By Jon Warech
Special to Page 3

Coaches, take note: There is a new play out there that is foolproof. It's a perfectly designed play that can make any fan happy, and best of all, it works in any sport.

Janet & Justin
Oh, the horror! Justin Timberlake promptly apologized for the "wardrobe malfunction."
My new favorite play is the apology.

It works, almost always.

The apology can turn a Super Bowl halftime show into broadcasting history. It can turn an assault on one's coach into a year's vacation followed by years of enough big-time money to feed a small country, but not enough to feed one man's family. (Sorry, Latrell, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. Do you forgive me?)

An apology can even turn a basketball player into a rap star. Before he apologized for taking time off, we knew Ron Artest as a basketball player with a bad attitude. One or two "sorrys" later and a hip-hop star was born -- with a new album promoted by his new publicist, Ms. Apology.

You know Ms. Apology. She made Marv Albert an announcer again, Ray Lewis a "good guy" again, and some day if she plays her cards right, she might squeak Pete Rose into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The only problem is that now, the general public has heard sorry so many times that no matter what happens, right or wrong, people turn to the apology, because it is easier than standing up for yourself.

So, after a Monday Night Football introduction featuring naked "Desperate Housewife," Nicollette Sheridan jumping into the arms of Terrell Owens at the early hour of 6 p.m. on the West Coast, the NFL called a TO and said ABC was too risqué for prime time.

The immediate response: an apology in the form of a statement from the network. "We have heard from many of our viewers about last night's 'MNF' opening segment, and we agree that the placement was inappropriate."

What they should have said, though, was something like this ...

"We have heard from conservative America whose shallow take on our country lends more importance to lost family values and media images rather than the real issues of the world. We realize how the bare back of an attractive woman might upset them. But we don't apologize; we aren't sorry and no matter what the media says, we know there are plenty of people out there who agree that this whole thing is ridiculous."

Nicollette Sheridan
Even without her towel, Nicollette Sheridan drew stares at this month's American Music Awards.

But ABC buckled under the pressure, and just like that (with the exception of a possible meaningless fine) the problem is solved ... for them.

For everyone else, however, the country takes another step backward as the First Amendment right to freedom of expression becomes less and less a right to speech and more of a figure of speech. It forces guys like Howard Stern, only the most popular voice in radio, to move to satellite radio so his shtick can be heard uncensored. It moves television back a few decades toward the days when Lucy and Desi slept in separate beds or Mike and Carol Brady met after they were both widowed because divorce was not something ready for prime time.

Those weren't the good old days; those were the days of naivete. The truth is, "Desperate Housewives," however exaggerated for dramatic effect, is closer to reality and, uh, last time I check, it was a huge hit. There are no apologies for the show, which runs on Sundays on the same network at the same time, but when mixed for 30 seconds with football becomes national news, so an apology is in order.

It's silly, and I think everyone at the network and most of the country realizes it. (It's not like they had a naked John Madden throw himself at TO). But, the easy way out is to just say you are sorry and promise that the next time you push the envelope ... you'll just apologize again.

Hopefully, I'll wake up and have a representative from the NFL show up at my desk to tell me I've been "sacked" by Monday Night Football. But odds are, this is just another ridiculous day in television history.

You know who should apologize? The Dallas Cowboys. Because they stink.

And if you don't agree, I'm really sorry.

Jon Warech is a freelance writer for various publications. He can be reached with questions or comments at JonWarech@aol.com.