NBC covers the AFC as its portion of the NFL package, yet the network has turned to two pretty high-profile former NFC quarterbacks to bolster its coverage and, more importantly, give the ratings a boost.
In the marquee hires of the football broadcast season, the Peacock gang plucked away former New York Giant Phil Simms to join Dick Enberg and Paul Maguire in its reconfigured No. 1 booth team, while adding former San Francisco 49er Joe Montana to its "NFL on NBC" pre-game show as a studio analyst.
Montana, who joins Greg Gumbel, Mike Ditka, Joe Gibbs, Ahmad Rashad, Will McDonough and Jim Gray on Sunday's special one-hour edition (Channel 11, noon), has been the target of speculation since he joined NBC a few months ago.
Montana, who was never known as the most loquacious of players, will now be called upon to be candid and, at times, critical -- something he admitted, during a teleconference announcing his hiring, would be difficult for him.
"Do I think he's going to be good? Yeah," Gumbel said last week. "But as any athlete who does a good job on television will tell you, the perception that you just walk in and do it is wrong. It takes much more work than that. That's what we wanted to let him know, and with a full understanding of what it takes, he's all gung-ho and ready to go."
Simms, who will work the New England-Cleveland game (Channel 11, 1 p.m.), at least has a year of television under his belt, having been a studio analyst with ESPN last season. He left "GameDay" because he wanted a shot in the booth.
"I don't get nervous about it," Simms said. "I've got to feel my way around the business a little bit, but once I get a little more comfortable with it, I think it's going to be outstanding."
A lot of people at NBC are betting that both Simms and Montana will be outstanding.
Countdown to Cal
The first wave of specials on Cal Ripken's run at baseball's record for consecutive games played washes over town this weekend, and two of them that were available for preview are solid efforts.
The first, "The Iron Oriole: Cal Ripken, The Ultimate Pro," (Channel 54, tomorrow, 7:30 p.m.; Channel 45, Sunday, 11 p.m.) has a gaudy title, but is a superb look at the world around Ripken, from his days on the sandlots of Aberdeen, his hometown, to Camden Yards.
There's a twist to the special, however, as it carries no narration and has no on-air reporters, but instead leans on the words of the interview subjects and natural sound. Scott Livingston, an Emmy award-winning photographer, shot, produced and edited the program, with help from fellow photographers Joe Anthony and Steve Weinstein, and the result is excellent.
Home Team Sports weighs in Sunday (9 p.m.) with "Hats Off to Cal," narrated by Jim Palmer. The show plays more to the baseball fan, with a nice retrospective of the career of Lou Gehrig, whose mark Ripken is expected to break, as well as a solid interview of Ripken by Palmer, a former teammate. "Hats Off" will air on a number of occasions through the month and is worth catching any time.
Finally, Channel 2's "When A Hero Comes Along: The Ripken Magic" airs initially Sunday at 7 p.m. It was unavailable for preview.
Frazier's star rises
City residents should keep an eye out Sunday for Baltimore native Kevin Frazier, who co-anchors "The fX Sports Show," debuting at 11 p.m. on the fX cable channel, available on the city's United Artists lineup.
The show, a joint effort between the channel and Fox Sports, pledges to be a faster-paced version of "SportsCenter," and will feature some Fox personnel.
Frazier, the son of former Morgan State men's basketball coach Nat Frazier, was a reporter and photographer at Channel 45 and went on to fame and fortune during stops in Charleston, S.C., and Cincinnati.
The busiest weekend on the sports calendar to date will feature 11 1/2 hours of CBS' U.S. Open coverage (Channel 13, tomorrow, noon; Sunday, 12:30 p.m.), as well as the return of Notre Dame football, as the Irish play host to Northwestern tomorrow (Channel 11, 2:30 p.m.).
Because of tomorrow night's Orioles-Mariners game, Maryland's
football opener against Tulane will air live on WITH (1230 AM) and WASH (97.1 FM) at 8 p.m., though the replay will be carried on WBAL (1090 AM) after baseball. Speaking of which, Jon Miller makes his "Baseball Network" debut with Billy Sample for tonight's Orioles-Mariners game at 8 p.m. on Channel 11.