ESPN's Theismann may like to yak, but MNF is just a whole other beast

ON MEDIA

July 29, 2005|By RAY FRAGER

THE BEST PART of Tuesday's announcement by ESPN of its Monday Night Football announcing team - Al Michaels, Joe Theismann, Suzy Kolber and Michele Tafoya - came when network executive Mark Shapiro was asked about finding enough air time for sideline reporters Kolber and Tafoya.

"It only works if we can keep Joe's comments to a minimum," Shapiro said during a conference call.

The shame of it is, he was joking.

As anyone who has watched ESPN's Sunday night NFL games knows, Theismann certainly enjoys the sound of his own voice. His favorite animal must be the yak. Bet when he goes to Washington, he visits Yakima. His top Japanese dish? Yakitori.

And if Theismann has had too much to say as part of a three-man booth - it seems Paul Maguire often has been reduced solely to guessing the outcome on first-down measurements - imagine the opportunity for verbosity that will be afforded when it's just Michaels and Theismann calling the games starting in 2006.

On the other hand, Michaels remains one of the best sportscasters on the air, so if anyone can rein in Theismann, it would be Michaels.

When Michaels decided to stick with Disney and sign on to continue with MNF after it moves from ABC to ESPN, the talk was his decision came down just to money. NBC had been pursuing Michaels to be its play-by-play voice on the network's Sunday night package.

Michaels' ESPN deal will pay him a reported $4 million a year. (His contract for calling NBA games on ABC, which is in its final season, reportedly pays $2 million a year.)

Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports and Olympics, said during a conference call Tuesday: "I'd say the only issue was money. At NBC, we have certain numbers we won't go past for certain roles."

Michaels said his decision ultimately was based on his comfort with ABC/ESPN/Disney.

"It's been a 29-year run at one place," he said. "It's a case of I'm home and I'm staying home. ...

"At this point in my life, the only issue in my life is not money. If I have to make a decision based on that, I've been a terrible investor - and I haven't."

Though Mike Patrick loses his gig as ESPN's NFL play-by-play man when the network shifts from Sunday to Monday next year, Shapiro indicated that Patrick will continue to have a strong presence on ESPN. ... Shapiro also said ESPN wants Maguire involved somehow in its NFL telecasts. ...

Among those ESPN also considered for Michaels' partner, Shapiro said, was Tony Kornheiser, co-host of Pardon The Interruption and sometime columnist at The Washington Post. ... ESPN plans to televise Monday Night Countdown on-site when it takes over next year.

With Michaels out, NBC appears to be leaning toward the capable Tom Hammond for NFL play-by-play. "Tom Hammond is one of the most underrated talents in sports broadcasting," Bob Costas said during a conference call to announce his official naming as NBC's NFL studio show host. ... During that call, Ebersol interrupted to tell reporters he was looking out of his window in Martha's Vineyard, Mass., and watching Walter Cronkite take his boat out on the water.

Late-afternoon talk host Paul Mittermeier has quit all-sports WJFK (1300 AM). "I wasn't in agreement with the way management wanted to change the show," he said yesterday. "I thought it was time to walk away."

Mittermeier said the station wanted to bring in a co-host. He had worked with one, Steve Stofberg, until WJFK's owner, Infinity, laid off Stofberg in December as part of a cutback at its Baltimore radio stations. Mittermeier had been on the air at the station since 1997.

Dave Labrozzi, vice president of programming for Infinity Baltimore, said Mittermeier is being replaced by Bill Rohland, who had been doing updates and working Ravens broadcasts. Rohland will be joined by a rotating series of co-hosts. Labrozzi wouldn't address Mittermeier's reasons for leaving. ...

In his low-key way, Orioles analyst Buck Martinez indicated his displeasure with Sammy Sosa's spikes-high slide into the plate during Wednesday's game against the Texas Rangers on Comcast SportsNet. It was definitely the old catcher in him talking.

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