Fox gets call, ready to carry ball

You've heard the buildup for months. The whispers and nagging questions about their performance have been in the wind since near the end of last season. Finally, on Sunday afternoon, it will be time for the team to deliver on a mountain of promises.

The Cowboys? The Bills? The Oilers? The 49ers?


Nope, the team of mention is the Fox network, and the stakes are significantly larger than for any football team. All that's at stake on the football field are guts and glory. Nothing short of credibility is on the line for Fox.

Fox, heretofore known as the network of Bart Simpson and Al Bundy, wrested National Football Conference games away from CBS, which had carried professional football for 38 years, last December for a whopping $1.58 billion over four years.


Almost immediately after winning the NFC package, Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch and sports president David Hill set about bringing an air of authenticity to the new project by hiring away a significant chunk of CBS personnel from both in front of and behind the camera.

The most important move was the hiring of Pat Summerall and John Madden, football's top play-by-play/analyst tandem since they first were united 13 years ago, to be Fox's No. 1 team.

Madden, a nine-time sports Emmy winner, came at a $30 million price tag over the four-year length of Fox's contract with the NFL, and his re-teaming with Summerall, along with the signing of CBS producer Robert Stenner and director Sandy Grossman was crucial to the network's credibility.

For his part, Summerall plans to conduct business as usual.

"I don't have any plans to approach the game any differently," Summerall told the Chicago Tribune. "I've been comfortable with what we've done. Outside of more preparation from the material that's furnished to us and more access to the players and coaches, I don't think we'll approach it any differently."

But there are differences that will be instantly apparent to the viewer.

For instance, on Summerall/Madden games, Fox will deploy 12 cameras, four more than CBS used for lead Sunday games, with two Super Slo-Mo replay machines. The second unit, with Dick Stockton and Matt Millen, will have eight cameras and a Super Slo-Mo machine and all games will have additional field RTC microphones. And the network has pledged to keep a graphic in the upper left corner of the screen with the score and the time remaining at all times.

In addition, below the top two teams, Fox has hired a collection of young announcers, including Kenny Albert, Joe Buck and Thom Brennaman, none of whom is yet 30, to bring a different sensibility to the game.


James Brown and Terry Bradshaw will be hosts of the pre-game show, and Jimmy Johnson and Howie Long will provide analysis and Lonnie Lardner reporting. It will run for one hour -- 30 minutes longer than the traditional network pre-game presentation -- on a set that features a 20-yard-long artificial turf field for demonstrations and the "Fox Skybox" for celebrity guests and interviews.

Can Fox reinvent the telecast wheel or will the traditions and rituals of the NFL force it back to football as it's always been shown?

"Our job is to cover the game as it's being played," Madden said in the Chicago Tribune. "You have to change as the game changes. You can't cover the game the same way you covered it five years ago because they're not playing the same game."

That goes for off the field now, too.