by Lang Whitaker

Two of my favorite things in this world are television and Shaquille O’Neal.

Unfortunately, when Shaq and television have collaborated on things other than NBA basketball, the results have been hit and miss. Shaq’s recent appearance hosting WWE RAW was actually pretty good. Before that, Shaq’s last TV series was “Shaq’s Big Challenge,” where he tried to get a bunch of obese kids in Florida to lose weight. It was a weird show because they filmed it during the NBA season (when school was in session), and while the other coaches and doctors worked with the kids all the time, Shaq just randomly showed up every once in a while, when his schedule allowed. It made the show feel like it wasn’t about Shaq, which it really wasn’t — it was about those fat kids. And I wanted to see a show about Shaq.

The thing is, Shaq gets a lifetime pass for giving us things like this. That was maybe my favorite moment of the 2008-09 NBA season. So if Shaq says something’s worth watching, I’ll give it a shot.

Going into this premiere episode of “Shaq Vs.,” let me first say I’m not expecting much. This whole concept seems like a better fit as a recurring 5-minute segment on Conan or something.

OK, let’s goooo…

• Shaq is introduced as “seven-foot-one, 325 pounds of pure strength.” I think some scales in the Phoenix area might have something to say about that weight.

• Shaq tries on a variety of sports uniforms. He is first shown wearing a yellow football jersey that appears to be approximately two sizes too small. It’s number 8, which immediately makes me think of Kobe. The thing’s so tight on him it might actually be Kobe’s jersey. We see Shaq with goggles on, Shaq in a baseball cap that has “VS” on it. (Victoria’s Secret?)

• The show opens with Shaq and his trainer, Mike Clark, who immediately leaps into contention as the most boring man to ever appear on primetime network television, riding high in the sky in a G4 jet. They clumsily discuss Pittsburgh, which is apparently where we’re heading. Shaq then proclaims that he’s a better quarterback than Ben Roethlisberger. (That name almost broke my spell check.) Mike Clark says, “I don’t think you’re a better quarterback than Ben.” I think that was supposed to set up the challenge, to heighten drama and make us think that, as dominant as we know Shaq can be, we just don’t know what’s going to happen on this program. Unfortunately, Clark said that line with a tone of voice that suggested someone ordering a casket over the telephone or maybe breaking up with a longtime girlfriend.

• We are introduced to Ben Roethlisberger, who quickly says, “I might be the most competitive person I’ve ever met.” He says this while wearing a salmon-colored polo shirt that’s was way too many buttons. I can tell you this: He doesn’t look like much of an athlete. In fact, he looks kind of, well, fat. Is this leftover footage from “Shaq’s Big Challenge”?

• We are now in Moe Rubenstein Stadium at Ambridge High School, outside Pittsburgh. This is the stadium Sam’s grandfather built. The stands are full of people and they all seem to be pretty pumped up, cheering and screaming. Having a live crowd immediately seems like a good idea.

• The telecast will be hosted by Mike Goldberg (not the radio host from ESPN) and Pat Tomasulo. I have never seen either of these men before my life, but they look like aspiring college basketball coaches. Goldberg appears to be in the play-by-play role. I just googled Tomasulo, and he is a sports anchor from WGN in Chicago who does “humorous” segments called “The Pat Down.” He also apparently has a very good agent.

• Tomasulo says that in Pennsylvania, football is like a religion, which would make Ben Roethlisberger “the high priest.” Wouldn’t it make him the Pope? Or Jesus?

• Shaq and Mike Clark land in Pittsburgh and climb into a Honda Element, which is way too small for Shaq. I can’t tell if this is just bad product placement or what, because they never actually specify the make or brand of the car. Maybe they just didnt have enough budget to get a real car.

• On their way to the high school stadium, Shaq and Clark are discussing whether or not Shaq can compete with Big Ben, when Shaq decides to roll down the window of their car and ask the car next to them. It’s a car full of teenage girls, and they all go crazy, waving and screaming. It’s the first really unscripted moment of the show so far, and perhaps not coincidentally, it’s the best moment of the show thus far.

• Shaq arrives at Roethlisberger’s house, and after a lame give-and-take between Shaq and Roethlisberger through the intercom, they finally meet. Big Ben walks out of his with a backwards cap, long t-shirt and baggy shorts. He looks exactly like my deal…I mean, this guy I know.

shaqtwit• Shaq has a decided size advantage. Roethlisberger’s big (6-5, 240), but Shaq dwarfs him. Even though there are NBA players who are taller than Shaq, I’ve never met anyone as massive is Shaq is. I’ve always loved this picture of me and Shaq on the left. I’m a tiny bit over 6-1, and Shaq’s waist is at my armpits.

• They check out Big Ben’s trophies, which are all lined up over the fireplace. Shaq says if he didn’t play basketball, he would have played football and been a tight end, because his “hands are impeccable.” Big Ben asks if he could block, and Shaq, very matter-of-fact, says, “No, I can’t block. But I can catch.”

• Shaq: “I played quarterback when I was little.”
Ben: “When were you little?”

• They sit around and chat for a moment, and then we go back to the high school. Then the hosts introduce more video, and we go back to Roethlisberger’s house, where Shaq and Big Ben are playing a game of HORSE in Ben’s backyard. They discuss the rules for the football challenge, and I’m not sure what was decided. I’m also not sure why we’re watching them play HORSE.

• Big Ben quickly has HO.

• They get tied at HORS, when Shaq nails a shot from on top of a planter by the garage. Big Ben then nails the same shot, and then knocks Shaq out with a 16-footer. For winning, Big Ben asks to dunk Shaq. They lower the goal down to 8 feet, and Shaq gamely cowers under it while Ben dunks. Shaq laughs harder about it then Ben does.

• The Pat guy clarifies the rules: Shaq will quarterback a team and try to take them 20 yards for a touchdown. Big Ben will try to move his team 40 yards for a touchdown. So they’re handicapping Ben 20 yards. But I have a feeling if he was playing with the Steelers all around him and a full playbook, it would be a little easier.

• Oh no. We go to a press conference at the Steelers practice facility where we meet Ben and three of his teammates. They take a few shots at each other while a weary (and wary) group of reporters fills the press room. Shaq cuts a deal and tells Ben he needs Ben’s “coach,” Steelers back up QB Charlie Batch, to be on Shaq’s team and help him out. Roethlisberger can’t give him away fast enough. So I guess Shaq has a coach now.

• Shaq says he wanted to face the best quarterback in the NFL. Unfortunately, he adds, Brett Favre wasn’t available. Funny dude.

• Another commercial break. We’re now about 20 minutes in and the entire show has been filler thus far. If this wasn’t in HD, I’d think it was a Spike TV show. (That’s not a compliment,)

• Charlie Batch and Shaq hit the Steelers’ practice field. The on-screen graphic says “Charlie Batch — 57 Touchdown Passes.” It should have just said, “Charlie Batch — You Probably Have No Idea Who This Is.”

• Batch teaches Shaq how to drop back, and Shaq looks terrible at it, like he’s never crossed his legs while running before. The football seems like a Nerf ball in his hands. Batch says Shaq is throwing some “rockets,” but I haven’t seen any spirals.

• Now we see Big Ben go to work out. Can we get on with this? Please?

• Back to the stadium, where Charissa Thompson is in the locker room with Roethlisberger getting the lowdown. You can read more about her at sidelinehotties.net.

• Shaq and Big Ben are now meeting with kids from the Ronald McDonald’s House in Pittsburgh. Shaq notes, “Most great athletes do a lot of charity work.” Might be my favorite NBA quote of the summer.

• Mike Mayock from the NFL Network comes in to run a combine with the guys who will play on the teams with Shaq and Ben. To be generous, if this were the actual NFL Draft, Mel Kiper Jr. would kill himself.

• Shaq takes the opportunity to run a 40 yard dash, and he clocks in at 5.8 seconds. They then check Shaq’s vertical jump, and he reaches 11 feet, 7 inches high. Which is kind of amazing.

• Mike Mayock casually mentions that Shaq is 350 pounds. Guess he didn’t get the tweet earlier that Shaq’s “officially” only 325.

• Shaq and Big Ben stand about 20 yards from the end zone and have a contest to see who can throw a football and hit any part of the goalpost. Ben goes first, misses, and Shaq nails the crossbar on his first throw. He then goes on a victory lap, yelling, “Victory lap!” the entire time.

• Thirty five minutes in, and Shaq and Ben are finally at the football stadium. Shaq runs through some drills with some of the receivers and backs. One of the guys looks older than Phil Jackson.

• Mike Tomlin makes a brief appearance. Charissa Thompson says that Tomlin told her Big Ben would be serious and do his best out there, and she’s curious to find out if knowing this intimidates Shaq. Shaq deadpans that he’s not intimidated, because “Mike Tomlin’s not going to be on the sideline protecting him, like he did in the Superbowl.” I’m not sure what that means, but it’s kinda funny. Shaq’s always gotta be starting something.

• They announce Ben Roethlisberger, and he gamely trots out from what looks to be the high school library wearing what resembles a Raiders uniform. Shaq comes out in that yellow jersey and white football pants. He’s also wearing thigh pads, which is funny because I don’t think anyone’s allowed to hit these guys.

• Big Ben wins the coin toss and defers. Shaq gets the ball first.

• OK, finally some structure. Each team gets three possessions. They’re playing 7-on-7, two-hand touch, and there’s no running plays.

• On the first play, Shaq underthrows an open guy in the flat. On second down, Shaq lobs the ball into a cluster of players in the end zone, and it falls incomplete.

• On third down, the slot receiver runs through the zone defense from Roethlisberger’s team and Shaq finds him wide open in the end zone for a TD. They then do a celebratory chest bump, and Shaq flattens the poor guy.

• Big Ben comes out and hits an underneath receiver on first down for maybe 7 yards. Even though it’s two-hand touch, the linebacker on Shaq’s team drills the guy. Hey, Ben did expose him coming across the middle. On second down Big Ben hits a back who runs to the goal line. Two plays later, Big Ben hits the underneath receiver for a TD. Tie game.

• Second possession. Shaq’s offense takes the field, and Shaq calls everyone into a huddle. He tells the wide receiver on his left to stand alone, and tells all the other receivers to run to the right side of the field. He then tells the guy on the left to stand there and don’t move, and then to take off down field once Shaq looks at him. They hike the ball, Shaq looks right for a while, then looks left and pumps at the lone receiver. The defender bites on the fake, and the receiver runs for the end zone. Shaq unleashes a perfect spiral to the back corner for a second touchdown. That was actually incredible. Not only that they scored in one play, but that that play worked. Shaq’s look-away might have been his worst acting performance since Kazaam.

• So Shaq leads 14-7. Big Ben comes out and hits a pass underneath, and then on second down tries to hit a receiver streaking down the sideline. Shaq jumps off the sideline, intercepts the ball, and then outruns a receiver from Roethlisberger’s team into the end zone. That was great.

• The play is deemed illegal, so Big Ben’s team returns. Roethlisberger hits the tight end over the middle to get to the 18, and then Ben throws two incompletions. Big Ben connects on a third down pass to the 6 yard line, and then a TD on the next play. Game tied at 14.

• Shaq draws up a flea flicker and makes the catch on the pass back down to the 6 yard line. On first down, Shaq throws an incompletion to the back corner of the end zone. Second down, Shaq tries to throw a fade to the corner but underthrows his receiver and the pass gets picked. Turnover.

• Big Ben returns and completes a couple of passes, including a laser to a slot receiver for a big gain, and punches it in at the end to win it, 21-14.

• And that’s it, it just ends rather suddenly. Credits, promos, thanks for watching. After sitting through so much chaff at the beginning of the show, it crashed to an awkward ending.

So, what’s the verdict? The last 20 minutes of the show, from the point where Shaq and Big Ben actually started playing football against each other, was rather entertaining. It’s fun to watch Shaq run around and do things you would never see a 7-foot, 350 po…I mean, 325 pound guy doing. What’s not fun is watching Shaq riding in a car, Shaq riding in an airplane, Shaq talking trash. Unfortunately, over half of “Shaq Vs.” is a bunch of stuff that’s not entertaining.

Much like Shaq, if it wants to be a title contender, “Shaq Vs.” needs to get in better shape.