By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
For all you television-football fans, let's get this straight first. Joe Bugel's the one hunched over on the sidelines with the greased black hair and the headphones. He calls all those dumb plays during the Phoenix Cardinals games. And, yes, he's the guy most responsible for losing the games.
And that was Bugel screaming and jumping up and down in the final seconds of the game last Sunday when his team lost yet another game, this time to the Indianapolis Colts.
The Arizona Republic is now taking a poll to determine whether Bugel should be fired. I say, who needs a poll? Bugel should be history. He deserves to be a head football coach about as much as Henry Kissinger deserves to be president. Both Bugel and Kissinger are back-room, behind-the-scenes guys. Bugel comes on a lot like Saddam Hussein, the well-known Iraqi politician. Before the battle is joined, Joe promises an exceedingly tough and boisterous engagement. When it's over, he becomes a modern Willy Loman, the poor schlump in desperate need of a smile and a shoeshine.
During preseason Bugel issued continuous war whoops over KTAR, the official Cardinals radio station. He kept urging his players: "Let's put on our hats and go to war." Bugel bawled out this clarion call on his regular interview show with Jude LaCava so often that Cardinal fans were led to believe they actually were going to see what Bugel lovingly calls "smash-mouth football" this season.
Now, with only one game remaining to play, the result has been the same as it is every year. The Cardinals are once again in last place. Now everyone wants to know who's to blame.
Bugel is almost as colorful as any character in Guys and Dolls, that 40-year-old tale currently undergoing a successful musical revival on Broadway. But like the characters in the Damon Runyon tale, Bugel turns out to be all flash, all talk. His problem is he never has the winning cards. He's a loser.
Like all head football coaches, Bugel is a con man.
Bugel's performance after losing to Indianapolis on Sunday is a case in point. This time his own coaching blunders were responsible for the loss. Bugel was calling the plays. He called all the wrong ones. That was so obvious that even the fans calling in after the game had it right.
Bugel was talking to Tom Dillon, the KTAR radio broadcaster, and John Mistler, one of the station's color men, in the locker room. "When you call a pass, you gotta make some completions," Bugel said, thereby laying the blame on his quarterback, Chris Chandler.
"You don't want to make excuses," Mistler interjected. "These setbacks can be a positive in later years."
Here is an example of the constant effort to cover up the Cardinals' sorry state. Things will always be better next year. That's what they have been saying since the team's arrival. But things only get worse.
"This is the lowest I've seen our football team," Bugel said. Then, like all losers, he began complaining about the injuries that will prevent him from fielding the Cardinal juggernaut we have come to know and love.
"I just wonder who can play next week," Bugel said.
I wonder who wants to see them play next week.
If local television media covered this team with the slightest skepticism, the insoluble problems of this franchise long ago would have been apparent. This is a team that has not made the playoffs in a nonstrike season in 17 years.
The television sports people have totally abdicated their roles as honest brokers.
They have even rolled over to the extent that the Cardinals' practice sessions have been closed to the media.
With the doors locked, how does anyone know they even practice anymore? Certainly, you can't tell it by watching them play the games. During this period, the giants of local telejournalism, led by the eminent Professor Bill Denney at Channel 12, have lain back, content to find an excuse for every Cardinals defeat.
"Another tough break for the Cardinals," Denney said on the 10 p.m. news. "They played real hard football, but the injuries were just too much to overcome."
I have been watching Denney deliver this line, or one only slightly variant of it, for five years. Denney is living and breathing proof that a television journalist can thrive successfully in a minor market with no apparent energy, no original ideas and a vocabulary of less than 50 words. For example, I can't imagine how Denney would get through his nightly three-minute segment if a superior were to declare he was no longer allowed to utter the word "real." For Denney everything is "real" good, "real" bad, "real" surprising or a "real" disappointment. He sometimes stretches his vocabulary by describing an event as "really" outstanding.
We are assured that J.D. Hayworth of Channel 10 is a sports expert because we have his word for it that his grandfather was a catcher for the Chicago Cubs. Hayworth is the perfect embodiment of the television airhead. He is big and sturdy-looking. But he is more concerned with being a smalltime Elmer Gantry than a journalist. Hayworth is so unfamiliar with ethics that he only too willingly served as master of ceremonies for former President Ronald Reagan's campaign appearance for George Bush in Phoenix's Patriots Square.