In NFL debut, Fox drops its name but not the ball


August 16, 1994|By MILTON KENT

If you watched Friday's San Francisco-Denver NFL exhibition game, you may just now be able to look at your TV screen without seeing the word Fox.

Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch paid $1.2 billion for four years of National Conference games, and it seemed as though the network's publicity department was determined to get at least half that much back in one fell swoop.

Everywhere you turned, there was some not-even-remotely gentle reminder that the game was on, well, Fox, from the down-and-distance graphics, to the borders that separated replays from live action to the incessant promos for the fall schedule.

As for the presentation, let's say that Fox's maiden football voyage went better than expected, considering the fledgling network had no previous sports experience.

There are some kinks to be worked out, but the Fox folks already have some good ideas, like constantly keeping the score and clock in the upper left corner of the screen.

You also had to like the sights and sounds of the telecast. Fox not only lifted a sizable chunk of the production staff at CBS, from whom it lifted the NFC, but built on its predecessor's work by bringing in more cameras, replay machines and field microphones, all of which paid off nicely Friday.

And then there's the announcing team of Pat Summerall and John Madden. Bringing them over together was the smartest thing Fox could have done. They know their viewers, but most importantly, they know each other and how to draw the best from each other to the benefit of the viewers.

The two got off a great exchange near the end of the first half, where Madden, commenting on the clock in the corner of the screen, said it could be used to time a roast.

Summerall: "I don't think it will be done in 12 seconds [the time left in the half]."

Madden: "No, you can put it in during the first quarter and if there's a lot of timeouts, you can eat it done. If there's not, you can eat it rare."

(By the way, after years of hearing Summerall promo the coming evening's episode of "Murder, She Wrote," it will be a scream to hear him say, "Tonight on "Married . . . With Children, Bud leads a panty raid, while Kelly dates the Seventh Fleet.")

No Air time

Sometimes, life works out perfectly.

ESPN, in search of baseball programming with the major-league strike (you might have heard about it), grabbed the biggest name it could get, Michael Jordan, for "Sunday Night Baseball."

ESPN conveniently ignored a few facts, like that Jordan's team, the Birmingham Barons, is in fourth place in the Southern League's Western Division, Jordan isn't even hitting .200, and that there were plenty of other games that would better capture the minor-league flavor.

So, how fitting was it that Jordan, who had banged up his shoulder Friday, didn't even play, leaving ESPN with egg on its face? Very fitting.

Punch lines

Someone better sign up Buster Mathis Jr. quick for a sitcom, following his riotously funny performance after getting a no-contest out of nearly four rounds of work against Riddick Bowe on HBO Saturday night.

Mathis, who took a shot to the head from Bowe while he was on one knee, was a scream during questioning from analyst Larry Merchant. When Merchant asked him whether he wanted to face Bowe again, Mathis burst forth with, "Rematch. Title shot. I want it all."

And when Merchant wanted to know what Mathis' ailing father -- a former boxer -- was thinking as he watched the fight, Mathis quipped, "Can you bleep this out?"

Merchant got the last funny word of the night, when he noted, "I showed up here wondering why I wasn't at Woodstock and where was Joe Cocker when we need him."

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