Columbo (1971–2003)
35 user 6 critic

The Most Crucial Game 

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.


Jeremy Kagan


John T. Dugan, Richard Levinson (created by) | 1 more credit »




Episode complete credited cast:
Peter Falk ... Columbo
Robert Culp ... Paul Hanlon
Dean Jagger ... Walter Cunnell
James Gregory ... Coach Rizzo
Valerie Harper ... Eve Babcock
Susan Howard ... Shirley Wagner
Dean Stockwell ... Eric Wagner
Val Avery ... Ralph Dobbs
Kathryn Kelly Wiget Kathryn Kelly Wiget ... Miss Johnson
Richard Stahl ... Mr. Fremont
Don Keefer ... Deputy Coroner
Cliff Carnell ... Plainclothesman
Joe Renteria ... Box Attendant Jimmy
Ivan Naranjo 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 <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


TV-PG | See all certifications »






Release Date:

5 November 1972 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Gioco mortale See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Universal Television See more »
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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

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Did You Know?


Actor Cliff Carnell is billed as "plainclothesman" but the character does state his name as "Sgt. Clemons". See more »


Certainly using ice as a weapon is an interesting idea. The killer got his ice from the ice cream truck. Every kid knows they only use dry ice which would have smoked up prodigiously in the pool. See more »


Lt. Columbo: This is what bothers me: Why were you fired from that job after only three days? Because, if you don't mind my noticing, you'd be an ornament in any office.
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Edited from A Gathering of Eagles (1963) See more »


Eine kleine Nachtmusik
composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
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User Reviews

Watch for Culp's performance
28 January 2011 | by stones78See all my reviews

Let me get the negative out of the way first, mainly the lack of what I would consider a true motive for such a high-profile murder, carried out by a GM of a professional football team. That GM was superbly portrayed by Robert Culp, who's angrier than ever and is the 2nd best Columbo villain, behind only the great Jack Cassidy. I've seen this fine episode many times, and I'm still slightly baffled what was the motive; was it because the young owner, played smugly by Dean Stockwell, didn't want to buy a hockey franchise, or was Paul Hanlon(Culp)simply power hungry? This never jived with me. That being said, this is an entertaining episode revolving around football and there are notable actors performing, such as Dean Jagger, Val Avery, and Valerie Harper; there's even a special appearance by none other than Pat Riley of the LA Lakers. There's no need to repeat the plot again, but most of the scenes, including what appears to be a stray dog on set with Avery's character, are quite effective and fun. Peter Falk is in fine form, and his chemistry with Culp is superb. The conclusion may be a bit too tidy for my taste, but it doesn't detract from the rest of the segment.

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