Mary Tyler Moore, WJM, and the NFL

Her smile turned the world on, her accessibility proved that love is all around, and her personality made nothing days worthwhile more suddenly than Marcia Brady saying something came up in order to break a date with nice guy Charlie for Doug Simpson, the big man on campus.

Mary Tyler Moore made it after all.

When the news broke that she died, we were reminded of a woman who championed diabetes research; reflected the modern woman of the 1970s in her eponymous situation comedy; led a television production company that brought landmark sitcoms and breakthrough dramas to prime time; changed Hollywood’s conception of her acting range with an Oscar-winning performance of a heartless, upper middle class mother in suburban Chicago; showed only her legs accompanied by a breathless voice as the secretary to a private detective; and brought television’s depiction of a housewife from the pearls-wearing stereotype in non-descriptive suburban to a three-dimensional template with a splash of sexuality in New Rochelle.

Moore was a 20th century heroine whose likability never fell victim to her success—or her struggles:  alcoholism, Type 1 diabetes, two divorces, and the death of her 24-year-old son from a hair trigger on a sawed-off shotgun.

On September 19, 1970, America met her alter ego, Minneapolis television news producer Mary Richards at WJM on Mary Tyler Moorenot the often used but incorrect label The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  When her name in Peignot font scrolled vertically in multiplicity across the America’s television screens, audiences settled in for a half hour of a sensible, smart, and sophisticated woman trying to balance a career and a social life.  And she did it with style—Moore’s outfits reflected the fashions that a cosmopolitan woman would wear and could afford.

Football played a role on Mary Tyler Moore, most notably during the show’s theme Love Is All Around, which showcases Mary doing everyday activities, including washing her car while wearing a Fran Tarkenton jersey.  Lou Proposes, an episode in the show’s seventh and final season, mentions Tarkenton, a Minnesota Vikings icon.  When Mary’s Aunt Flo—an acclaimed journalist and, in actuality, a distant cousin, on Mary’s mother side, who spent only 26 nights in her apartment during the past year—visits the Twin Cities, she takes a liking to Lou Grant, the Executive Producer of WJM’s 6 o’clock television newscast.  And vice versa.

Lou is about to propose marriage, but he gets sidetracked when Flo mentions that she heard a rumor about the Vikings trading their quarterback while she did research on a story about the team’s offense.  Ultimately, Flo turns down Lou’s proposal.  Gently.

Ed Asner played Lou Grant, the gruff newsman with a guarded sentimental side.  A picture of Asner from his high school football days is visible in every scene that takes place in Lou’s office—it hangs prominently nearby a National Geographic poster titled The Earth’s Moon, which shows the near and the far sides of the Moon.

In the fifth season episode The System, Lou buckles to the success of a betting system created, somewhat arbitrarily, by Ted Baxter, WJM’s clueless but harmless news anchor.  Ted’s system consists of betting the underdog in every NFL game with a point spread of 11 points or more.  He chooses 11 for a simple reason—it’s his lucky number.

Lou and Ted become partners, a bond that Lou breaks on Super Bowl Sunday.  Without telling Ted, he bets all their winnings—$2,000—on the Pittsburgh Steelers covering the point spread in Super Bowl IX.  He discloses this in a scene taking place in Mary’s apartment after the two-minute warning sounds; WJM news writer Murray Slaughter, Ted, Ted’s girlfriend Georgette, and WJM sportscaster Andy Rivers watch the game, after a brunch that Mary prepared.  When Ted walks away from the group, Lou confesses his sin to the others and, with a combination of frustration and somberness, that he made the bet out of ego—he wanted to prove that he was better than Ted’s goofy though successful system.  Lou then explains that Steelers need to score 12 points in the last 26 seconds of the game.

It is deductible, therefore, that the point spread was greater than 11 points and the Steelers were the underdogs.  When Lou owns up to his actions and tells Ted, the news anchor sobs.  In the hands of skilled two-time Emmy winner Ted Knight, his alter ego inspires pathos, friendliness, and laughter.

According to sitcomsonline.com, the episode was produced on December 13, 1974, a month before the Super Bowl.  So, the producers took an educated guess that the Steelers would be the AFC champions.  It was on the mark—the Steelers won Super Bowl IX 16-6.  Their NFC opponent?  The Minnesota Vikings.

This episode aired the night before Super Bowl IX, prompting Moore to record an announcement that played during the closing credits noting that the story is fictional but, in case the Vikings win, “You heard it first at WJM.”

Rest in peace, Mary.

A version of this article appeared on ww.thesportspost.com on January 26, 2017.

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