I was somewhere around Davisville when the urge began to take hold.
It might have been the twelve hour workday, or the fact that I had very little sleep the night before. It could have been the dehydration, or the cold medication railroading its way through my brain.
But, for whatever reason, my addled brain thought, “hey, is Jon Gruden still doing that Corona bus thing on Monday Night Football?” followed closely by “would it be fun to write about it while (mildly) high on cough syrup?”
The ‘Corona bus thing’ is actually called ‘the Monday Night Corona Extra’, and it is a segment of NFL Monday Night Countdown, ESPN’s pre-game show before Monday Night Football. The segment is usually sandwiched somewhere between the Dunkin’ Donuts Field Pass and the giant Applebee’s commercial that is the rest of Monday Night Countdown.
Applebee’s: Because We Weren’t American Enough
In it, former coach Jon Gruden (one of People magazine’s ‘Most Beautiful People’ in 2001, and generally regarded by people without magazines to be one of the world’s most annoying jerks) sits down with a marquee player of the upcoming match-up in a giant Corona-branded bus, and goes over and over pieces of film from their entire lives in an attempt to either fellate or humiliate said player (and sometimes both at the same time!) It’s a regrettable segment that stems from both ESPN’s alarm at having to fill two hours before their nationally televised game, and America’s obsession with entertainment taking place on vehicles.
In point of fact, the Monday Night Corona Extra segment bears no more striking resemblance than to that of a Bangbus episode. Think of the similarity of conceit: an unsuspecting victim is found off the street, invited (or forced by an employer’s draconian media rules) into an old, sweat-stained bus, then not-so-subtly coerced into revealing personal anecdotes and/or body parts. The only real difference I can discern is in production value. ESPN sprung for fancy HDTVs that Gruden can distort 4:3 scouting video on, and the lighting in the Bangbus looks better.
How did Monday Night Football come to this? In the ’70s, it was what helped put the NFL on the map, renowned for its antics in the broadcast booth as for the action on the field. It broke the news of John Lennon’s murder. It made Frank Gifford and Kathie Lee stars. Hell, they did a movie about it!
Made-for-TV, but still.
It was America, goddammit! The America of Reagan, the shining city on the hill! Now it’s lizard-people inviting people into their sex buses playing Clarence while they It’s-A-Wonderful-Life them on distorted video screens like a bad trip. You could excuse these men for running screaming from the bus, ranting about bats and the death of the Dream.
There was, in all fairness, one special moment in last week’s Monday Night Corona Extra. Joining Coach Gruden in the Bangbus was James Harrison, the intimidating 6′, 275 lb. linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals, looking for all intents and purposes like an 18 year-old virgin who is realizing this ride ain’t free.
The special moment came when Gruden brought out footage of 76 year-old Dick LeBeau, Harrison’s longtime, now former, coach with the Steelers, whom he’d be battling against later that evening. As Suzy Kolber later pointed out, LeBeau was as much a father figure to Harrison as coach, and in one of those tragic ironies that populate sports narratives, these two, who shared such a bond, wound now have to take glory in the other’s suffering. As Gruden rolled the tape backwards and forwards over LeBeau’s grizzled frontiersman face, emphasizing his age and vulnerability by showcasing footage of LeBeau in a toque, Harrison could only choke back tears and mutter, “I miss him.” It was a powerful human moment.
“That’s awesome, man,” in the tone of a sheltered frat boy who’s just watched ‘Two Girls, One Cup’ and realized the world is a larger, more complex and terrifying place than he has ever believed it to be.
A single tear rolled down Harrison’s cheek.
And a nation wept.
- Video: James Harrison Misses Dick LeBeau – Interview With Jon Gruden (steelersdepot.com)