Intro still generating buzz, mostly negative

Updated: November 18, 2004, 12:29 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

If ABC hoped to generate a little bit more buzz for Monday Night Football and "Desperate Housewives," its risqué intro to the Dallas-Philadelphia game sure did the trick.

Two days after the network aired the segment featuring Eagles star receiver Terrell Owens and actress Nicollette Sheridan, coaches and players were still talking about it.

Reaction ranged from amusement to anger. Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy found it racially offensive.

"To me that's the first thing I thought of as an African-American," Dungy said Wednesday.

"I think it's stereotypical in looking at the players, and on the heels of the Kobe Bryant incident I think it's very insensitive. I don't think that they would have had Bill Parcells or Andy Reid or one of the owners involved in that," he added, a reference to the coaches in the game.

Bears coach Lovie Smith said he thought the skit was "in bad taste."

"I thought it was in bad taste also," Smith said. "You could say that it was pretty close to pornographic, so any time that happens on prime time, something is wrong."

ABC's intro showed Sheridan wearing only a towel and provocatively asking Owens to skip the game for her as the two stood alone in a locker room. She drops the towel and jumps into Owens' arms. Owens is black and Sheridan is white.

"If that's what we have to do to get ratings, I'd rather not get them," Dungy said. "I realize that ratings pays us in this league, but if that's what we have to do, I'm willing to take a pay cut."

Eagles owner Jeff Lurie said after the game he had no problem with it.

"I loved it," Lurie told the Bucks County Courier Times outside Philadelphia's locker room at Texas Stadium. "I thought it was great."

But by Tuesday, the Eagles released a statement that read: "After seeing the final piece, we wish it hadn't aired."

There were viewers -- one of them Steelers chairman Dan Rooney -- outraged with the skit. He called it "an out-and-out disgrace."

"We took a lot of heat from the public because of what CBS and MTV did during the Janet Jackson halftime Super Bowl fiasco," Rooney told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Now, this was Disney and ABC's Monday Night Football! This is NFL football -- we don't do those things. We did not know it was coming. We had no idea."

Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb wasn't quite as vocal, saying he didn't find the segment offensive and believed people were overreacting. (Owens wasn't at practice Wednesday, excused for what the team said were personal reasons.)

"Some people do different things," McNabb said. "Not saying that my wife would allow me to do that, but it's just something that was done, and you move on."

Michael Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, had a different view, questioning ABC's judgment in airing the scene.

"I wonder if Walt Disney would be proud," he said.

ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co. The FCC will review complaints and decide whether or not to open an investigation that could result in a fine against the network.

"It would seem to me that while we get a lot of broadcasting companies complaining about indecency enforcement, they seem to be continuing to be willing to keep the issue at the forefront, keep it hot and steamy in order to get financial gains and the free advertising it provides," Powell told CNBC.

The segment drew complaints from viewers and the NFL. ABC Sports apologized for using the introduction to promote its show, "Desperate Housewives." Dungy's comment, however, was the first that mentioned race. He also said the segment played off stereotypes of athletes.

"That athletes are sexual predators and that that stuff is more important than what's going on on the field. That a guy was more concerned with that than the game, that's a terrible message to send," Dungy said. "I'm particularly sensitive to that. It could have been any player and I would have been outraged, but being an African-American, it particularly hurt me."

A decade ago Dungy was outspoken about the lack of black coaches in the NFL. There are currently five, including Dungy and Smith, whose Bears will face Dungy's Colts on Sunday.

But Smith didn't find the skit racially offensive.

"I really can't go that far," he said. "I saw a naked lady with an athlete, period. Black, white, that doesn't really matter an awful lot to me."

Dungy said ABC had asked the Colts, who played on Monday night last week, "to do some things I thought would make our players look a little bit silly [although] nothing like that."

"We kind of declined," he said.

Some players were also shocked.

"My mouth dropped when I saw that," said Washington tight end Mike Sellers, who was watching the game with his wife. "I said, 'Did they actually plan this on TV?' "

Owens caught three touchdowns in the Eagles' 49-21 win over Dallas. Afterward, he said, "I don't know how my acting skills were, but I can't play football forever."

Asked if he has ever watched "Desperate Housewives," Owens said, "I will now."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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