Madden gets call, joins `Monday Night Football'

Broadcaster's hiring ousts Miller, Fouts

March 01, 2002|By Ed Sherman | Ed Sherman,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

CHICAGO - John Madden wanted in, leaving Dennis Miller out.

ABC changed course yesterday by signing Madden to a four-year contract to join play-by-play man Al Michaels in the "Monday Night Football" booth. Madden's arrival signals the end of a controversial two-year experiment with Miller, an esoteric stand-up comedian, on the telecasts.

It was a tough day for Pro Football Hall of Famers. Also out is analyst Dan Fouts as ABC goes with a two-man booth and sideline reporter Eric Dickerson. Melissa Stark, the other sideline reporter, remains. reported that Fox is expected to make lead baseball announcer Joe Buck its new top play-by-play NFL broadcaster. He could be paired with former Bengals wide receiver Cris Collinsworth, who has been on Fox's NFL pre-game show.

Michaels maintained that the Miller experiment "absolutely succeeded," but added, "When a John Madden, the gold standard, is available, you go get him."

ABC Sports president Howard Katz said he intended to bring back Miller and Fouts for 2003 until Madden, 65, suddenly went on the market when Fox Sports let him out of the final year of his contract, valued at $7.5 million.

Fox reportedly offered Madden a three-year extension for $15 million, which he declined. Madden, who had flirted with "Monday Night Football" in the past, decided to take the jump. His new contract is worth $5 million a season.

"This is something that came up very quickly," Madden said. "I'm numb. Every broadcaster would like to be a part of `Monday Night Football.' "

The break-up of Madden's 21-year partnership with Pat Summerall was a major factor in his decision. With Summerall stepping aside after the Super Bowl, Madden was going to have to work with a new play-by-play voice next year. Teaming with Michaels appealed to him.

"I always felt if everything lined up properly, this is something deep down that I wanted to do," Madden said. "It never happened because it never lined up right. Now is the time."

Madden's arrival ends the polarizing reaction that accompanied Miller's hiring. Some viewers liked his irreverence, but he turned off a significant number of football fans.

While some critics claim Madden has lost some punch in recent years, he is still regarded as perhaps the most popular analyst of all time in any sport. A veteran of eight Super Bowl broadcasts, Madden brings instant credibility to a program undergoing its fourth lineup change since 1997.

Madden will be the sixth analyst Michaels has worked with since taking over as play-by-play voice in 1986, and ABC hopes his presence will help boost ratings. The audience for "Monday Night Football" has declined each of the past seven years, dropping 9 percent last fall to an all-time ratings low of 11.5 (one ratings point is worth 1.055 million homes).

Ed Sherman is a reporter for The Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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