Calm voice robs CBS' Olsen of impact


September 15, 1990|By RAY FRAGER

Wouldn't it be great to borrow Merlin Olsen's voice every once in a while? The calm, reassuring tones of the CBS pro football analyst certainly could come in handy.

"No, honey, there really aren't any monsters in your closet. Now, just relax and go to sleep."

L "Honest, sweetheart, I just forgot to take out the garbage."

"Boss, I really meant to get that report done by today, but I wanted to do the thorough kind of job I know you want."

But maybe Olsen's voice serves to lessen the impact of what he says. On Sunday, the man who displaced Olsen as NBC's No. 1 analyst, former San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh -- who won't be challenging James Earl Jones for any voice-over gigs -- made headlines by saying on the air that Chicago Bears defensive lineman Dan Hampton shouldn't be playing on his scarred knees.

Olsen said the same thing last year, he said, and it seems others also have expressed misgivings about Hampton's possibly crippling himself by playing another season or two. But don't expect Olsen to start shouting to be heard.

"I think one thing the audience -- and it's a very sophisticated audience -- won't forgive is trying to be something you're not," Olsen said this week. "So dramatically changing wouldn't serve me."

Still, Olsen's surroundings have changed: a new network, a new partner (Dick Stockton), a new system. But, he said, his first week, despite covering a rout (the Washington Redskins' 31-0 victory over the Phoenix Cardinals), went very well.

"I was really delighted," he said. "A lot of the things you worry about in that situation about matching up with people didn't happen.

"You walk in almost loaded with potential negatives, and then when that doesn't happen, it feels like a rock was lifted from you."

Olsen said CBS' support system for its National Football League broadcasts is superior to NBC's.

The support level is higher," he said. "There are more people, more qualified people, helping. Then the pressure is on you to take advantage."

And Olsen gets a lot of opportunity to take advantage.

"There was more of me in this broadcast," he said, though he added that, in his last season at NBC, working with Charlie Jones, "I had all kinds of room."

Olsen, a Hall of Fame defensive tackle for the Los Angeles Rams, said he doesn't feel competition so much with other analysts as he does with himself.

"I don't feel the need to go out there and bang on doors and do a sack dance," Olsen said. "I didn't do it as a player, and I won't do it as a broadcaster."

Tomorrow's pro football: Cardinals-Philadelphia Eagles, Channel 11, 1 p.m.; Bears-Green Bay Packers, Channel 9, 1 p.m.; Buffalo Bills-Miami Dolphins, channels 2 and 4, 1 p.m.; Redskins-49ers, channels 11 and 9, 4 p.m.; Houston Oilers-Pittsburgh Steelers, TNT, 8 p.m.... TNT's regular-season debut last week, New York Giants-Eagles, drew a 7.3 cable rating, the highest rating in the two-year history of the channel. The previous high was 6.8 for a National Basketball Association playoff game. The rating is the percentage of 49 million American homes with TNT that watched the game.... The University of Miami certainly helped CBS, losing its first game and turning over the No. 1 spot in the polls to Notre Dame, which will open its season against No. 4 Michigan tonight on the network (channels 11, 9, 9 p.m.).

Who was the star in the first round of NFL pre-game showsActually, the star wasn't a who.

Did you see that new set for CBS' "The NFL Today"? Monitors, big-screen televisions, steps leading to lofts -- it looked like "Club MTV." Next thing you know, Downtown Julie Brown will replace Lesley Visser, and Greg Gumbel and Terry Bradshaw will don those super-baggy pants and gyrate to "U Can't Touch This." (M.C. Bradshaw, what a concept.)

As for what really transpired on that set Sunday, it was, as CBS promised, pretty much the same "NFL Today" with new faces. There were reports on the kinds of things you'd expect to see: new coaches, new rules and length of games. A weather map showing conditions at the day's game sites was a nice touch, as was Pat O'Brien's typically lighthearted feature on an adventur

ous retreat attended by the Minnesota Vikings.

Bradshaw's interview with Packers quarterback Don Majkowski included two references to Majkowski as a "top-played player," but Bradshaw, in his usual self-deprecating mode, made fun of his mispronunciation after the interview. But Visser's piece on the NFL's effort to shorten games had one major hole: What about instant replay?

To replace NBC defector Will McDonough, CBS introduced "The NFL Today Eye" to dispense rumors and lightly sourced reports. Gumbel -- who was in relaxed, good form as host; Brent who? -- presents the "Eye" wash, compiled by others on the CBS payroll.

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