated disaster.

Rank-and-file Democrats clearly believe that initiating impeachment proceedings in the Democrat-controlled House would sufficiently weaken Trump ahead of the 2020 presidential election, but they need only look to the ill-fated recall of former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to realize the folly of this assumption.

In early 2012, Walker seemed like (politically speaking) a dead man walking. His opponents had secured more than 900,000 signatures on a petition to recall him following his Act 10 public sector union reforms, and opposition to them brought 100,000 protestors to the Wisconsin Capitol just a year earlier.

No governor had ever survived a recall attempt, and the most recent to face one–California’s Gray Davis in 2003–was defeated overwhelmingly.

Yet stunningly, the effort to recall Walker backfired. Just a year after 100,000 protesters showed up to oppose him, he gained 200,000 votes from his 2010 election victory over the exact same opponent.

How did this happen? How did a politician so weakened by intense opposition manage to increase his margin of victory so significantly? The answer is as simple as it is seemingly difficult for Democrats to grasp: The overwhelming unity Republicans experienced in the wake of that opposition.

In other words, the hysterical overreaction to Act 10 galvanized support for Walker from both conservatives and independents who saw the effort to remove Walker for what it was–a political power play masquerading as an appeal to morality.

Walker’s commonsense calculation that overspending on public sector union benefits was bankrupting the state might not have been shared by an overwhelming majority of Wisconsinites, but the belief that Democrats overreacted to it sure was.

Voters, quite simply, couldn’t stomach removing a governor because of a disagreement on policy. In other words, Walker had already been tried in the court of public opinion and exonerated. Democrats, on the other hand, were judged to be sore losers simply bitter over their defeat in the 2010 election and the subsequent implementation of Republican legislation.

It’s almost impossible not to see the similarities in 2019. After two years, millions of dollars, tens of thousands of pages of documents, and hundreds of witnesses, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report found no evidence that the Trump campaign engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Russia to swing the 2016 presidential election.

Trump had won it fair and square, just as Walker had six years earlier. Democrats, though, still haven’t accepted that and are still looking for something, anything that would essentially undo the results. It is impossible to see an impeachment movement through any other lens.

Pelosi understands this, and is trying desperately to tamp down her party’s rabid push for it. She recognizes that national Democrats face the same uphill battle that Wisconsin Democrats did in 2012 of convincing the voting public that policy and/or personal differences can justify removal from office.

Republicans learned their lesson 20 years ago, when their effort to impeach President Bill Clinton resulted in his public opinion polling hitting the highest point it did during his presidency at 73 percent. Did voters decide that they liked Clinton a lot better once it was revealed that he was a lying adulterer? Of course not. They decided that he was the victim of a Republican witch hunt.

Why do Democrats think that President Trump would fare any differently? He has been claiming for years that the investigations into him were politically motivated, and in drafting Articles of Impeachment against him, Democrats would prove him right.

For years, he has claimed that the national media was out to get him. In fanning the flames of impeachment and overtly pushing for it, they are and have been proving him right for months

Politics is, at its core, making one’s opponent as unsympathetic and unlikable as possible. President Trump is beloved by his supporters, sure, but is loathed by millions. Turning him into a victim by impeaching him with no rational grounds, would turn him–like Clinton and Walker before him–into a sympathetic and therefore far more likable figure.

Not only would he survive a Senate trial since the requisite two-thirds vote to convict is an all-but-impossible standard, but he would also likely win re-election next year in a landslide on a message that amounts to little more than “Make Democrats Sane Again.”

Pelosi, therefore, has ample reason to fear impeachment, as it would solidify conservative support for a President already backed by a record-high number of Republicans and convince fair-minded Democrat-leaning voters that the opposition to Trump simply hasn’t gotten over its 2016 loss.

This is a recipe for disaster in 2020–a suddenly sympathetic president presiding over a roaring economy facing an opponent whose message amounts to little more than “Don’t you hate this guy as much as I do?”

Nancy Pelosi sees it. Here’s hoping the rest of her party doesn’t.

A different pro-impeachment argument came from Gene Healy two years ago:

What’s really obscene is America’s record on presidential impeachments. We’ve made only three serious attempts in our entire constitutional history: Andrew Johnson in 1868, Bill Clinton in 1998—both of whom were impeached but escaped removal—and Richard Nixon, who quit in 1974 before the House could vote on the issue. Given how many bastards and clowns we’ve been saddled with over the years, shouldn’t we manage the feat more than once a century?

A ‘National Inquest Into the Conduct of Public Men’

Impeachments “will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties,” Alexander Hamilton predicted in the Federalist. That’s how it played out during our last national debate on the subject, during the Monica Lewinsky imbroglio of the late ’90s.

The specter of Bill Clinton’s removal from office for perjury and obstruction of justice drove legal academia to new heights of creativity. Scads of concerned law professors strained to come up with a definition of “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” narrow enough to let Bill slide. In a letter delivered to Congress as the impeachment debate began, over 430 of them warned that unless the House of Representatives wanted to “dangerously weaken the office of the presidency for the foreseeable future” (heaven forfend), the standard had to be “grossly heinous criminality or grossly derelict misuse of official power.”

Some of the academy’s leading lights, not previously known for devotion to original intent, proved themselves stricter than the strict constructionists and a good deal more original than the originalists. The impeachment remedy was so narrow, Cass Sunstein insisted, that if the president were to up and “murder someone simply because he does not like him,” it would make for a “hard case.” Quite so, echoed con-law superprof Laurence Tribe: An impeachable offense had to be “a grievous abuse of official power,” something that “severely threaten[s] the system of government.”

Just killing someone for sport might not count—after all, Tribe pointed out, when Vice President Aaron Burr left a gutshot Alexander Hamilton dying in Weehawken after their July 1804 duel, he got to serve the remaining months of his term without getting impeached. Still, Tribe generously allowed, in the modern era “there may well be room to argue” that a murdering president could be removed without grave damage to the Constitution.

In the unlikely event that Donald Trump orders one of his private bodyguards to whack Alec Baldwin, it’s a relief to know that Laurence Tribe will entertain the argument for impeachment. But does constitutional fidelity really require us to put up with anything short of “grievous,” “heinous,” existential threats to the body politic?

The Framers borrowed the mechanism from British practice, and there it wasn’t nearly so narrow. The first time the phrase appeared, apparently, was in the 1386 impeachment of the Earl of Suffolk, charged with misuse of public funds and negligence in “improvement of the realm.” The Nixon-era House Judiciary Committee staff report Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment described the English precedents as including “misapplication of funds, abuse of official power, neglect of duty, encroachment on Parliament’s prerogatives, [and] corruption and betrayal of trust.”

As Hamilton explained in the Federalist, “the true spirit of the institution” was “a method of national inquest into the conduct of public men,” the sort of inquiry that could “never be tied down by such strict rules…as in common cases serve to limit the discretion of courts.”

Among those testifying beside Sunstein and Tribe in 1998 was Northwestern’s John O. McGinnis, a genuine originalist, who argued that the Constitution’s impeachment provisions should be viewed in terms of the problem they were designed to address: “how to end the tenure of an officer whose conduct has seriously undermined his fitness for continued service and thus poses an unacceptable risk of injury to the republic.”

Contra Tribe, who’d compared impeachment to “capital punishment,” McGinnis pointed out that the constitutional penalties for unfitness—removal and possible disqualification from future office holding—went “just far enough,” and no further than necessary, “to remove the threat posed.” In light of the structure and purpose of impeachment, he argued, “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” should be understood, in modern lay language, roughly as “objective misconduct that seriously undermines the official’s fitness for office…measured by the risks, both practical and symbolic, that the officer poses to the republic.”

Today, even the president’s political enemies tend to set the bar far higher. Donald Trump has acted in a way that is “strategically incoherent,” “incompetent,” and “reckless,” Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi said in February, but “that is not grounds for impeachment.”

But incoherence, incompetence, and recklessness are evidence of unfitness, and when we’re talking about the nation’s most powerful office they can be as damaging as actual malice. It would be a pretty lousy constitutional architecture that only provided the means for ejecting the president if he’s a crook or a vegetable, but left us to muddle through anything in between.

Luckily, Pelosi is wrong: There is no constitutional barrier to impeaching a president who demonstrates gross incompetence or behavior that makes reasonable people worry about his proximity to nuclear weapons.

Impeachable Ineptitude

When Barack Obama was president, Trump once asked, “Are you allowed to impeach a president for gross incompetence?” Earlier this year, Daily Show viewers found that tweet funny enough to merit the “Greatest Trump Tweet of All Time” award. Still, it’s a valid question.

The conventional wisdom says no, largely on the basis of a snippet of legislative history from the Constitutional Convention. As James Madison’s notes recount, when Virginia’s George Mason moved to add “maladministration” to the Constitution’s impeachable offenses, Madison objected: “So vague a term will be equivalent to a tenure during pleasure of the Senate.” Mason yielded, substituting “other high crimes & misdemeanors.”

But the Convention debates were held in secret, and Madison’s notes weren’t published until half a century later. Furthermore, the language Mason substituted was understood from British practice to incorporate “maladministration.” Nor did Madison himself believe mismanagement and incompetence to be clearly off-limits, having described impeachment as the necessary remedy for “the incapacity, negligence, or perfidy of the chief Magistrate.” …

As the Comey story emerged, pundits and lawbloggers debated whether, on the known facts, the president’s behavior would support a federal felony charge for obstruction of justice. But that’s the wrong standard. As the Nixon Impeachment Inquiry staff report pointed out: “the purpose of impeachment is not personal punishment. Its purpose is primarily to maintain constitutional government.” Even if, to borrow a phrase from Comey, “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring a charge of obstruction on these facts, the House is free to look at the president’s entire course of conduct and decide whether it reveals unfitness justifying impeachment.

A Rhetorical Question?

The Nixon report identified three categories of misconduct held to be impeachable offenses in American constitutional history: “exceeding the constitutional bounds” of the office’s powers, using the office for “personal gain,” and, most important here, “behaving in a manner grossly incompatible with the proper function and purpose of the office.”

When Trump does something to spark cries of “this is not normal,” the behavior in question often involves his Twitter feed. The first calls to impeach Trump over a tweet came up in March, when the president charged, apparently without evidence, that Obama had his “wires tapped” in Trump Tower.

The tweet was an “abuse of power,” “harmful to democracy,” and potentially impeachable, Harvard Law’s Noah Feldman proclaimed: “He’s threatening somebody with the possibility of prosecution.” Laurence Tribe, of all people, agreed. Murder may have been a hard case, but slander? Easy call. Trump’s charge qualified “as an impeachable offense whether via tweet or not.”

I confess it wasn’t the utterly speculative threat to Barack Obama that disturbed me about Trump’s Twitter feed that day in March; it was that a mere two hours after lobbing that grenade, Trump turned to razzing Arnold Schwarzenegger for his “pathetic” ratings as host of Celebrity Apprentice. The Watergate tapes exposed much more than a simple abuse of power. They revealed a fragile, petty, paranoid personality of the sort you’d be loath to entrust with the vast authority of the presidency. And Nixon didn’t imagine that the whole world would be listening. Trump’s Twitter feed is like having the Nixon tapes running in real time over social media, with the president desperate for an even bigger audience.

As it happens, there’s precedent for impeaching a president for bizarre behavior and “conduct unbecoming” in his public communications. The impeachment of Andrew Johnson gets a bad rap, in part because most of the charges against him really were bogus. The bulk of the articles of impeachment rested on Johnson’s violation of the Tenure of Office Act, a measure of dubious constitutionality that barred the president from removing Cabinet officers without Senate approval.

But the 10th article of impeachment against Johnson, based on different grounds, has gotten less coverage. It charged the president with “a high misdemeanor in office” based on a series of “intemperate, inflammatory, and scandalous harangues” against Congress. In a series of speeches in the summer of 1866, Johnson had accused Congress of, among other things, “undertak[ing] to poison the minds of the American people” and having “substantially planned” a race riot in New Orleans that July. Such remarks, according to Article X, were “peculiarly indecent and unbecoming in the Chief Magistrate” and brought his office “into contempt, ridicule and disgrace.”

‘Peculiar Indecencies’

From a 21st century vantage point, the idea of impeaching the president for insulting Congress seems odd, to say the least. But as Jeffrey Tulis explained in his seminal work The Rhetorical Presidency, “Johnson’s popular rhetoric violated virtually all of the nineteenth-century norms” surrounding presidential oratory. Johnson stood “as the stark exception to general practice in that century, so demagogic in his appeals to the people” that he resembled “a parody of popular leadership.” The charge, approved by the House but not voted on in the Senate, was controversial at the time, but besides skepticism about whether it reached the level of a high misdemeanor, “the only other argument offered by congressmen in Johnson’s defense was that he was not drunk when giving the speeches.”

It’s impressive that Trump—a teetotaler—manages to pull off his “peculiar indecencies” while stone cold sober. Since his election, Trump has used Twitter to rail against restaurant reviews, Saturday Night Live skits, “so-called judges,” and America’s nuclear-armed rivals. The month before his inauguration, apropos of nothing, Trump announced via the social network that the U.S. “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability,” following up the next day on Morning Joe with “we will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

As Charles Fried, Reagan’s solicitor general, observed, “there are no lines for him…no notion of, this is inappropriate, this is indecent, this is unpresidential.” If the standard is “unacceptable risk of injury to the republic,” such behavior just may be impeachable. An impeachment on those grounds wouldn’t just remove a bad president from office; it would set a precedent that might keep future leaders in line.

Let’s sum up — Democrats most likely have the votes to impeach Trump, but not enough Senate votes to convict him. Impeaching Trump will anger Republicans to get them to show up at the polls next year. Impeaching Trump might make future presidents think twice about their bad conduct (too bad that can’t be retroactive in Obama’s case) and reduce the power of the presidency. Looks like a win–win–win–win to me.

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50 years ago on an NBC station near you

Readers know that I have bemoaned the lack of quality movie and TV depiction of journalists.

It turns out that 50 TV seasons ago, there was a quality depiction of journalists, though realism, as with most fictional entertainments, was not its forte.

Michael Callahan explains:

Fifty years ago, TV had mostly one flavor, and it was vanilla. In fall 1968, the airwaves were full of blandly loopy family-friendly fare like The Andy Griffith ShowGomer Pyle and Petticoat Junction. But on Friday nights on NBC, slipped between a Bonanza-clone Western called The High Chaparral and the troubled third season of Star Trek, there was an unusual little series that, even more than Gene Roddenberry’s show, seemed to be beamed in from the future.

The Name of the Game was a 90-minute cable-style adult drama that came on the air decades before anybody had heard of cable TV. Centered on the glamorous Howard Publications magazine empire and the adventures of its various writers and editors — played by Tony Franciosa, Gene Barry and Robert Stack, with Susan Saint James as their frequently kidnapped secretary — it drilled down into the inner workings of a media company a half-century before HBO got around to doing it with Succession. With a Game of Thrones-size budget ($400,000 an episode, the largest of its day) and a roster of soon-to-be-famous behind-the-camera talent — including a just-out-of-college story editor named Steven Bochco and a 23-year-old neophyte director named Steven Spielberg, along with directors Marvin Chomsky (cousin of Noam) and Leo Penn (father of Sean) — it opened up a world of glamour and luxury that TV mostly wouldn’t explore until Dallas and Dynasty. Even the name of the magazine the characters worked for was prescient: It was called People, six years before Time Inc. launched the real publication (“The dumbest title I have ever heard of,” cracked Fanciosa when he read the script).

“It was flat-out entertaining melodrama,” says Sid Sheinberg, then the maverick Universal exec overseeing the show (he would later become the studio’s president). “I actually looked forward to it every week. I would go home and sit on the floor and watch it every Friday night.”

As it happened, though, The Name of the Game was as melodramatic offscreen as it was on-. And after a tumultuous three-year run, the show exploded in a spectacular flameout during an episode shot in, of all places, Las Vegas.

The series’ three leading men rarely overlapped on one another’s episodes; in fact, Stack and Franciosa never appeared on the other’s at all. As Jeff Dillon, Franciosa was a lady-killing rulebreaker who’d grown up in East Harlem, spoke fluent Italian and, when he wasn’t flaunting a breezy insouciance, surfed and drank vermouth cassis.

Universal cast Gene Barry as imperious publisher Glenn Howard, a World War II veteran whose position atop his hard-built empire was epitomized by a sumptuous office with a private elevator and a Roman bath.

Robert Stack, by then famous for his portrayal of Eliot Ness on The Untouchables, channeled that same stentorian sobriety into Dan Farrell, the senior editor of Crime magazine and a former FBI agent whose wife had been murdered when a meeting with an informant went horribly wrong.

Tying the trio together was Saint James’ Peggy, a husky-voiced Seven Sisters-educated research assistant who typed 60 words a minute.

Never a huge hit, The Name of the Game failed to rank among the top 30 programs in any season. But its neoteric story arcs, groovy opening credits graphics and space-age bossa nova theme song (by Dave Grusin) helped NBC break out as the network of bold, innovative and comparatively highbrow programming. Its leading characters drove snazzy convertibles (Stack’s even had a car phone), bribed sources and upended the primrose publishing world of 1959’s The Best of Everything, the soapy tale of career girls taking Manhattan, turning it into a muscular boys’ club overflowing with cocktails, intrigue and penthouse sex. “Universal had sold NBC on the concept that Name of the Game was not going to be television, it was going to be movies. It was a pretty big sales job,” says Dean Hargrove, who produced Barry’s episodes. “And when it came down to it, it was pretty high-gloss television.”

The segments quickly took on each star’s personality. Stack’s law-and-order stories tended to stagger under the weight of his bellicose speeches. “Candidly, I thought Bob Stack’s episodes were the dullest of the three,” the late Bochco, who served as Stack’s story editor for two seasons, recalled, “because it was the dullest premise.” Adds Ed Asner, who appeared on the show, “He was not impressive as an actor at all. He was too stiff.”

Barry’s episodes tilted to the cerebral, and pivoted on international subterfuge and the misdeeds of the powerful. But the plots often took second billing to the star’s innumerable costume changes. “Gene was very interested in his wardrobe — perhaps more interested in it than he was in the scripts,” says Hargrove with a laugh. Bochco concurred, “What everybody used to say was, ‘If Gene has a problem, just get him a new blazer.’”

It was Franciosa’s character, prowling like a jungle cat amid a rogues’ gallery of loonies and wicked women, who gave The Name of the Game its snap, crackle and style. “[His shows] were more entertaining, more fun,” says Peter Saphier, a production coordinator who would later co-produce Al Pacino’s 1983 remake of Scarface. “There was more of a theatricality about them that played into what we were trying to do with the series.”

The mood on the three actors’ sets vacillated just as wildly. Stack, who reveled in his film-star bearing, showed up prepared and on time and played poker during breaks. He had a disarmingly wry wit but was slightly aloof and eminently unknowable. “I would look into his face,” says Ben Murphy, who played reporter Joe Sample, part of a trio of square-jawed, rheumy-eyed pretty boys brought aboard to inject some beefcake into the Stack and Barry sequences. “As an actor you do that, play off of someone’s expressions, emotions. And I remember looking at him and thinking, ‘This guy is not going to give me anything to work with.’”

The vibe on the Barry set was far more rococo, as if the star were appearing on Masterpiece Theatre. Saint James was instructed not to speak to him off camera; Dick Blair, Barry’s makeup artist, recalls the star regaling him about one episode filmed in London. “’Oh, they were so wonderful to me,’” Barry told him. “’They met me in a Rolls Royce — and the car had my initials on the license plates!’” Blair howls at the memory. “That was because [the letters] stood for ‘Great Britain.”

“I think he’d had so much smoke blown up his ass by this time he thought he was a demigod,” adds Cliff Potts, who played reporter Andy Hill. During one taping, Barry remarked to him, “I have a great idea: I think you should call me ‘Chief.’” Says Potts, “I think he meant on the show, but I wasn’t sure.”

By contrast, the Franciosa set was a roller coaster that rose and fell on its star’s notorious temper. He was forever micromanaging the props, lighting and camera angles. He occasionally disappeared for long stretches. He struggled to memorize lines. And he burned through producers. One of them, Leslie Stevens, told TV Guide, “Tony likes to be able to change the script. He likes to come in a half-hour late. He comes in knowing the lines but not ‘feeling’ it right. He is dedicated to The Tony Franciosa Performance. It is to his credit, but the physical drain leads to psychosomatic complaints.”

“To get the producers of the Tony Franciosa episodes, you’d need a group photograph,” says Hargrove. “He didn’t get along with very many people.”

At one point, Saint James approached Hargrove. “I was talking to Tony,” she said. “He saw one of [Barry’s] episodes and said, ‘Can we get him to come in and produce the show?’”

Hargrove went cold. “Whatever you do,” he told her, “tell him, ‘No.’”

There was a method to the Franciosa madness. His episodes were the highest rated and, by far, the best written and acted of the series. “It wasn’t just a job to Tony,” says Carla Borelli, who guest-starred a few times. “It was art.”

Despite the offscreen histrionics, The Name of the Game became appointment television for the younger, affluent demographic that advertisers craved. In its second season, it was nominated for an Emmy for best drama.

And then Tony Franciosa went to Vegas.

The episode was titled “I Love You, Billy Baker.” It revolved around a soul singer secretly tortured by his culpability in the death of a young woman years earlier. Planned as a 10-day shoot at Caesars Palace in summer 1970, it was a spectacle with a particularly dazzling array of guest stars, even by Name of the Game standards: Peter Lawford, Ray Charles, Redd Foxx, Ike and Tina Turner — with Xavier Cugat and Charo to boot. Billy Baker was played by none other than Sammy Davis Jr., wearing an odd Julius Caesar wig and enough groovy fringe to costume a Western.

Franciosa had only completed one episode of season three, and a lot was riding on the high-cost Vegas excursion. The executives in Universal’s notorious Black Tower, located on the studio’s sprawling lot smack in the middle of Hollywood, were nervous. They had reason to be.

For years, Franciosa’s mood swings and fickle behavior had rattled a string of publicists. There were volatile marriages to Shelley Winters and Judy Kanter, the daughter of Paramount Pictures CEO Barney Balaban. There was the time Franciosa belted an L.A. news photographer. And, once the show was in full swing, there was an incident in which Franciosa chased producer Dick Irving around the set with a two-by-four. During one scene, Franciosa deliberately kept darting into the path of guest star Darren McGavin and, after several frustrating takes, McGavin finally knocked Franciosa out of the way. “We used the shot,” Sid Sheinberg says dryly.

On another occasion, Franciosa threw a tantrum and stalked back to his trailer, phoning the unit manager to say he wouldn’t come out until he saw his psychiatrist. The doctor arrived and disappeared into Franciosa’s dressing room, finally emerging to announce the star would return to work after lunch. Perplexed, the unit manager asked what the problem was.

“His problem?” the psychiatrist asked. “He’s crazy, that’s what his problem is.”

For Norman Lloyd, the stage and film actor who produced four Franciosa episodes, the end had come a year before, during production of a gothic tale about a lost Shakespeare manuscript, a sort-of homage to Jane Eyre. (Peggy was, unsurprisingly, kidnapped.) At one point, Franciosa blithely announced he was going to perform a monologue from Henry V during the show.

A furious screaming match ensued between Franciosa and Lloyd, with the latter finally storming off the set. “I was on my way back to the office,” says Lloyd, today a hale 103, “and thinking, ‘I have to get out of this, this is ridiculous.’ This guy wants to do Shakespeare, and he can’t speak English properly.”

In the end, director Leo Penn agreed to film the Henry V bit — then edited it out. But Lloyd, who would go on to play Dr. Daniel Auschlander on the ’80s medical drama St. Elsewhere, broke his contract with Universal rather than endure the madhouse that the Franciosa set had become. “I don’t think it was any secret that he was on something,” he says.

By the time filming of “Billy Baker” commenced, gossip about Franciosa’s drug use was commonplace. Worried, Sheinberg assigned a staffer to tail him. “It’s one thing if you send a script to an actor on Thursday and start shooting on Monday and the actor turns to you and says, ‘It’s a piece of shit and I am not doing this,’” he says. “It’s quite another if you can’t find the actor.”

Rita Thiel, a German fashion model who was by then seriously involved with Franciosa and would become his fourth wife, accompanied him to Vegas. There, she often overheard the crew joking about his habit. “There would be all of this gossip going on: ‘Oh, you know, he’s probably going in his trailer to take something,'” she remembers. “That really hurt me.”

She admits that Franciosa went through a period where he was coping with what she calls “his demons,” but insists there were many days when shooting went fine. Sammy Davis Jr. gave impromptu concerts in his palatial suite; Franciosa arranged for Rita to meet Elvis Presely. She contends that Franciosa’s erratic behavior in Vegas wasn’t the result of drugs but rather a tactical effort by the star to get himself fired. “It was the third season,” she says, “and I think he already had so much hostility from people not having his back, especially friends, people he used to hang out with.”

Things quickly disintegrated. Franciosa became paranoid, believing that he was being shot in an unflattering manner; one day, he insisted on filming a scene in which he swims in the hotel pool in the rain, then comes out, sits by the edge in the lotus position and simply grins silently for a full minute. Director Barry Shear did his best to mollify his star, often to little avail. “They gave in a lot,” says Saint James, who remained agog at Franciosa’s talent, even as she watched him unravel. “And when you’re in a scene, and you’re doing 15 takes, and the one that the other actor finally gets right is not anything close to your best, and it’s after midnight …” She trails off. “What face do you put on after take three, after five, after eight?”

“Tony got into some fit and punched someone,” remembers Carla Borelli, who also co-starred on the episode. “It was quite a scandal.” Before filming concluded, Franciosa was fired.

“They love you, love you, love you,” says Saint James. “They’ll break their backs for you. And it’s, ‘Yes, sir,’ ‘Yes sir,’ and then they’re, like, ‘We’re done.’ And then you might as well be dead.”

The remainder of “Billy Baker” was scotch-taped together with body doubles, solo scenes of Saint James and heavy padding with Vegas acts shown in their entirety: a staggering 13 musical numbers and three comedy monologues. To top it off, there was that scene of Franciosa swimming in the rain. NBC, desperate to stretch out Franciosa’s appearances, ran the episode in two parts — three hours in all. But even though he would continue to show up in the opening credits, Franciosa never filmed another scene. And without its No. 1 attraction, the series began to limp toward cancellation. It was Game over.

Franciosa’s remaining episodes were filled by guest actors such as Robert Culp and Robert Wagner, their characters Dillon in everything but name and swagger. “They didn’t rewrite,” Saint James says. “They were just waiting for Tony to come back.” Only he didn’t.

As it was, the third season had already gotten off to a rocky start: The Nixon administration had ordered every TV series to produce an anti-drug episode, resulting in arguably the series’ worst program ever, a feckless Stack story about a group of recovering teenage addicts. It was Bochco’s first solo TV writing credit. Writer Phil DeGuere called him after the second commercial break and said, “This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”

Realizing the curtain was coming down, Hargrove took some risks. In one episode, a Mamas and Papas-type Greek chorus sings spooky tunes in between scenes; in another, flashbacks show Barry as an Old West gunslinger wrongly judged by history.

But it was with an episode titled “L.A. 2017” that The Name of the Game may have made its most lasting mark.

Spielberg was a wunderkind who’d just directed Joan Crawford in a gripping installment of the Rod Serling anthology Night Gallery. Sheinberg wanted Spielberg to direct “2017,” but got pushback from Dick Irving, who he says “acted like I had suggested Adolph Hitler. And I said, ‘What the hell is this? Do you think I get a commission on Spielberg or something? I am responsible for Universal. I wouldn’t suggest somebody I didn’t think was a good idea.’” After Crawford called Universal chief Lew Wasserman to personally lobby for the young director, Spielberg was hired.

The script, by Philip Wylie, centered on Glenn Howard waking from a car accident to find himself transported into a postapocalyptic Los Angeles. The episode’s dark edge and creative pedigree became Name of the Game lore. That particular show, Spielberg remembers, “appealed to me because it was a cautionary tale about a future United States, no longer a country but now a corporation. But I was ambitious with it and got in trouble with the executive producers for going into overtime, incurring many meal penalties.”

The Name of the Game’s final episode aired March 19, 1971. Stack would later insist that the banning of TV cigarette advertising, in 1970, had killed the show — and that it might have stood a chance if only he’d been allowed to star solo. “There arrives after a certain amount of time a matter of ego and identification,” he said in 1975. “It’s my show. I work so hard; therefore I want the credit, or I want the blame. I don’t want to be lumped into a package with two other guys.” He would find a new generation of fans as the booming narrator of NBC’s Unsolved Mysteries; Barry also reinvented himself, playing on Broadway in La Cage Aux Folles. (Stack died in 2003; Barry in 2009.) Saint James went on to co-star as Rock Hudson’s meddlesome spouse on McMillan and Wife, where once again she was kidnapped regularly.

As for Franciosa, Rita says that after leaving the show he detoxed alone, “just locked himself in a room, and just got rid of it all” — a Method actor to the end.

Franciosa would star in two short-lived ABC series. He suffered a heart attack in the living room of his rustic Brentwood cabin in 2006 and died shortly thereafter.

“Funny enough, I think he was quite proud of [the series],” says Rita, today still a wispy, ravishing brunette. “He wished it would have been different, whatever his issues were. But I think he liked it very much.”

Today, The Name of the Game is television’s Atlantis. It is a program that virtually no one has viewed since the Nixon administration. And most of its real-world traces have simply vanished. All, that is, except one.

Spielberg’s most enduring memory of the program revolves around a particular doomsday scene. “We shot the Los Angeles River,” he says, “and in futuristic font painted serial numbers above a sluice gate that has just enough room underneath it to allow our futuristic car to make its entrance. Weirdly, that gate is still visible from my office window on the Universal Studios lot. It has survived 41 years of erosion and flood-stage conditions.”

If only The Name of the Game — a cosmopolitan and cocky series ahead of its time — had, too.

Thanks to YouTube, “Name” episodes are available, though of poor video quality.

The magazine setting allows for more investigative kinds of stories, which bails out the fact that there is not a whole lot of journalism depicted. (As ever.) The episodes I’ve seen so far include a couple of editorial meetings, and Franciosa, Stack and a couple of lesser characters do some interviewing. Saint James does, or is told to do, a lot of research. And it’s all very high-end and glamorous, including a couple of conversations between CEO Barry and reporter Franciosa about the latter’s expense-account spending.

I doubt “The Name of the Game” prompted anyone to go into journalism, but it was entertaining in a slightly offbeat way. As I’ve written here before, the reason there are few good journalism movies or TV shows is that the process of journalism is boring to watch.

 

The (Green) New Deal wasn’t (and isn’t)

Jonah Goldberg:

In his piece “There Is No Green New Deal,” Charlie writes:

What Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has thrust upon our national conversation is not, in any sense, a “Green New Deal.” It does not resemble a Green New Deal. It does not approximate a Green New Deal. It does not so much as represent the shadows or the framework or the embryo of a Green New Deal. It is, instead, the inchoate shopping list of a political novice who has managed to get herself elected to Congress and believes that this has turned her into a visionary.

I agree with that, but it’s worth reminding folks that there was never any single coherent thing called “the New Deal.” From the beginning, FDR was clear that he was winging it. At Oglethorpe University, he famously set the tone for what they were up to: “bold, persistent experimentation.” He added, “It is common sense to take a method and try it; if it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”

Roosevelt fans on the left — and of late on the right — have lionized FDR’s “pragmatism” ever since. But this is a terrible credo for a nation committed to the idea that we live under the rule of law, not of men. Some avenues are supposed to be closed off from “experimentation.” Let’s try getting rid of the Bill of Rights for a bit and see if we can’t get great things done! Let’s be — as Tom Friedman puts it — “China for a Day.” Implicit in the idea of experimentation from Washington is the idea that planners should not be constrained. Implicit in the idea of a constitutional republic is that they should be. As we put it in our editorial on the Green New Deal, “The Left really has only one idea: control” — and that is the idea implicit in New Deal–style “experimentation.”

But there’s something else implicit in the idea of such experimentation: a total lack of policy coherence.

The New Deal cargo-cultists have a vexing habit of pointing at the things they like or liked about the New Deal and saying, “That’s the New Deal.” So they like Social Security but are silent — usually from ignorance — about the policies that caused blacks to protest the NRA (National Recovery Administration) as the “Negro Run Around” and “Negroes Ruined Again.” They like all the government makework for artists and writers but don’t talk about the little things, like Jacob Maged or the scuttling of the London Economic Conference, that helped deepen the Depression.

The simple fact, as I argued here, is there was no single New Deal (which is one reason why historians talk about the second New Deal, which produced most of the stuff people associate with the good New Deal). It was the steady pursuit of control and constantly updated wish lists. As FDR told Congress in 1936:

We have built up new instruments of public power. In the hands of a people’s government this power is wholesome and proper. But in the hands of political puppets of an economic autocracy such power would provide shackles for the liberties of the people.

In other words, so long as we have the power, whatever we want to do is “wholesome and proper.” But if our political opponents get power, look out!

“I want to assure you,” FDR’s aide Harry Hopkins told an audience of New Deal activists in New York, “that we are not afraid of exploring anything within the law, and we have a lawyer who will declare anything you want to do legal.”

The New Deal wasn’t a program, it was the by-product of ad hoc experimentation by people who thought their own power was self-justifying. And to look back on it as somehow more coherent than the would-be Green New Deal is to give it too much credit.

“To look upon these programs as the result of a unified plan,” wrote Raymond Moley, FDR’s right-hand man during much of his rule, “was to believe that the accumulation of stuffed snakes, baseball pictures, school flags, old tennis shoes, carpenter’s tools, geometry books, and chemistry sets in a boy’s bedroom could have been put there by an interior decorator.” When Alvin Hansen, an influential economic adviser to the president, was asked — in 1940 — whether “the basic principle of the New Deal” was “economically sound,” he responded, “I really do not know what the basic principle of the New Deal is.”

It was control. And wish lists. And it was ever thus.

The old neighborhoods

I have written here about the Far East Side of Madison, where I grew up. (Including what could have been, but wasn’t, the neighborhood high school.)

The Facebook Historic Madison group discovered two newspaper ads. First, chronolotgically speaking, from 1961:

1961 New Acewood

Quoting from myself (actually another blog):

The first subdivision in the area south of Cottage Grove Road east of U. S. 51 was Harry Vogts’ Acewood from 1959. By 1962 many small, medium, and large builders and developers were active in the area; two of the larger were Towne Realty of Milwaukee that used Findorff, a Madison company, to build its houses, and the Lucey Realty Service owned by Patrick J. Lucey who was governor of Wisconsin from 1971 to 1977.

Many streets are named for local residents: Steinhauer Trail, Starker Avenue, Vinje Court, and Droster Road. Several are for builders; Montgomery Drive is for William C. Montgomery. First names are common as in Bonnie Lane, Ellen Avenue, Wendy Lane,and Melinda Drive. Female names greatly outnumber male names. Painted Post Road is from Lucey’s Painted Post Subdivision. Bird streets are Meadowlark Drive, Sandpiper Lane, Pelican Circle, and Tern Court. …

One major street, Acewood Boulevard, began about 1959 in Harry Vogts’ Acewood subdivision. Vogts (1908-1994) owned Ace Builders, Inc., and had already named one subdivision in Glendale Aceview.

New Acewood (which one assumes was phase 2 of Acewood) was the neighborhood to which we moved in 1966, five years after this ad. All the houses I rememberhad one-car garages, which worked fine for my parents at the time since they had only one car.

But while my parents were situating in their new-to-them house, to the east was …

1964 Heritage Heights

By 1958 when large scale suburban development began in the area east of U. S. 51, south of Milwaukee Street, and north of Cottage Grove Road, developers such as Aaron Elkind, Donald Sanford, and Albert McGinnis knew a lot about selling houses to middle income clients.

They made certain that subdivisions named Kingston-Onyx, Rolling Meadows, and Heritage Heights promised pleasant surroundings. Streets with names such as Diamond, Turquoise, and Crystal sparkled with the promise of a high-quality product in a landscape filled with singing birds on streets named Chickadee Court, Bob-o-link Lane, and Meadowlark Drive.

Heritage Heights suggested merry England with Kingsbridge Road, Queensbridge Road, and Knightsbridge Road.

As I’ve written before, this was the neighborhood that was probably as suburban as you could get while still beingwithin the Madison city .limits. Thanks to the lakes and surface streets not really designed for the traffic they ended up getting, getting downtown or to the UW campus took more time than the crow needed to fly. Other than three hellish years at Schenk Middle School (which may have been the fault of the students more than anything else), life seemed pretty safe to the point of dullness in Heritage Heights, which makes you think of …

… the unofficial theme song of our ’80s neighborhood.

As long as we’re running the wayback machine, we should bring up this Facebook gem:

kelly's

Before McDonald’s became ubiquitous, and well before anyone in the Culver family thought of dumping A&W and going off on their own, there was Kelly’s, which as you’ll note from the menu was kind of McDonald’s without golden arches but with the dancing Pickle Pete.

The slightly odd thing here is that the listed menu does not include hot dogs. I know that Kelly’s had hot dogs, because for some reason I wouldn’t eat hamburgers until sometime in grade school.

WISC-TV remembered Kelly’s and another burger place:

P-P-Pickle P-P-Pete!!!

Once upon a time, Kelly’s Hamburgers was a national chain that competed with the likes of McDonald’s. Madison had several Kelly’s locations around town, but locally, the restaurants are best remembered for their iconic mascot—a smiling dill pickle slice with a stutter, called Pickle Pete. He appeared in newspaper ads and radio jingles in the ’60s and ’70s and, as best as we know, Pickle Pete was unique to the Madison market. …

A Night at the Drive-In

For east-siders, few places from the mid-20th century are more fondly remembered than the Monona Root Beer Drive-In across from Olbrich Park. Famed for its curly fries made by hand, the drive-in was best known by the nickname the “Hungry Hungry” because of the large neon sign that flashed the word “hungry.” Some Madisonians even recall seeing the sign across Lake Monona from downtown. This photo belongs to former drive-in owner Tim Femrite, who worked there in the ’50s as a teenager. “I started there humping cars—that means waiting on them,” Femrite says. “I cut buns, peeled onions, pattied hamburgers. It was hot in the summertime, but it was fun.”

60 years ago today

David J. Halberstam:

Sixty years ago today, the NFL Championship Game earned an immediate and exalted label; The Greatest game ever played. In the league’s first ever overtime, the Baltimore Colts defeated the New York Giants, 23-17.

Nothing since, not a great Super Bowl or a post season cliffhanger, dulled the title game’s luster or knocked it from its top all-time billing. The Yankee Stadium matchup has since been the subject of many featured articles, multiple books and even an ESPN documentary; all about this one single epochal contest.

Deservedly so, many say, because the December 28th 1958 classic launched the NFL into high gear; eventually doing the unthinkable, surpassing baseball as the national pastime. What followed were billions in both sponsorships and television contracts and millions for Super Bowl spots and executive salaries.  To appreciate the exponential growth, superstar quarterback Johnny Unitas was paid only $17,500 and most players then made no more than $10,000.

After years of half-empty stadiums, 64,185 crammed into the big ballpark in the Bronx to watch the showdown. The public had been generally indifferent toward pro football until that day. The New York Times sports columnist Arthur Dailey called the title game, “One for the books…. an unforgettable episode crammed to the gunwales.”

There is no video recording of the NBC Network telecast. ESPN’s documentary was pieced together by NFL Films which did what it could with grainy clips. Viewers on YouTube today can watch the video which is matched nicely against the only full audio that survived; the NBC Radio broadcast done by Bill McColgan and Joe Boland.

What’s particularly striking, when looking back through an historical lens, is that the game earned unrivaled distinction despite the fact that the telecast was blacked out in New York City and that the Big Apple was limited informationally in the weeks leading up to the NFL championship. A newspaper strike in New York dragged from December 12th through December 28th, the day of the game.

Times were different too. The relationship between the coaches and the media was less confrontational or distrusting as it is today.

Although the Giants suffered a killer of a loss, Giants head coach Jim Lee Howell invited the press to watch film of the game with his assistant coaches on the day following the game. And these weren’t just ordinary retinues or acolytes. The offensive and defensive coordinators were Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry respectively; two peerless football leaders who would go on to win Super Bowls in their own right.

In the New York Daily News, Joe Trimble who attended the film session, wrote, “It was almost as exciting as the game itself. Couldn’t change the 23-17 ending, though.”

The Giants were up 17-14 and had the ball in their end with a little more than two minutes remaining in regulation. On third down, Frank Gifford busted through for what he thought was a first down and an opportunity for the Giants to coast to the NFL title. But the line judge didn’t agree. As such, the Giants punted and Unitas led the Colts down field where Steve Myhra connected on a 19 yard field goal. The result was a tie game at the end of regulation.

Years earlier, the NFL had added an overtime element but it wasn’t until that late December day that the rule would be activated. Meanwhile, 45 million viewers across America were watching the game on black and white sets; sitting at the edge of their couches and living room chairs.

Both sidelines knew that a sudden death overtime would begin three minutes after the end of regulation but had no idea of what was to occur procedurally. So they milled and weaved among themselves until officials trotted over to summon the captains to the middle of the field.

Some eight minutes into the overtime, the Colts’ Alan Ameche, a Heisman winner at Wisconsin plunged into the end zone for the title.

The NFL had arrived; breathtakingly!

Television and radio

NBC paid $200,000 for the television and radio rights. Until the 1961 Sports Broadcasting Act was signed into law by Congress and President John F. Kennedy, baseball was the only sport that was legally permitted to negotiate league-wide broadcast contracts. Major League Baseball was exempt from anti-trust. The NFL didn’t have that luxury yet. For regular season games, each of the league’s 12 teams represented itself independently and most had contracts with CBS. The title game though was under the aegis of the league office and Commissioner Bert Bell had a deal with NBC.

Bell also extended timeouts that season from 60 to 90 seconds. The standard network commercial length in those years was sixty seconds, not thirty as it is today. Bell also asked the refs to add some ‘TV timeouts’ for the title game.

The overtime delay

In pre cable days, when connections to a station’s television tower were weak, viewers’ screens would jitter or fidget. When the signal was lost entirely or the connection from a remote location like a stadium was lost, the screen would produce an annoying black and white snowy picture what looked little ants flickering in place. The audio would produce an ear-piercing, sizzling sound. (Bad experiences of my youth!)Of interest and often included in stories about the telecast is what occurred in overtime. NBC lost its connection and the country saw what was called (figuratively) snow on their screens.  Those raised in the cable era who never watched a true over the air television program on a set using a portable or roof antenna probably never experienced snow on their TV screens.

Doing remotes back then wasn’t yet a perfect science. In the overtime of the Colts-Giants game, just a few plays before Ameche’s historic thrust, a critical cable snapped and NBC’s signal was lost.  The network went dark. Technicians needed a few minutes to reconnect, to get the game back on air.

Suddenly, at that point, a fan ran out onto the field and the head referee was forced to pop his head into the Colts’ huddle to inform the players that the game was being delayed. Meanwhile, three New York cops ran out to surround and nab the infiltrator who observers suspected was inebriated.

Lindsey Nelson, then both an NBC executive and on-air broadcaster writes in his book, Hello Everybody, I’m Lindsey Nelson that the man who ran on the field was actually Stan Rotkiewicz, a business manager of NBC News who doubled occasionally as a statistician at sporting events. According to Nelson, “He was an old Roanoke tackle, capable of posing as an errant fan long enough to save the day for his network’s nationwide telecast of a big football game.”

TV announcers

The announcers teamed for the title game, represented the participating teams, Chuck Thompson who called Colts games and Chris Schenkel, the television announcer for the Giants. Both had voices for which to die, that good! Thompson was beloved in Baltimore where he also did Orioles baseball for many years. Schenkel later did college football for ABC and also made his mark as the lead broadcaster for the Professional Bowlers Association.

Radio announcers

Locally in New York, Les Keiter called the game on WCBS Radio. Keiter was quite popular. No recording of his call ever surfaced. Keiter’s voice was throaty, gravelly and inimitable. He brought great excitement to his dramatic broadcasts. He would call drives into the end zone,”5,4,3,2,1 Touchdown!”

Bob Wolff did the game back to Baltimore. There were those who called him, “Howling Bob.” His Ameche call is often heard on replays.

Bill McColgan and John Boland presided over the NBC Radio broadcast. Back then, there was no distinction of a play-by-play announcer and commentator. McColgan did the first half and the overtime and Boland the second half. McColgan who called Cleveland Browns games on radio, did a year of the Indians on television and spent a couple seasons doing the New Orleans Saints.

Boland actually was a member of the Notre Dame football team in the 1920s, a member of the famed Four Horsemen. He was the longtime voice of Irish football and also called the Chicago Cardinals on radio before they moved to St. Louis. His voice was husky and somewhat gruff.

At the end of regulation, Boland:

“We’re going to see the first application ever of the new sudden death role.” 

Later, on the game winning Ameche plunge;  McColgan:

“Unitas has been sensational… Flanker to the right. Ends are tight. Unitas gives to Ameche and the ball game is over. Ameche scores and the Baltimore Colts are the champions of professional football.”

McColgan was the best of the lot. He was silky smooth, had a magical voice, spoke clearly and quickly. He was graphic and easy to follow, a solid play-by-player. He also called the 1955 and 57 NFL title games for NBC Radio. His ’57 partner was the venerable Ray Scott.

In those years, both broadcasters said little when the other was on play-by-play play. The whole production set up was clean and simple; not overbearing, a pleasant listen. Television functioned similarly. When Thompson called the game, Schenkel said little and vice-versa.

There were two sponsors on radio, that was it; Marlboro Cigarettes and Hi-Grade Meats. Related or unrelated, Giants quarterback Charlie Conerly was a Marlboro Man and appeared in lots of the brand’s advertising (but not on the game’s radio broadcast). Hi-Grade promoted its meat products for consumption during the upcoming New Year holiday.

Some things don’t change

Neither announcer used statistics much because they weren’t broken down into minutia the way they are today. That said, McColgan, at one point, said that Ameche was second in NFL rushing behind Jimmy Brown. I was way too young to remember the game so when hearing the recording, I said to myself, wow! When I looked up the numbers, the announcer was indeed accurate. But the comment needed some heft. The unstoppable Brown rushed for 1527 yards and Ameche 797.There were others also clustered close to Ameche’s total too. It wasn’t like Ameche’s numbers were just a few yards behind the immortal Brown!

Change of lingo

McColgan also generally used ‘good’ or ‘no good’ when passes were thrown instead of ‘complete’ or ‘incomplete.’

Public Address Announcer

Those with deciphering ears who monitor the NBC Radio broadcast will hear the golden voiced Bob Sheppard as the in-stadium announcer. He of course was forever the PA announcer for Yankees games too.

The refs

The referees had no mics as they do today. Media members could only work off scant hand signals on the field.

The Giants and Yankee Stadium

The team’s first season in the big ballpark in the Bronx was 1956 when they won the NFL title. Previously, they played at the smaller Polo Grounds where their broadcaster, the late Marty Glickman, told me he could count the house from his broadcast position.

Tidbits and facts about the greatest game

The controversial call of whether Gifford got the first down late in regulation had the Giants angry

After the game, Giants’ coaches, players and fans were sulking over the call involving Frank Gifford and his field nemeses, fellow Californian, defensive tackle, Gino Marchetti. The Giants, as described above, were up 17-14 with some two and a half minutes remaining in the 4th quarter. The Giants had the ball on third down in their own territory. Attaining a first down would have made it extremely difficult for the Colts to fight the Giants through another set of downs and the tyranny of the clock.

Gifford took a handoff from quarterback Conerly and drove hard to the right, straining every muscle of his robust Hollywood body. As Marchetti dragged him to the turf, a trio of stout Baltimore defenders, weighing a collective 750 pounds, leaped on top of the two to prevent Gifford from hitting the first down marker. In the process, one of them, Big Daddy Lipscomb broke Marchetti’s ankle which was twisted under the pile.

As Mark Bowden wrote in his captivating The Best Game Ever, “Marchetti stayed on the turf, holding his leg, rocking back and forth, bellowing. His parents in San Francisco, who were watching the first pro football game they had ever seen on television, looked on with alarm as their son writhed.”

Gifford thought he had the first down but the line judge ruled otherwise. This was before replay or certainly any replay rule. The matter of whether Gifford did or didn’t earn a first down has been a subject of fierce debate for more than a half century.

The ESPN documentary done in conjunction with NFL Films apparently indicated that the line judge made the right call. So cries of “We wuz robbed,” might not have been justified.

The Greatest game and player salaries

You might say that as a result of the game, the television networks stepped up its rights fees significantly. It resulted in an immediate trickle-down effect on player salaries. As mentioned, Johnny Unitas made $17,500 in 1958 for leading the Colts to the league title. In 1964 Joe Namath signed with the AFL’s Jets for $427,000

To appreciate today’s equivalents, $10,000 in 1958 is worth roughly $87,000 today. So by that measure players were badly underpaid then. Today of course, they make millions .

For playing in the title game, each of the Colts earned $4,718 and each Giant got $3,111. Considering the relative pittance players were paid then in salary, the winner’s and loser’s shares were fairly significant.

Incidentally, from 1958-63, the Giants lost 5 NFL title games.

Commissioners Bert Bell and Pete Rozelle

Pete Rozelle, who became commissioner of the NFL in 1960, was then the general manager of the Los Angeles Rams; a franchise that had financial issues. Rozelle couldn’t get ownership (Daniel Reeves) to pay for a trip to New York to attend the game live. So he did the next best thing, he watched the title game in his office. The commissioner’s job opened when Bert Bell passed in November, 1959 at age 64. The commish died in his boots of a heart attack while watching a Steelers-Eagles game in the end zone. He was 64.

The accomplished receiver Ray Berry says that when Bell came into the locker room following the Colts win, he cried.  He was so overwhelmed by the events of the day; the gripping overtime , the packed house and the quality of play. It was as though a dream was reached and he knew it immediately. He was NFL commissioner from 1945-59.

The league’s headquarters were in Philadelphia. All would change the following year when Rozelle took the reins.

‘Win one for the Gipper’

The Colts defensive tackle Gino Marchetti, who broke a leg stopping Frank Gifford from getting a critical first down was on a stretcher along the Colts sideline during the end of regulation and as overtime began. He was in deep pain but stoically refused to be taken back to the locker room. He was intent on watching the rest of the game from the field. He was a military veteran who served in World War II’s Battle of the Bulge. It’s the war experience that Gino said hardened him to pain.

At the start of the overtime, Baltimore coach Weeb Ewbank reportedly turned to his club while pointing to the end zone where Gino was still sitting up on a stretcher, “Win it for Gino.” Marchetti was soon thereafter carried off the playing field because fans were beginning to surge in the area where he was sitting on a stretcher. According to author Bowden, a police captain ordered the Colts to move him to the visitors locker room. But in there he had no radio with which to follow the game and it wasn’t until a happy group of Colts stormed into the dressing room did Marchetti learn that his team won the championship.

Gifford and major injuries

For Gifford, his brutal intersection with hard hitting Marchetti is a reminder of what occurred a couple seasons later. On November 20, 1960, the Eagles’ Chuck Bednarik infamously blindsided Gifford fiercely. Frank was so badly concussed and hurt that he missed the entire following season.

More on Ameche

He was the son of Italian immigrants and cousins of actors Don Ameche and Jim Ameche. He was nicknamed the Iron Horse. Alan died young at 55.

Overtime games

The next title matchup to go into overtime was Super Bowl LI when the Patriots rallied to beat the Falcons.

Odds

Baltimore was 3 ½ point favorites and obviously covered.

Weather

On Christmas, three days earlier, New York was in a deep freeze, a high of 30 and a low of 15. On the day of the game, the 28th it was almost balmy.  The high was 49 degrees.

For those interested in delving deeper into the game, I would strongly suggest Mark Bowden’s book, The Best Game Ever: Giants vs. Colts, 1958, and the Birth of the Modern NFL .

Bowden writes for the Atlantic and was a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer for 21 years. Among other things, he covered the Eagles. Bowden has written books about a range of topics from the Iranian hostage crisis to hunting down Osama Bin Laden. He is a first cousin once removed of the legendary ex-Florida State coach, Bobby Bowden.

 

35 years ago

Today in 1983, I was a freshman at UW–Madison. My first-semester schedule — a horrid screwed-up mess because, in the troglodyte days of assignment committees to register for classes — I had just one comparative-literature class and marching band practice on Wednesdays. That’s what I remember, anyway.

A lot of people on the politically overstimulated UW–Madison campus were discussing ABC-TV’s upcoming movie “The Day After,” which depicted the U.S. following a nuclear war.

Unknown to us this day, the day of the movie (which I missed because that was also the night of the UW Marching Band banquet, a far more important event) or for years afterward was that apparently the U.S. and the Soviet Union came close to preempting “The Day After” for the real thing.

The Economist reviews 1983: Reagan, Andropov and a World on the Brink:

The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 was terrifying, but at least both sides knew the world was on the brink of catastrophe. As Taylor Downing’s snappily told account lays bare, what arguably made the near-miss of November 9th 1983 worse was that the West had almost no idea the Soviet leadership believed war was imminent.

East-West relations had been in dire straits for years. Ronald Reagan’s soaring anti-communist rhetoric, terming the Soviet bloc an “evil empire”, inspired freedom-lovers on both sides of the Iron Curtain, but panicked the Politburo gerontocracy. So too did his idealistic belief that missile-defence (“Star Wars”) might keep the peace better than MAD (mutually assured destruction). A hi-tech arms race spelled doom for the Soviet Union.

As communication had shrivelled, misunderstandings mushroomed. When the Soviets shot down a Korean airliner that had veered drastically off course into their airspace, nobody in the American administration could countenance the idea that the tragedy might be (as it was) a blunder, not an atrocity. The Soviets were certain the plane was on a spying mission.

NATO’s “Able Archer” exercise was also wildly misinterpreted. The Kremlin was convinced it masked war preparations. A routine change of NATO codes made the Soviets assume a nuclear first strike was imminent. In fact the KGB had an agent in the heart of NATO, Rainer Rupp. In response to an emergency request, he assured Moscow, with some bemusement, that everything in the alliance’s civilian bureaucracy was ticking along as normal. But the spymasters discounted the information, while “toadying KGB officers on the ground…sent back alarmist reports.” If the Soviet misreading of NATO intentions was a colossal intelligence failure, so was the inability of Western intelligence to realise just how jittery and ill-informed the Communist leadership had become.

As the Soviet Union put its nuclear forces on high alert, Lieutenant-General Leonard Perroots, the American air-force intelligence chief in Europe, reacted with puzzlement. A quid pro quo might have triggered an all-out nuclear war, which would, as Mr Downing puts it, leave only “cockroaches and scorpions” alive. Luckily, Perroots did nothing. After a sleepless night, the Kremlin leadership, huddled in a clinic outside Moscow with the ailing general secretary, Yuri Andropov, realised nothing was going to happen.

Mr Downing’s book gives abundant historical background, perhaps too much for readers familiar with the period. A useful later chapter depicts how realisation of the Soviet panic unfolded in the West, first in classified assessments and eventually, long after the event, in the public domain—not least thanks to Mr Downing’s television documentary, screened in 2008. He wisely avoids questions of the morality of nukes. Instead he focuses on the shortcomings that made accidental nuclear war far too plausible.

A Packer what-if

The three greatest quarterbacks in Packers history in the Super Bowl era are Bart Starr, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, arguably followed by Lynn Dickey.

After Dickey comes, or came, the abyss. Fans who suffered through the Gory Years after Vince Lombardi left and before Ron Wolf got to Green Bay can recite with varying degrees of exasperation the list of starting quarterbacks after Starr and before Favre, including Scott Hunter (who at least won a division title by handing off to John Brockington and MacArthur Lane), Jerry Tagge (a Green Bay native whose skills as Nebraska’s quarterback in more of a passing offense than the Cornhuskers eventually ran didn’t translate into the NFL), Jim Del Gaizo (because the third-string draft pick of the Super Bowl VII champion Miami Dolphins should be worth two second-round draft picks, right?), Jack Concannon (perhaps because he was on the early ’70s Cowboys practicd squad), John Hadl (more about him momentarily), Don Milan, Carlos Brown (later known as actor Alan Autry of “In the Heat of the Night”), Randy Johnson and David Whitehurst produced little success.

That’s the pre-Dickey’s-broken-leg list. After Dickey came Randy Wright (one of UW’s best quarterbacks, but see Tagge), Jim Zorn (previously in Seattle), Don Majkowski (Magik for 1989), Anthony Dilweg (despite being the grandson of a Packer alumnus), Mike Tomczak (who was less effective in Green Bay than he was in Chicago, and he was no Jim McMahon with Da Bears) and Blair Kiel (formerly of Notre Dame, about which more later).

The worst part of this tale of woe is Hadl, the object of possibly the most idiotic trade in NFL history. Somewhere between Del Gaizo and Milan GM/coach Dan Devine realized he had no NFL-level quarterbacks on his roster. And so Devine panicked and sent two first-round draft picks, a second-round pick and two third-round picks to the Rams for Hadl. Starr, who replaced Devine as GM and coach after Devine left for Notre Dame, then had to send two more draft picks and a player to Houston to get Dickey.

That long preamble leads us to Cliff Christl:

Over a span of seven years, from when the newly formed American Football League held its first draft on Nov. 22, 1959 until a merger agreement with the National Football League was reached in June 1966, the two leagues held separate college drafts and engaged in expensive bidding wars to sign their picks.

The Green Bay Packers lost only one of nine No. 1 choices during that period and it proved to be no loss. Wide receiver Larry Elkins, selected with the Packers’ second first-round pick and 10th choice overall in the 1965 draft, signed with the Houston Oilers and turned out to be a bust. He played two years and caught a total of 24 passes.

Still, the Packers lost a quarterback who could have become Bart Starr’s heir apparent and four solid offensive linemen. …

The AFL held its draft on Dec. 1, 1962, two days before the NFL, and the Buffalo Bills announced 13 days later they had signed Lamonica, their 24th round choice. “I’m going with the Bills because they gave me a better one-year offer,” explained Lamonica. “I don’t intend to play pro ball the rest of my young life. I have other things in mind.”

The quarterback who became known as “The Mad Bomber” as a pro struggled as a senior at Notre Dame under Joe Kuharich much like Joe Montana did later under Dan Devine. In fact, Kuharich considered Lamonica a better runner, but thought junior Frank Budka was the better passer because he threw a better deep ball. So he had them split time.

1963 wasn’t one of Notre Dame’s more memorable seasons and Lamonica was the subject of one of the better stories that circulated in South Bend. Apocryphal or not, it went like this. One day a priest encountered him on a golf course and asked why he wasn’t at practice. Lamonica responded, “I don’t have to practice. I know both of Kuharich’s plays.” So the priest, in need of a golf partner the next day, asked Lamonica to join him. “Can’t make it today,” said the quarterback. “I have to find out which play Joe wants to use Saturday.”

Following a 35-6 loss to Northwestern, Notre Dame was scheduled to play Navy next. That week, the Midshipmen’s chief scout Steve Belichick told the Baltimore Sun that Notre Dame’s biggest problem was quarterback because four players were sharing the position. But Belichick added that he liked what he saw of Lamonica, despite the lopsided score, when he got a chance to play in the second half against Northwestern. “He gave them the best passing they’ve had all year,” Belichick said. Sure enough, against Navy, Lamonica outplayed sophomore Roger Staubach and triggered a four-game winning streak for the Irish.

After signing with Buffalo, Lamonica spent four years backing up veteran Jack Kemp, but went 4-0 in his only starts. Traded to Oakland in 1967, Lamonica led the Raiders to a 13-1 regular-season record, the AFL championship and a matchup with Green Bay in Super Bowl II. He also was named the AFL’s Player of the Year.

The week before the Super Bowl, Green Bay native Red Smith, who would win a Pulitzer Prize nine years later, interviewed George Wilson, who had coached Detroit from 1957-64 and also had faced Lamonica three times as coach of the Miami Dolphins. Asked to compare the two teams, Wilson said he thought Lamonica would be the key to the game. “I believe the two hottest quarterbacks in professional football through the season were Sonny Jurgensen with the Redskins and Lamonica in our league,” said Wilson.

Although Starr outplayed Lamonica in the Super Bowl, the latter compiled a 62-16-6 record as Oakland’s starter before being replaced by future Hall of Famer Ken Stabler in 1973.

When the Raiders acquired Lamonica, Ron Wolf was a 29-year-old scout in his fifth year with the team. Wolf has no doubt Lamonica would have eventually played for the Packers.

“He threw 30 touchdown passes his first year, 34 another year,” said Wolf. “The team went 13-1 with him as a quarterback. He had a strong arm. He could make all the throws. Plus, he was agile enough to get out of trouble.”

In Wolf’s eyes, Lamonica might have been the second best quarterback in AFL history. “Of his era, there wasn’t anybody as good as Joe Namath,” said Wolf. “Joe Namath was a cut above everybody else. He’s in the Hall of Fame. But Daryle would be No. 2. (Len) Dawson is in the Hall of Fame, but I think Daryle was better than Dawson. (George) Blanda is in the Hall of Fame. But Daryle could make all the throws.”

No doubt, Lamonica was better than any Packers’ quarterback between Starr and Lynn Dickey, but he would have been 29 years old when Starr’s shoulder problems signaled the end was near in 1969.

Keep in mind as well that most of Lamonica’s career was in the wide-open AFL. (The same applies to Hadl.) Raiders owner Al Davis coached under Sid Gillman, one of the architects of the modern passing game, and Davis loved throwing deep. (Here’s a big what-if: Davis apparently once considered trading Stabler, perhaps the most accurate quarterback of the 1970s, to Pittsburgh for Steeler quarterback Terry Bradshaw.) Even though under Bengtson quarterback Don Horn once threw for 410 yards in a game, no NFL team threw as freely as the Raiders with Lamonica or the Chargers with Hadl.

One big problem every Packer quarterback between Starr and Favre faced (often from their backs) was poor-quality offensive lines. Christl’s piece also discusses four offensive linemen the Packers drafted but lost to AFL teams who arguably would have been better than the offensive linemen the Packers had once the Glory Days offensive line retired or were traded away (Forrest Gregg to Dallas).

And while we’re talking about problems of Packer quarterbacks, we might as well add the quality, or lack thereof, of targets for those quarterbacks. The 1972 NFC Central champion Packers were so ground-bound that Hunter averaged less than 100 passing yards per game. Carroll Dale, nearing the end of his career, led the Packers with 16 catches for 317 yards and one touchdown. Those aren’t even good high school numbers today. (In fact the 1972 Packers were just 11th in offensive points per game, but were fourth in points given up per game.)

Other Packer receivers, if you want to call them that, of this era included 1973 first-round pick Barry Smith, who lasted three seasons because he didn’t like to catch balls over the middle, and a group of guys you’ve never heard of. (Jack Clancy? Jon Staggers? Leland Glass? Ollie Smith?) After Dale’s and Boyd Dowler’s departures, not until the Packers drafted James Lofton first in 1978 did they have a quality receiver on the team. (Dale and Dowler were more like spread-out tight ends than fast receivers, which Lombardi never had.) Meanwhile, Hadl was throwing to a Hall of Fame receiver, Lance Alworth, and Lamonica was throwing to another Hall of Fame receiver, Fred Biletnikoff; two other above-average receivers, Warren Wells and tight end Raymond Chester; and several running backs who could also catch.

231 years later

John York, one week after Constitution Day:

Americans should be thankful not only for the rare genius that assembled in Philadelphia in 1787 to draft the Constitution, but for the unique circumstances under which they met.

Not all moments in time are ripe for founding a nation. Nor is every citizenry equally prepared to receive new modes and orders. The Founders’ time and generation presented just such an opportunity. Our time would not.

Earlier this month, University of Texas law professor Sanford Levinson wrote that “not enough people connect the dots … between our political dysfunctions and the sacred Constitution of 1787.”

What dysfunctions does he have in mind? President Donald Trump’s “near dictatorial powers with regard to mobilization of the American military, control of immigration, or the imposition of tariffs against one and all countries around the world.”

Levinson is not the only person questioning the wisdom of our constitutional design now that Trump occupies the White House. Weeks after the 2016 election, in which Trump won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote by a small margin, the editorial board of The New York Times demandedthat we replace our “antiquated system” of presidential selection and impose direct popular elections.

Similarly, after Republicans took control of the Senate, Jacobin’s Daniel Lazare advocated abolishing the upper chamber, which he contends “grossly marginalized” voters in states such as California and New York.

It is difficult to reason about the proper structure of government in the midst of partisan tumult. This is true of Republicans as well. Immediately after the 2016 election, Republican support for direct election of the president dropped from 54 percent to 19 percent.

Both Democrats and Republicans know what institutional arrangements benefit their side and, if given the opportunity, would rig the system in their favor.

Thankfully, party conflict at the time of the founding was virtually nonexistent, and factional strife was tamped down. According to James Madison, going through the crucible of the Revolutionary War bound the nation together and “repressed the passions most unfriendly to order and concord.”

The unity born of this great existential threat “stifled the ordinary diversity of opinions on great national questions.” Hence, “no spirit of party connected with the changes to be made.” So too did the near universal experience of the failures of the Articles of Confederation.

This national unity did not last long. George Washington was still in the White House when the battle lines were drawn between the Federalists led by Alexander Hamilton and the Democratic-Republicans led by Madison and Thomas Jefferson.

Had the Constitution been drafted only a few years later, these inchoate parties already might have become sufficiently developed to give a partisan taint to both the convention and ratification debates that would have followed.

The revolution not only tempered factionalism and forestalled partisanship, it also elevated a cadre of universally revered national figures capable of effectively championing the Constitution. As Madison writes, the war imbued the public with “enthusiastic confidence … in their public leaders”—men such as Washington, Hamilton, Ben Franklin, and Madison.

If not for the public reputations of these men, citizens may have been understandably hesitant to accept a wholly new and untested form of government. Leaving the familiar shores of the status quo is always a dangerous risk. But, with trusted captains at the helm, the nation was able to face down the fear of the unknown.

Imagine if a constitutional convention were held in a political climate more like our own. Would the public have “enthusiastic confidence” in their political leaders—the delegates to such a convention? There is no public figure that enjoys the sort of near-universal public adoration that Washington did at the time of the founding. Collectively, our national politicians are less trusted than at any point since the beginning of scientific public opinion polling.

Trust in politicians is particularly low today, but political figures rarely enjoy widespread, bipartisan support. Even when politicians lead the nation through great existential threats, goodwill tends to evaporate very quickly—just ask former President George W. Bush.

Even the reputations of our Founding Fathers eventually were sullied as the revolutionary unity dissolved into partisan rancor. The election of 1800, which pitted Jefferson against John Adams, was famously vicious.

Adams’ supporters publicly claimed that Jefferson’s election would usher in an epoch during which “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced.” Jefferson’s allies retorted that Adams was a “repulsive pedant” who “behaved neither like a man nor like a woman but instead possessed a hideous hermaphroditical character.”

The fortuitous conditions Madison points to only set the stage for what unfolded in Philadelphia 231 years ago. Without the genius and public spiritedness of the Founders, the moment might have slipped by.

But at a time so taken with the idea of progress, among a people convinced that time confers useful experience, if not greater wisdom, it is important to celebrate both the men and the moment that gave rise to our Constitution.

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