Gumbel to Ditka to Gibbs scores team win for NBC

ON THE AIR

October 17, 1994|By MILTON KENT

NEW YORK -- Greg Gumbel, Joe Gibbs and Mike Ditka watch football about the same way you do, with a bunch of pizzas, chicken wings and soft drinks.

Of course you don't have eight television monitors, five cameras and scores of people around as you check out NFL action, but then, watching pro football on Sundays isn't your job.

It is their job, and on this Sunday, Gumbel, the host of NBC's "NFL Live" pre-game show, and Ditka and Gibbs, the show's analysts, are together for the first time in a while.

"I missed Mike. He's my binky," said Gibbs, the former Washington Redskins coach, with a laugh.

"I don't have a binky," said Ditka, the former Chicago Bears coach, without a laugh.

Binky or no, the NBC trio, in their first season together, have forged a friendship that does not disappear when the show is over.

"These guys honestly enjoy each other," said Ricky Diamond, the producer of "NFL Live." "There are days when I wish we could put the stuff that goes on in the makeup room on the air."

Yesterday, Gumbel, who came to NBC this year after four years as host of "The NFL Today" at CBS, was gloating openly over his status as the leader in the ongoing weekly prediction competition among the six men who share time during the pregame program.

Gibbs and Ditka, in their second year with NBC, have known and respected each other for years, but neither had ever worked with Gumbel.

"They're the ones who have had to make the adjustment to me because I'm the new guy here. They like each other so much and they don't want to intrude on each other, so sometimes they don't say everything they could," Gumbel said.

As Gumbel, the show's quarterback, is responsible for getting Ditka and Gibbs air time, their adjustment to him is key and is a big reason ratings for the show are the best they've been in years.

"He's the most professional person I've worked with in this business," Ditka said of Gumbel. "He sets us up so well, and there's never an anxious moment when he's here."

Good cover men

ABC did a splendid job Saturday in capturing what was perhaps the most significant weekend of the college football season to date.

The first game of the doubleheader, Auburn-Florida, probably was the best game Baltimoreans have seen this fall (remember that Channel 13 opted for Washington-Miami over Colorado-Michigan).

The game itself lived up to billing, with Auburn snatching a 36-33 win on its final possession and knocking Florida out of the top spot in the polls.

And ABC, which dubs itself the network of college football, was up to the challenge with stirring pictures, timely replays and telling graphics.

For once, Brent Musburger's words didn't oversell the event. By and large, Musburger was under control, letting the game tell the story and allowing partner Dick Vermeil to make points as needed.

The second game, Penn State-Michigan, though it was the featured contest, seen by the entire nation, never seemed to sparkle, perhaps because the Nittany Lions grabbed control early and threatened to make the game a blowout.

But once the Wolverines mounted a third-quarter comeback to tie the score early in the fourth, Keith Jackson and Bob Griese got cracking. Jackson's ever-so-sparse call of Penn State quarterback Kerry Collins' 16-yard touchdown pass to Bobby Engram with 2:53 left was brilliant.

Still, Jackson wasn't perfect, either. When studio man John Saunders relayed that Alcorn State quarterback Steve McNair had run or thrown for eight touchdowns, while touting his Heisman Trophy chances, Jackson cryptically muttered, "Different game."

If Jackson believes Alcorn's status as a Division I-AA school doesn't afford McNair legitimate Heisman consideration, then he should have said that and elaborated on it.

Finding the answer

A special "On the Air" thanks to Mike Beczkowski for helping determine the last time a Baltimore television affiliate passed up a Washington Redskins' home game.

Beczkowski, an account representative at T. Rowe Price, remembered that on Nov. 2, 1986, Channel 11 aired the Dallas-Giants game at 1 p.m., rather than the 4 p.m. Minnesota-Washington contest.

And while we're at it, let's have a moment of reflection for poor Channel 45. It passed on the Arizona-Washington game, thinking it would be a dog, and opted for the San Francisco-Atlanta contest, on the theory it would make for better viewing.

Of course, the Redskins game went to overtime, and the 49ers game was a blowout that the station could not switch out of, because Fox had not made the technical arrangements to make that possible, said Vince Wladika, a network spokesman.

BREAKING IN

Two of the four Baltimore television stations with news operations broke into regular programming yesterday to carry the news conference that announced Phil Regan's hiring as Orioles manager.

Channels 2 and 11 carried the announcement, while channels 13 and 45 did not break away.

WMAR telecast audio and video of the news conference in a split-screen format while continuing to show the Miami Dolphins-Los Angeles Raiders game.

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