Big Game wasn't always so

ON MEDIA

February 03, 2006|By RAY FRAGER

Even without the Roman-numeraled expression of extra-large size, everyone knows how immense the Super Bowl is. But John Madden can recall when it was somewhat smaller.

"I was watching [television] last night and the Seattle Seahawks came in. ... They had a shot of the plane coming in and the Seahawks were getting off the plane," Madden, who will join Al Michaels to call Sunday's Ultimate Game on ABC, said in a conference call this week.

"It made me think back to Super Bowl II. I was an assistant coach with the Oakland Raiders. ... They had a shot of us coming in. They said later the `Oklahoma Raiders' arrived. That was Super Bowl II where the host city wasn't even sure where the hell the other team was from."

To quote Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl," my, how you have grown.

"It was Super Bowl Sunday and then it became Super Bowl weekend and now it's Super Bowl week. So it just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger," Madden said.

Part of that bigness Sunday will be the overlapping pre-game shows on corporate brothers ABC and ESPN.

Fred Gaudelli, the Super Bowl producer, said: "We're trying to offer complementary pre-game shows. ... On ESPN, we're going to take a hard turn. We're really going to go deep into the X-and-O format of the game and break it down. ... We're going to have reports from the reporters every 20 minutes during the overlap time on ESPN, and we're going to dive in and dissect the game with the announcers that we have and the analysts that we have."

ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown will run from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and ABC's pre-game goes from 2:30 p.m. to 6. (Kickoff will be at about 6:23 p.m.)

Chris Berman hosts the ABC show, with his usual ESPN compatriots -- Michael Irvin, Tom Jackson and Steve Young. Stuart Scott anchors the ESPN show, joined by Mike Ditka, Ron Jaworski and Sean Salisbury. Given the enormity of The Event, both shows will be chock-full of other ABC and ESPN personnel and special guest stars, among them New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and comedian Jimmy Kimmel.

As for the myriad features planned on the pre-game shows, here's all you need to know: On ESPN, Kenny Mayne and Martha Stewart make nachos.

That's the kind of thing that turns the Super Bowl into The Big Game.

Too much

Neither Madden nor Michaels expressed approval of the new NFL Network deal that puts eight late-season Thursday or Saturday night games on the cable channel.

"I just worry about overexposure, I really do," Madden said. "I think that one of the good things that we've always had in the NFL is that we couldn't follow it up during the season. Basically, you had games on Sunday and Sunday night and then Monday night. And then no matter how much you wanted to watch the NFL, there was no more NFL games between Monday night and the next Sunday. ..."

"I don't want us to become like college basketball or college football or something where you have games on every night. That's the direction that it's going in, and I really don't know that that's a great direction."

Michaels added: "If you're going to make things less and less special, then at a certain point I think that you begin to pay the price."

Monday go-round

As rumors swirl -- sudden thought: you think "rumor swirl" would make a good ice cream flavor? -- around Michaels' possible disengagement from Monday Night Football, another twist -- I seem to have ice cream on the brain -- has cropped up involving Tony Kornheiser.

Michaels reportedly is seeking to get out of his commitment to continue with MNF when it moves to ESPN next season, in order to join NBC's Sunday night package, where he would continue to work with Madden. If Michaels does leave MNF, a possible Monday team -- as reported by the New York Post -- would be play-by-play man Mike Tirico with analysts Joe Theismann and Kornheiser.

Kornheiser, longtime sports columnist for The Washington Post, auditioned for MNF before ABC chose Dennis Miller in 2000. Kornheiser and colleague Michael Wilbon yak at each other weekdays on ESPN's Pardon The Interruption, and Kornheiser hosts a daily talk show on Washington's all-sports WTEM. (And Howard Stern calls himself The King of All Media?)

Kornheiser addressed the Monday situation on his radio show yesterday, saying he would be interested in the job, even though it would involve two things he is steadfastly against -- possible air travel and staying up late. He also disputed the figure of $900,000 reported in his own paper for his PTI salary. Should Kornheiser get the MNF gig, The Washington Post reported, his ESPN money would more than double.

With all of that going on, Kornheiser, such an entertaining complainer on the radio, might find it hard to continue on WTEM (980 AM). So the station, which fills four hours each morning with his show and an immediate replay, would need to find -- deep breath, here it comes -- a backup kvetcher.

ray.frager@baltsun.com

Read Ray Frager's blog at baltimoresun.com/mediumwell

Top-rated sports

Highest-rated sports programming for Baltimore for Jan. 25-31 (ratings measure the percentage of television households watching a program):

Program Date Ch. Rtg.

PGA 1/29 13 5.2

UM-Ga. Tech 1/25 ESPN 3.9

WWE Raw-a 1/30 USA 3.6

WWE Raw-b 1/30 USA 3.3

UM-Temple 1/28 ESPN2 3.1

WWE Smckdwn 1/27 24 3.0

Heat-Rockets 1/29 2 2.8

PGA 1/28 13 2.2

Suns-Cavs 1/29 2 1.9

Horse racing 1/28 11 1.8

Ariz.-N. Carolina 1/28 13 1.8

a-second hour b-first hour [ Nielsen ratings courtesy of WBAL-TV]

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