Admittedly, being grateful for having a network NFL telecast to work on doesn't quite stack up to the more profound currents that run through most of our lives, like home, health and family, but Jim Nantz is nonetheless thankful today to be back in the NFL game.
"I'm loving it. I tell this and it offends my golf and college basketball guys, but I'm having more fun being involved in 'The NFL Today' than anything I've ever done," Nantz said the other day.
As if to prove his point, Nantz and a production crew took the train down from New York on Tuesday to hang out with Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa as "The Goose" prepared a fried turkey in his home for today's pre-game show (Channel 13, noon), leading into the Pittsburgh-Detroit game.
During the two-minute segment, Nantz looks on and helps out as Siragusa gets the 12-pound bird ready with -- among other ingredients and cooking aids -- garlic, hot sauce, teriyaki sauce, Cajun seasoning and a drill.
Don't ask. Just watch.
Today's show, airing on a holiday and without competition, gives CBS a chance to reintroduce "The NFL Today" to an audience that hasn't seen it or watches either Fox or ESPN.
And the Siragusa piece flies in the face of a notion, spread by a number of its critics, that the CBS show isn't very fun, even as Terry Ewert, CBS Sports' executive producer, this week called the show "information based."
"I think what we want to do is see what content we have on the show and let that be the driving force. It [the show] has improved from Week 1 and continues to improve every week," Ewert said.
The show has tread on impressive journalistic ground so far, particularly with league "insider" Mike Lombardi and some big interviews, especially Nantz's showdown with former Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor a few weeks ago. But it still lags behind Fox's show in the national ratings, trailing by a full point through last Sunday (though it regularly wins in Baltimore).
Nantz has a few theories for CBS' second-place finishes, starting with the fact that Fox has the NFC package, with seven top 10 markets in it, while CBS carries the AFC, with only two top 10 markets. For the record, that's an argument that CBS used to dismiss when it had the NFC and NBC had the AFC.
Viewers are more prone to watch the pre-game show of whichever network has a game at 1 p.m. Eastern. Nantz said that because the AFC has four markets in the Western or Mountain time zones, whose games start three hours after "The NFL Today" goes off the air, many viewers tune to Fox, which has more 1 p.m. games most weeks.
No matter the ratings struggles, Nantz is looking at the pre-game fight as a long-term battle, not a sprint.
"Realistically, we're like an expansion team. It's going to take a season to see what our strengths are and how to play to them in our second year," Nantz said. "I think CBS will come away feeling that we put on a high-quality show with a lot of great news elements."
Turkey day giblets
CBS has the early NFL kitchen duty today, including the introduction of its own Day-Glo orange first-down line, a la ESPN's "First and Ten."
Fox (Channel 45) does the cleanup, with the Minnesota-Dallas game at 4: 05 and an appearance by this year's mutant turkey, resting comfortably in John Madden's bus. The abbreviated pre-game show includes a James Brown chat with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and coach Chan Gailey at 3: 30 p.m.
Before the game, Fox presents the Par 3 Challenge, a taped made-for-TV competition teaming golfers from the PGA, LPGA and Senior tours, with a $1 million bonus for a hole-in-one. Pat Summerall returns to golf for the first time since the 1994 Masters during the broadcast, which airs at 1 p.m.
Not to be outdone, ESPN will present Mississippi State-Mississippi football at 8 p.m., with the Bulldogs needing a win to clinch a slot in the Southeastern Conference title game next weekend.
While the Colorado and Kentucky men's basketball teams "jump ugly" in Puerto Rico at 11 a.m. on ESPN2, Fox Sports Net presents ugliness of a different type in a two-hour documentary, "Between the Madness."
The film, airing tonight at 8 on Home Team Sports with a repeat at 2 a.m., is a chronicle of last year's Fresno State team, coached by Jerry Tarkanian, which started the season in the top 10 but ultimately reached the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament.
Along the way, the filmmakers, who produced last year's "Clemente" documentary on the life of the late Pittsburgh outfielder, present a renegade program, where players are suspended and reinstated only to be suspended again.
There are players who cut classes, wield swords, stash four women in a closet to avoid a coach's bed check and get fleeced by "60 Minutes" reporter Mike Wallace.
The full gamut is on display, and it makes for a lively and interesting display. Don't miss it.
Pub Date: 11/26/98