On the evening before the big game, both candidates showed up on ESPN's Monday Night Football. And why not? You hunt where the ducks are. And on Monday night, that's where they are.
This is not to say, however, that they are in a mood for a lot of political rodomontade. (That is a fancy word for what football players – and lately, the president – would call b***s***.) Monday Night Football is sort of semi-sacred space where the talk is of zone blitzes and a-gaps; not fiscal cliffs and sequesters. The candidates, then, had to be on their best behavior. A good performance on MNF might not necessarily win many votes but a bad showing would surely lose some. You don't want to spoil the MNF mood with a lot of talk about deficits and unemployment and unaffordable health insurance and ... well, any of that downer, political stuff. Plenty of time for that in the morning. All day long, people have been getting ready for some football and they wouldn't take kindly to having it spoiled by some humorless vote chaser.
Part of which explains the graciousness displayed by both candidates. And, then, there was the fact that they were being interviewed by Chris Berman, an enthusiast of the first order. Berman has an exceedingly likable on-the-air personality and you can't imagine a soul bleak and misanthropic enough to want to rain on his parade. Not even Harry Reid. Well ... maybe.
But both the candidates were cordial, upbeat, and smiling. (The last being a pretty remarkable thing, given what they had gone through for the last several months.) Enough, even, to cut slightly the taste of bile left by the campaign. Couple of decent guys, you found yourself thinking. And if they are talking to Chris like this, how bad can they be? It would have been even better if one or both of the candidates had called him "Boomer," the name used, affectionately, by his colleagues. But things never got quite that loose. Could be that what is allowed Mike Ditka is not permitted to mere presidents and wannabes.
The interviews left one thinking. What if the entire campaign had been conducted in the spirit of ESPN? Especially the ads that the network runs to promote itself. They are the funniest, most good-natured spots on television and all ESPN fans have their favorites. The one featuring the Manning brothers and their parents is awfully hard to beat.
The two that ran last night were pretty good. In one, the ESPN football team conducted a yoga-like clinic on the beach, instructing a bunch of soft civilians in the proper technique for catching a pass in the end zone or getting in a linebacker's face. In the other, the two ESPN football insiders appear as room service waiters at the door of someone's hotel room with the hot tip of the morning, served under silver.
The contrast between these two goofy spots and the grimness of the 30-second political spots that have been remorselessly ruling the airwaves could not have been more stark.
Funny notion but one, perhaps, worth some study. At the end of what is supposed to be the most important presidential campaign in memory, football humanized politics.
For one night, anyway.