On Tuesday's conference call introducing the announcing team for "Monday Night Football" when it moves from ABC to ESPN in 2006, Al Michaels kept talking about how the words "Monday night football" resonate for him like no other.
"When I hear the words 'Monday night,'" he said, "'football' just follows.
When I hear Al Michaels' voice in the fall, it sounds like Monday night to me the way the voice of Pat Summerall used to sound like Sunday morning. (On the West Coast, the A game is usually a morning event.) So I'm glad Michaels will be moving over to cable.
I'm also glad when I consider the possibilities for ESPN, which employs a disproportionate number of announcers who make me want to shoot the TV. I shudder at the thought of being forced to listen to Chris Berman or Mike Tirico every week, or at the very least being forced to find a working radio.
Michaels will team up with Joe Theismann, plucked from ESPN's current Sunday night team, in a two-man booth. Suzy Kolber and Michelle Tafoya will be the sideline reporters.
It's a solid crew. Michaels is still as good as anyone, and Kolber and Tafoya are both excellent, though if their talents are wasted as solo sideline reporters, they'll be doubly wasted as a tandem. Get these women real jobs!
Theismann's the pick that's going to have tongues wagging for the next year and beyond. The former quarterback elicits powerful responses pro or con with, I suspect, the pro crowd tending toward casual football fans and the cons tending toward the hardcore.
I feel strongly both ways. I think the ESPN Sunday night crew, Theismann sharing color duties with Paul Maguire while Mike Patrick handles the play-by-play, has gone from enjoyable to unlistenable in the last few years.
ESPN executive vice president Mark Shapiro says Maguire will be part of the pregame show and Patrick will keep doing college basketball and pretty much whatever else he wants to do at ESPN.
Theismann and Maguire have become a bad vaudeville team, with annoying vocal tics -- "you wanna talk about ..." -- and tiresome in-joke squabbling. Patrick, a solid announcer, has at times become something of a moralist who always sounds like he's about to have a heart attack.
But I've enjoyed the work of both Theismann and Maguire in the past. They're both funny and they both have interesting things to say about football when they're not trying to play off each other for effect. I often disagree with the things they say, but I don't need announcers to just say things I agree with.
I think Michaels, a consummate pro, will bring the best out of Theismann. They both like to talk, so there's no need for a third person in the booth.
I like this trend toward two-man booths. It's that rare cost-cutting move that actually benefits the consumer. With rare exceptions, three-man booths aren't as good. They too often devolve into mindless chatter and riffing.
One of those rare exceptions has been Fox's top team of Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and Chris Collinsworth, mostly because of Collinsworth. The coming prime-time shakeup will break up that booth, and unfortunately it's Collinsworth who's leaving for a spot on NBC's "Sunday Night Football" studio show with Bob Costas. Buck and Aikman will remain as a two-man booth.
John Madden has already signed on as the Sunday night color man, and NBC vets Marv Albert and Tom Hammond are said to be the front-runners for the play-by-play job now that Michaels, whom NBC pursued, is staying home with Disney, which owns both ABC and ESPN.
With Costas and Collinsworth, we can rest assured the NBC studio show will take football seriously and not be a frathouse like Fox's Sunday morning show. That's good. Teaming Albert's dry, urbane wit with Madden's blue-collar schtick might be fun. Hammond's a little bland for my tastes, but either way, it's good news that NBC will have a two-man booth as well.
I've been writing "two-man" and "three-man" for a reason. Notice anything about that ABC lineup? Al and Joe in the press box, Suzy and Michelle down on the field. There are male sideline reporters, so it's not quite women's work, but clearly the announcer's booth is still a boys-only domain.
"Monday Night Football" has long been the NFL's premier event, and NBC's position is that "Sunday Night Football" will take over that role in 2006. Innovation usually doesn't happen at the top of the heap -- the Dennis Miller Experiment being both an exception and a cautionary tale -- so I wouldn't expect either of the prime-time shows to put a woman in the booth, but someone ought to.
I don't know if Kolber, who is knowledgeable, has game-broadcast chops but Tafoya does. She does fine work on basketball for ESPN.
Is it so important that all of the voices coming out of the press box be male that a talent like Tafoya has to be consigned to the sideline ghetto for the rest of her life, solemnly intoning injury reports that easily could have been passed to the booth by a production assistant?
I think not. I have high hopes for the Michaels-Theismann pairing, but here's hoping a few years on the Monday night show -- Tafoya will have logged two seasons on ABC's version by the time ESPN takes over -- raise the profiles of Tafoya and Kolber specifically and women announcers generally enough so that one of these days the "men only" sign can come down off the announcing booth door.
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Letters From Lost Fans: Cleveland [PERMALINK]
As I've mentioned, when I asked for your tales of sports fan disengagement and ennui, I got a lot of letters from Philadelphia, a city where sports fans have done their share of taking it on the chin. The last professional championship in Philadelphia was won by the 76ers in 1983.
One Cleveland reader wonders why there weren't more letters from his burg. Good question. The last pro team to win a championship was the 1964 Cleveland Browns, who then followed three decades of futility and near-misses by moving to Baltimore.
Richard Cramer-Benjamin:As a Cleveland fan I always thought that the measure of a true fan was not how much you rooted for the team, but how much it hurt when they lost.
That special lump in the belly you get when you see Ernest Byner in the end zone and realize he doesn't have a football in his hands, watch Jose Mesa with that 1,000-mile stare, or watch Craig Ehlo and Michael Jordan jump into the air and only one of them obey the laws of gravity.
What drove it home for me was not the departure of the Browns, but their return. After the NFL gouged the city and granted us the "right" to keep the name I could no longer delude myself that I was really only rooting for laundry.
On some level I knew that it was irrational to think Albert Belle was only misunderstood while he wore Chief Wahoo on his cap but was a jerk the moment he put on a White Sox cap, but rooting for the new Browns who had only their laundry in common with the old Browns made the whole thing seem silly.
I am sure some of this has to do with how poorly all of my teams have done since then. I believe that since the Browns have returned the three professional (and I use that term loosely) teams of my youth have seen one playoff game and as many winning seasons with little hope for the near future.
King notes: Not quite one winning season and as many playoff games, but close.
The new Browns, a 1999 expansion team, have had one winning season, 2002, when they went 9-7 and lost their only playoff game, a heartbreaker, to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Cleveland Cavaliers, who have never won the NBA title, turned in their first winning season since 1997 this year, going 42-40 and missing the playoffs on a tie-breaker with the New Jersey Nets.
The Cleveland Indians, whose last World Series championship was in 1948, had winning seasons in 1999-2001, the end of a seven-year run. They made the playoffs as the A.L. Central Division champions in '99 and '01. Both times, they lost 3-2 in the first round, first to the Boston Red Sox and then to the Seattle Mariners.
And there is hope for the future, thanks to LeBron James but also to the Indians, who are on the upswing. With their new stadium and their run of success from 1995-2001, the Indians were the brightest thing in Cleveland pro sports before James came along. This year, the Indians are 52-49 through Tuesday and in the wild-card hunt.
Previous column: Williams, Larkin, Brown comebacks
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