Columbo: Season 2, Episode 3

The Most Crucial Game (5 Nov. 1972)

TV Episode  -   -  Crime | Drama | Mystery
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Ratings: 7.4/10 from 908 users  
Reviews: 26 user | 5 critic

The manager of a football team murders its callow owner, making it look as if the young man had had an accident in his swimming pool. Lt. Columbo is on the case.



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Title: The Most Crucial Game (05 Nov 1972)

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Episode complete credited cast:
Paul Hanlon
Walter Cunnell
Coach Rizzo
Eve Babcock
Susan Howard ...
Shirley Wagner
Eric Wagner
Ralph Dobbs
Kathryn Kelly Wiget ...
Miss Johnson
Richard Stahl ...
Mr. Fremont
Deputy Coroner
Cliff Carnell ...
Joe Renteria ...
Box Attendant Jimmy
Ivan Naranjo ...
Sgt. Hernandez, L.A.P.D.


The owner of a football team is found dead in his swimming pool. It looks like an accident, a slip and fall; however, Columbo doesn't really believe in this being an accident and investigates as if it was a murder case - but the person he suspects has a powerful alibi. Written by Maarten Hofman <>

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Not Rated | See all certifications »




Release Date:

5 November 1972 (USA)  »

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Did You Know?


The murder victim's (Eric Wagner's) house is the same used in Columbo: Murder by the Book (1971) where it was the house of Ken Franklin. See more »


At the start of the game after the kickoff, it is 1st and 10 at the 38 yard line. The quarterback is sacked for a 5 yard loss and the radio announcer states that it is now 2nd and 15 but the ball is on the 30 yard line. That would make it 2nd and 18. See more »


Lt. Columbo: I thought I had trouble with my TV when my wife used the hairdryer, so the electrician, he explained it to me. You find this boring?
See more »


Edited from A Gathering of Eagles (1963) See more »


Eine kleine Nachtmusik
composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
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User Reviews

Good mystery with a somewhat awkwardly executed ending
12 August 2004 | by (Port Talbot, South Wales,UK) – See all my reviews

A refreshingly originally plotted Season 2 Columbo episode which sees the general manager of an American Football team, Paul Hanlon (played by Robert Culp) bump off the lazy, unambitious and wasteful owner, Eric Wagner (played by Dean Stckwell).

The script adds one or two nice twists along way and Culp, in his second outing as a Columbo villain is consistently stern-faced and oddly humourless throughout; in fact, he encapsulates the devious, selfish determination of his character and his scenes with Columbo are increasingly confrontational.

There is humour afoot in this story too: the scene when Columbo goes to call-girl Eve Babcock's home to question her is really funny, as she thinks Columbo is one of her customers.

There are however some nagging minus points - some aspects of the script rely too heavily on coincidence and luck. For instance, Eric Wagner was obviously a stubborn person - Hanlon's pestering manages to ensure that he is the pool so he can orchestrate his murder. This happens too easily for my liking...

Furthermore, the sealing clue is both inconclusive and rather contrived: amongst other things, Columbo's damning of Hanlon's alleged alibi-creating phone call takes place at exactly the same clock time it was perpetrated some days earlier. Therefore, Columbo miraculously judges his typical end-of-case wrant to perfection....

A very curious episode in many ways....worth a look for its's controversies.

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