(Whenever I put "Blog Vérité" in the title of a post, I'm usually relating a conversation I was a part of, a conversation I've eavesdropped on, or something I've witnessed, and is as close to the absolute truth as memory will allow. When a post doesn't have "Blog Vérité in the title, well, sometimes I exaggerate, and you shouldn't believe everything you read on the Internet, anyway. This time around I'm recounting something I heard on the radio. Normally, I wouldn't describe something I heard over the airwaves as "vérité", as professional broadcasters usually watch what they say, and it thus lacks the spontaneity and unpredictability of a real life conversation. But this particular drama involves a couple of nonprofessionals, as well as one stymied professional, and that's spontaneous and unpredictable enough for me. If the professional seems a bit too sensitive compared to what's usually heard on the radio, it's because this conversation took place over two decades ago, before the the era of the shock jock. In retrospect, a more genteel time--KJ)
In 1987, Cleveland's top-rated rock station WMMS decided to schedule a call-in radio show on Sunday nights. Kind of unusual at the time for a station that played mostly music, but my guess is Sunday was a night with few listeners anyway, so why not experiment? I don't recall the show lasting very long.
1987 was also the year the Cleveland Browns met the Denver Broncos for the first of three appearances together in the AFC Championship Game. The Browns were ahead 20-13 in the fourth quarter, when Denver quarterback John Elway led his team 98 yards in five minutes, tying the game at 20-20 and forcing it to go into overtime. The Broncos then won with a field goal. Final score: 23-20.
Not surprisingly, this heartbreak of a loss was the topic of much conversation on the WMMS show that Sunday night. As it was a rock, rather than a sports, station, the calls were from mostly teens and twentysomethings. As a twentysomething myself listening, two calls in a row stand out.
"Go ahead, caller," said the radio host (whose name I've long forgotten and wouldn't use here anyway.)
"I want to talk about the Browns game." This was a particularly unctuous sounding teen male. Think Eddie Haskell, retooled for the 1980s.
"Terrible loss, but there's always next year," said the host, casually.
"That's right, and I'd like to thank Bernie Kosar and the rest of the Browns for giving us a great season!"
Now, I thought the teen sounded a little sarcastic saying that, though for little reason as Bernie Kosar and the Browns DID give us a great season. Maybe that's why the host took the comment at face value.
"That's right, they did. Anything else to add, caller?"
"Yes, I'd like to make three predictions for next year."
"Sure. Go ahead."
"First, I predict the Browns will again make it to the AFC Championship, and this time beat the Broncos."
"My second prediction is that they'll go on to win the Super Bowl"
"Even better. What's your third prediction?"
"I predict John Elway will be traded to San Francisco and die of AIDS."
The radio host immediately hung up on him.
In a stern voice, the host said, "I guess there's some immature people out there!"
The host took another call.
"Go ahead, caller."
The next caller was another teen male, but this one didn't sound unctuous. To my ears he sounded guileless, sincere, earnest. How earnest did this teen sound? Imagine a combination of Richie Cunningham, Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Linus reciting the passage from the Bible in A Charlie Brown Christmas. He sounded that earnest.
"You know what that last caller just said?" asked the second teen.
"Yeah?" said the host, warily.
"I think it would probably be a good thing for the Browns if John Elway got AIDS."
There was a momentary silence. The host was probably deciding whether to hang up on him or not. Probably wondering if this was another homophobic prank call. Except it didn't sound like a prank. This kid sounded like he was genuinely expecting a calm, intelligent discussion on the possibility of John Elway acquiring the HIV virus, and the positive effect this would have on the Browns Super Bowl chances the next season. So, instead of hanging up, the host attempted to reason with the teen:
"Look, I know what happened to the Browns is upsetting. I'm upset about it, and so are you. But like I said earlier, there's always next year. The Browns can improve their chances in ways that doesn't involve someone getting sick. They've got a good defense. They can make it better. They can figure out ways to stop Elway the next time around. Look, sports is supposed to be fun, but it's not very fun if you go around wishing people dead. Do you think you can understand that?"
"Yeah, I guess so," said the teen, earnestly.
"Good. Thanks for calling."
The show continued, and AIDS didn't come up for the rest of the night.
For the record, the Browns did play the Broncos in the AFC Championship the very next year, and lost 38-33. Two years later they met Denver in the Championship for a third and final time, and again lost, 37-21. The Browns haven't been that close to the Super Bowl since.
Meanwhile, John Elway still walks the Earth.