Dan is still The Man




Expect variations on that headline all over tommorrow's US papers as The Master, aka quarterback Dan Marino, led the Miami Dolphins to a heart-stopping victory over the Seattle Seahawks in the first round of the Superbowl playoff eliminators today. The guy's been living in a soap opera these past few weeks, with the local Florida media (journalist scum!) stoking up a non-existent fued between him and Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson and speculating whether this will be Danny's swansong season. Coupled with a run of bad form from the team as a whole - which meant they only just crept into the playoffs - the knives were out for the NFL's all-time leading passer.

But in an almost vintage display, he led the Dolphins to victory, engineering a final 90-yard drive in the last few minutes, keeping things alive with the sort of passes only he could conjure up. Just when you thought he was about to be flattened by a couple of steroid-abusing 24-stone meatheads, he spirals out a perfect throw to keep the team in the game. Pure magic. My stomach hasn't been in this many knots since, well, the last time the 'Phins were in the Superbowl - and I was only 14 then. The team's Defence also came alive after a six-game slump that had seen them tumble down the rankings. Everyone had the 'Phins as underdogs and probably will be again in the second round match-up next week against cross-state rivals the Jacksonville Jaguars. But really only a fool would bet against Danny Boy.

Of course, American Football matches last over three hours. Which means watching television for over three hours. And it must be said that American television is truly awful. I'm no fan of the tube full stop, but the Stateside box hums big time. Even if you get beyond the constant barrage of adverts the content is irritating at best, insulting at worst. A typical viewing session runs something like this: adverts, opening scene, adverts, opening credits, adverts, next scene, adverts etc etc every five bloody minutes. Just about every
show is sponsored by either a car manufacturer or Burger King. At least 50% of adverts are for cars and they're all the same uninspired macho-car-driving-through-rugged-terrain style drivel which must have taken the agency "creatives" all of five seconds to think up. There are a few quality programmes (Simpsons, X-Files, Seinfeld, Larry Sanders) but the rest are moronic chat shows, Springer-style exploitation fests and game shows. No quality drama, period pieces, thought-provoking documentaries, awe-inspiring nature serials or any of the other stuff we take for granted in the UK. Even the supposed flagship "hard news" programme, "60 Minutes", is laughable as the presenters with their "Dallas"-style bouffanted hair and rictous grins get their slimy tentacles around "Teenage Pregnancy" and "The American Far Right" or whatever else is the flavour of the moment. "The Fast Show" would be hard-pressed to do a better parody.

What's really disappointing, though, is the total absence of any British programmes on American television. And I mean total (the BBC America channel excepted, which is only available to digital cable subscribers anyhow). The UK is supposed to be the home of quality television yet I guarantee that 99% of Americans would be hard pressed to name one British TV programme. A few will have heard of "Fawlty Towers", "Monty Python" (yawn), "Red Dwarf" and maybe "Absolutely Fabulous" but that's about it. None of the major American networks carry Brit programmes. I've gotten my housemates to watch a few things on BBC America, including that surreal comedy series called (I think) "The League Of Gentlemen" - and they loved it. They couldn't believe how far out there British comedy was compared to the moronic sitcoms served up on the networks. But maybe it's all symptomatic of America's isolationism (get this - 75% of Americans don't own a passport - that means over 200 million people have no desire t leave their country, even for a holiday). Foreign news coverage on TV is also practically non-existent. (Kosovo? Is that in Ohio?) I suppose I don't know why I'm getting hot under the collar about this - I loathe television (except American Football!) - but it is sometimes exasperating when Americans expect me to understand all the nuances of US culture yetdisplay a total ignorance of anything outside of their own doorstep.

I saw a trailer the other day for a programme following in the footsteps of such nonsense as "America's Craziest Car Chases". It was just a bunch of TV and home video footage of people beating the living cr*p out of each other. The title of this inspired piece of programming? "Totally Out Of Control People". But in many ways that title sums up the directness of American television and American life in general. You're left in no doubt about what the programme is all about. It's the same with adverts - they're all direct and to the
point. Every single advert these days has a web address at the end - without one a company is seen as technophobic or backward. In fact, to illustrate how much America has whole-heartedly embraced the online world and more or less staked its economic future on the success of cyberspace, another advert has just hit our screens. It's just a plain black screen and in the centre, in white lettering, are the words "buy.com". It stays like that for about 30 seconds before gradually fading out. No music, no flashing lights, no chiselled
hunks or bikini-clad models and no f***ing Ford Explorers. Just "buy.com". Mark my words, one day all adverts will be made this way.

Maybe this general weirdness is prompting a couple of my Brit friends to return to the Motherland. One has been out here ten months but returned to the UK for Xmas and the New Year. He came back to San Fran a couple of days ago and phoned me to say he's jacking his job in and going back to London - misses his friends, the life, the "normality". Talk to ex-pats and they all say the homesickness hits at different times for different people. For some it's after only a few months, others it's almost a year. And of course it makes a huge difference if you actually have something to go back to - my friend works in web media so with his experience in the internet capital of the world his skills will be in huge demand back in the UK. But another friend, although he's pining for the UK, doesn't have those sorts of transferable skills - so stays out here almost by default. What all ex-pats do agree on though is that living in the US is like living in a parallel universe. Everything here is the same as it is back in the UK - but not quite. It's like you're laterally thinking
all the time. At least in, say, France or Spain, you *know* it's a totally different country - the buggers don't speak English for starters. In America you expect them to act, react, talk, do and work exactly the same as you - which they don't and that makes it doubly weird.

One final piece of news in the world of American Football is the retirement of legendary coach Bill Parcells. Gridiron is a ruthless sport - coaches are hired and fired on an almost weekly basis - and to be a head coach of an NFL team is less like sitting in the hotseat, more like sitting in an ejector seat. Parcells guided the New York Giants to two Superbowl triumphs in '86 and '90 before taking over at the New England Patriots (SB runners-up in '96) and latterly the New York Jets. He's rated by many as the greatest living football coach, not because of his record (in fact other coaches have better win-loss averages) but really because of his motivational skills. He's taken chances on maverick players other teams have discarded and squeezed the best out of them. Parcells first announced his resignation to his players in the Jets locker room. He finished his speech with the following poem (author unknown):

The Man in the Glass

When you get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you king for a day
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
And see what the man has to say

For it isn't your father, mother or wife
Whose judgement upon you must pass
The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the one staring back from the glass

Some people may think you're a straight-shootin' chum
And call you a wonderful guy
But the man in the glass says you're only a bum
If you can't look him straight in the eye

He's the fellow to please, never mind all the rest
For he's with you clear up to the end
And you've passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If the man in the glass is your friend

You may fool the whole world down the pathway of life
And get pats on the back as you pass
But your final reward will be the heartaches and tears
If you've cheated the man in the glass



He was born with a gift of laughter
and a sense that the world was mad.

Rafael Sabatini