BRISTOL, Conn. -- In his office in the ESPN complex of buildings here, Dan Patrick has two monitors on his desk, one of which, he says, is always trained on his former "SportsCenter" partner Keith Olbermann.
"One of these is just my Keith monitor and the other is on the rest of the world, so I can keep an eye on Keith," said Patrick recently. "Because everybody keeps asking me, `What do you think of Keith? Did you watch Keith?' So I've got a monitor so I can keep an eye on Keith all the time."
Meanwhile, across the way on a cold Thursday night, Patrick's new partner, Kenny Mayne, isn't quite as preoccupied with the ghost of Olbermann as Patrick is.
"It just doesn't matter. It's a big enough world for him to do his thing and for us to do ours. He hasn't quit yet, has he?" said Mayne, with a cocked eyebrow.
Mayne and Patrick are joking about their level of interest in their former colleague, but one could certainly understand if they were really concerned.
After all, Olbermann's much-heralded relocation to Fox Sports Net is the early leader for biggest sports media story of 1999, the equivalent of a Burger King setting up operations down the street from a McDonald's.
In fact, this is big enough that Patrick couldn't be spared a night off to attend the bachelor party of one of the members of Hootie and the Blowfish, who asked Patrick and other ESPN staffers to appear in one of their videos.
"I'm in a war right now. I've been told I'm in a war," said Patrick. Still, Patrick says the battle of the corporate giants has not affected his friendship with Olbermann, whom he's known for 15 years, when both got their first big national breaks at CNN.
The seemingly unflappable Patrick says he felt a bit "betrayed" by his former "tag-team partner" and believes that Olbermann, who co-wrote a book with Patrick about "SportsCenter" and their 5 1/2 years together, "took a little too much glee" in their new head-to-head matchup.
"It's not Keith and I, which is the way it's been presented. It's ESPN and Fox. That's what it is. If it's a fistfight between Keith and I, then we win, but it's not that. It's my network, your network," said Patrick.
"On any given night, if a story breaks, we'll have it. We'll break more stories in a month than they'll break all year. But we should. We have the resources. We have a 20-year history, and a 16- or 17-year head start on them. We should be better."
This is, to be certain, as fevered a battle for the hearts, minds and attention of highlight show viewers as has taken place, and Fox has spared no expense to grab a foothold in the game, luring Olbermann away from MSNBC with a rumored $1 million salary, and Chris Myers from ESPN as well.
Sitting quietly, seemingly detached from all of this, is Mayne, Patrick's new "tag-team partner" since August 1997. Mayne, a Seattle native who sold long-distance phone service and built garbage cans before convincing ESPN to hire him in 1993, is staying out of whatever fray exists in this battle.
For Mayne, who succeeded Olbermann on ESPN2's "Sport- Smash" there are larger things in life than whether people like or don't like him on television.
He and his wife have tried unsuccessfully for years to have a family. Two years ago, one of their twins died at birth and the second baby died six months later. He carries a picture of his son Connor to the set every night, and he hasn't forgotten that it was Olbermann who volunteered to work for Mayne during that Christmas after Connor's death.
"I have no ill will for him and nobody could get me to say bad things about him. I hope he does well -- not so well that he hurts us -- but I think this place is doing well," said Mayne.
Mayne's wife, Laura, is two months pregnant, and nothing is nearly as important as seeing their child to term.
"I enjoy the fact that I have a cool job and I make more money than I ever have," said Mayne, who was a backup at UNLV to Vikings quarterback Randall Cunningham. "But we could get by fine if our family got restored and I'm back assembling garbage cans. I never get caught up in `Oh, Keith's coming back and there's going to be a big war.' What are you going to do?"
As Mayne and Patrick portray it, what they'll do is what they've always done: a good show with lots of viewers, 10 times more than Fox had last month.
"I don't think there's going to be any change. We'll continue to be what we say we are, the sports leader," said Patrick. "Keith may be the Kevin Brown signing of cable sports, but that doesn't mean the Dodgers win the World Series. I know what Keith does. I know who he is and what he's all about. He knows how to make good TV. But you're not going to beat us by just having Keith on there. You have to do a lot more homework than that."
Pub Date: 1/19/99