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A Redskins-Cowboys Game As Some Kind Of Cold War Metaphor

Posted by Matt Terl on April 15, 2011 – 2:05 pm


The events that led to this post are random and not particularly interesting, but the post itself is so arbitrary that I feel it warrants some explanation. So here’s how it came about:

    1) Former Redskins Blog combine correspondent Jordan Beane sends me a Kids In The Hall clip featuring a guy in a Redskins jacket, thinking it might make potential blog material.

    2) Googling to find background on that, I stumble across this ancient ExtremeSkins thread about mentions of the Redskins in popular culture.

    3) For some reason, the description of the episode of It Takes A Thief — a forty year-old spy show starring Robert Wagner — jumps out at me, so I find the episode on Hulu. (I should note that, by sheer coincidence, this episode first aired exactly 43 years ago to the day.)

    4) I decide to watch every episode of It Takes A Thief ever and then write a script for a modern remake, which will star Jon Hamm and make us all wealthy. (NOTE: Have not yet completed this step.)

    5) I take a bunch of screenshots and present them (and the relevant portion of the video, above) to you here.

The premise of It Takes A Thief is straightforward enough — after forty-odd years, it borders on cliche. Here’s how MSN TV sums it up:

Convicted cat burglar Alexander Mundy gets an offer he can’t refuse from the United States government: If he puts his formidable thieving skills to work for them, he’ll be released from prison. Alexander’s dad, Alister, sometimes comes out of retirement as a thief to help his son on special jobs.

But the concept is elevated to the level of pure awesome because it’s made from 1968 to 1970, so it’s got a ton of style, as in this amazing opening credits sequence. And from the snippets I’ve watched, it’s a cheesily well-executed show all around.

In fact, the Redskins segment — which covers the first several minutes of the episode The Great Chess Gambit, and which I’ve posted above if you feel like watching it — is a perfect example of that half-ridiculous, half-audacious brio. The background is this: a bomber carrying nuclear weapons springs a fuel leak, a problem that’s clearly to going to necessitate some serious second-act heroics. Meanwhile, Al Mundy — presumably the eventual hero — is taking in a Redskins game.

What results is a cross-cutting overlay of football narration explaining the action on the plane, and a general explaining the situation on the plane in language that applies to the football game. It’s all very clever, except for the parts that don’t really make any sense at all.

And those parts begin at the very first shot of the game. Allegedly, Al Mundy is at D.C. Stadium, which makes sense (and is necessary to the plot) as his character is based out of D.C. Play-by-play announcer Chick Hearn makes that doubly clear by intoning, “DC Stadium, ladies and gentlemen. Chick Hearn reporting.”

(The late Hearn is a legend for his work as play-by-play man for the L.A. Lakers, but if he actually called any NFL games, it’s not mentioned in his AP obituary or on his Wikipedia page.)

Then the game kicks off and the ball sails over this mid-field marker:

I’m not sure, but I suspect they never painted a Cowboys helmet at the fifty-yard line of D.C. Stadium. By the time I attended a game there (long after it had been re-christened RFK Stadium), it definitely wasn’t there. Hearn also announces that Danny Villenueva is the one who kicks off for Dallas, which would mean the game took place no later than 1967, two years prior to the show’s April 1969 airdate.

Then Hearn says, “Quarterback Sonny Jurgensen, commanding a team that tonight looks like it’s fired up enough to be the most powerful offense in pro football,” which sounds awesome … except that they’re showing this guy on the screen.

Everyone knows that Sonny Jurgensen wore number 9, not 11, but I double-checked my media guide to see if he ever switched to eleven just for the heck of it. Not at all to my surprise, he didn’t.

So it appears that the footage they’re using came from this November 1968 contest at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Jurgensen made the trip with the team, according to the Washington Post’s gamer, but “was too weak from the flu to warm up before the game.” In Jurgensen’s place, unheralded Jim Ninowski made one of his two starts that season, wearing his number 11 jersey.

Real Jim Ninowski would have a productive game in what was ultimately a losing effort, going 18 of 34 for 280 yards, 3 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, and one fumble out of the end zone for a safety. In-show, Ninowski would continue to be referred to as Sonny Jurgensen and would have much more success.

Anyhow, the show pivots off the “most powerful offense in football” line to a general explaining the benefits of nuclear weapons: “It’s the most powerful offense in the world, and the best defense for the free world today is a good million megaton offense.”

In 1969, comparing Sonny-Jurgensen-but-secretly-Jim-Ninowski to one of the most constant day-to-day societal fears was a totally acceptable thing to do. And the game would continue to be compared to those fears of nuclear annihilation. “It looks like trouble,” says one of the airmen on the doomed nuclear bomber, and we cut to Hearn’s play by play again.

“Washington in trouble at its own two yard line,” Hearn says. “Jurgensen back to pass — ooo, he’s hit by number 75, Jethro Pugh. He fumbles that ball, and the Redskins can’t seem to find the handle.”

Somewhat inexplicably, despite the fact that they’re referring to the Cotton Bowl as D.C. Stadium and insisting that Ninowski is actually Jurgensen, they’ve decided to correctly identify Cowboys defensive tackle Jethro Pugh. This play would probably be the “one fumble out of the endzone for a safety” I mentioned up in Ninowski’s stat-line above.

Perhaps the best series of semi-ironic cuts comes much later in this sequence. The Redskins are driving to tie, or take the lead, or something — it’s never very clear — when the running back fumbles the ball. “There’s the snap. Uh-oh. Rule number one…”

And we cut back to that general, explaining how bad the news is that the bomber has broken off radio contact. “Rule number one,” he says. “An alert plane never breaks communications unless it’s a case of life or death or war … and we’re not at war.”

His companion asks if the plane is, in fact, carrying nukes and the general nods grimly. “Yes, I’m afraid so. Three bombs.”

So, inevitably, we cut back to Hearn saying, “And there’s a long bomb. Jerry Smith has it for six points. Fifty-two yards in the air. A beautiful pass by Jurgensen.”

Jerry Smith, like Jethro Pugh, is actually identified correctly. Jurgensen is probably still Ninowski, though. Hearn continues, “Jerry Smith faked inside, went outside, and made the catch and had the defender totally beaten at the goalline. 52 yards in the air. And there’s a man who knows how to score.”

And on that little double-entendre, we cut to our suave leading man, impressing his companion with his high-powered binoculars.

Did I mention that it was the late Sixties?

The final seven minutes of the game are used as a countdown for the final seven minutes of the doomed bomber, and it all culminates in a rapid series of cuts underneath Hearn’s play-by-play. “Jurgensen back to throw,” he says. “Ten seconds left … he fires … five, four … he’s got a man in the open … two, one, TOUCHDOWN.”

And then we get these two images:

I’m not kidding: I really want to see a modern remake of this show.

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One Response to “A Redskins-Cowboys Game As Some Kind Of Cold War Metaphor”

  1. By RonG on Nov 18, 2012 | Reply

    You are correct–this is from the 1968 Thanksgiving game in the Cotton Bowl. I was a 10 year old kid at that time and attended the game. The Cowboys won 29-20.

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