Monday, October 13, 2008

A Foreheady Rivalry

Peyton Manning has been inextricably linked to brother Eli since the younger Manning entered the NFL in 2004. And with good reason: the Mannings are talented, high-profile quarterbacks who each led his team to Super Bowl victory in the last two seasons.

But as unfair as comparisons of a younger, struggling Eli to his superstar sibling have been at times, those comparisons have proved just as unfair to the elder Manning. For the hard truth is—though the Manning boys engender direct comparison because they are siblings playing the same position—Peyton's true rival is Mike Farrell, a/k/a Capt. B.J. Hunnicutt of M*A*S*H.

Until Peyton Manning's emergence on the national stage in 1998, Mike Farrell's crown for America's biggest forehead remained unchallenged—an honor he had taken from the Talosians of the Star Trek pilot (seen at right). Joining the M*A*S*H ensemble in 1975, Farrell's prominent squama frontalis instantly became the most recognizable frontal anatomy in prime-time. Although cast as a mild-mannered foil to Hawkeye, the producers soon found that Farrell's forehead lent much-needed counterbalance to Jamie Farr's nose. Farrell's huge forehead quickly became one of the 4077th's centerpieces—and even found its way into plotlines, doubling as an emergency helicopter pad in Episode 114, "Beyond the Call."

Farrell confessed to People in a 1981 interview: "Most of my fan mail concerns my forehead. Viewers want to know everything about it."

After M*A*S*H left the air, Farrell considered reprising his role in a spinoff, which was to be called BJ, MD and follow his post-war days as President Eisenhower's personal physician. But Farrell, a liberal activist, thought the character's conservative leanings on transthoracic echocardiography too out of sync with his own. Yet even without a major role since 1983, the abundant acreage above Farrell's eyebrows left him the king of craniums for a quarter-century.

And along comes Peyton Manning, a supremely talented quarterback with a forehead unlike any ever seen in the NFL. Former Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Mora would diagram plays on Peyton's ample forehead during timeouts. Sure, Manning's forehead afforded plenty of space for all the X's and O's—the Colts offense had a grand view of Mora's strategy. Only problem was that Peyton, himself, couldn't see the play. He'd look up and try to snare a glimpse of the upcoming playcall, but, of course, it was futile...and the Colts finished a dreary 3-13 that season. Not until Tony Dungy introduced the clipboard to the Indianapolis offense in 2002 did Manning blossom into an MVP.

Neither Manning nor Farrell has ever consented to a forehead measurement, so it remains to be seen who officially possesses more cranial surface area. But Manning's celebrity and broad advertising appeal have made him virtually ubiquitous, whereas Farrell has largely faded from the public eye. However, Farrell is fast becoming the darling of the astronomy circuit, his convex upper profile providing California observatories with on-demand solar eclipses, from which scientists have garnered a wealth of new data about the sun's atmosphere. Rumor has it that Farrell may take his new talent to observatories across the nation so that the public might benefit, and that Farrell has acquired the rights to Thus Spake Zarathustra to complement what NASA has dubbed the "Farrellian eclipse." This could well make Mike Farrell a hot commodity once again, so perhaps the crown shouldn't be handed to Peyton Manning too quickly.

Who's really the Sultan of Skull? Unless someone can get a caliper to Farrell's and Manning's foreheads while they're sleeping, it's the Super Bowl vs. the solar eclipse in the battle for the public's heart.

1 comment:

Randy said...

Sweeney (via e-mail): Beautifully done, and each word truer than the last. Though I would offer that Hunnicutt's dome countered both the sheer mass of Klinger's beak and Nurse Kellye's ample back porch.

Randy: Good point. It was Nurse Kellye's ample back porch that dragged the war on so long because it stuck so far over the agreed-upon 38th Parallel that the North Koreans time and again refused to sign the armistice...