For many, the opening weekend of the NFL season signals the end of a long spring and summer slumber, where the world comes back into focus after months of dormancy. For some others, the beginning of a pro football campaign means the onset of a nightmare of months of hype and overkill.
The truth for most people is probably somewhere in the middle, but no matter your feelings, the season is upon us, with no fewer than five national media outlets gearing up to hit you hard and heavy with pigskin coverage.
Here's what each of the outlets has planned for the season, with emphasis on new personnel and production moves.
NBC: The peacock network is making a number of changes to its roster, both in the booth and for its pre-game show.
At the stadiums, NBC has added former New Orleans Saints coach Jim Mora, former Green Bay Packers and Buffalo Bills receiver James Lofton and recent Bills retiree Jim Kelly, who will do color for Sunday's Ravens-Jacksonville game. New York-based sportscaster Mike Breen is the lone play-by-play addition to the NBC roster.
For its pre-game show, NBC has called Sam Wyche in from the booth to replace Mike Ditka, who left to coach the New Orleans Saints, as analyst. Wyche, who did tours of coaching duty in Cincinnati and Tampa Bay, should be a breath of fresh air.
"I can only be myself, which often amounts to wedging my foot from my mouth," said Wyche yesterday. "If you can be entertaining and educational without boring someone to tears, you can be effective."
Fox: Things will be close to the status quo at Fox, which added two analysts, former Bills linebacker Ray Bentley and Trevor Matich, a former Washington Redskins offensive lineman, for game coverage.
In fact, the only change that most viewers will notice will come during the pre-game show, where the network will add a ticker, which will carry information and stats that are of interest to Fantasy Football fans.
"Fantasy Football has become a bigger deal and that [the ticker] services that part of the audience, plus it serves people who want more than the two stats you put on the screen," said Scott Ackerson, coordinating producer of the Fox pre-game show.
ABC: There are no personnel changes to report for "Monday Night Football," which opens its 27th season with a Chicago Bears-Green Bay showdown (Channel 2, 9 p.m.), but the show's introduction has been tweaked with dancer Savion Glover being added to Hank Williams Jr.'s rowdy patter.
The most notable difference viewers will detect is the continuing presence of the score and time remaining on the screen. It's a touch brought over by division president Steve Bornstein and the rest of the ESPN management team that runs ABC Sports now.
It's a touch, however, that appears to be quite unwelcome among the Monday nighters. On a conference call earlier this week, Al Michaels called the move "nothing but a distraction," while partner Dan Dierdorf said, "We didn't get a vote."
Producer Ken Wolfe said, "In a lot of ways, the negatives outweigh the positives, but I can't spend a lot of time on it. It's funny to me that the clock and score has become an issue. I've never gotten a letter or a phone call saying they wanted the score and clock."
TNT: Turner's already excellent NFL production, perhaps the best of all, may have gotten better, with the addition of former Redskin lineman Mark May into the booth.
May, who was splendid in the studio last year, joins Verne Lundquist and Pat Haden to form a three-man booth that, from this perspective, should be every bit as good as its broadcast counterparts.
"Mark brings a completely different perspective than I do and that's good," said Haden, a former Rams quarterback. "I'll have to be more judicious and concise, but that's not a bad thing."
TNT, which kicks off its limited nine-week run with Sunday's Washington Redskins-Carolina Panthers game (8 p.m.), will add former Packers Sean Jones and Keith Jackson to the hour-long pre-game show (7 p.m.), and the two former teammates have already demonstrated a willingness to spar each other in a spirited, but not contrived manner.
ESPN: The kids in Connecticut will have to wait until early November for live game action, but, in the interim, they'll cover the league through "NFL Countdown," the only 90-minute pre-game show, and "Prime Time," the only bona fide postgame highlights program, on a new set no less.
The local view
You'll be seeing and hearing a lot of new Ravens defensive lineman Tony Siragusa this year. Starting tonight and running every Friday night, Siragusa and Channel 2 sportscaster Keith Mills will be co-hosts of a program on WCBM (680 AM) at 7 p.m. from The Barn on Harford Road.
Siragusa will also contribute a weekly cooking segment, called "Gourmet with the Goose," to the "Ravens Report," airing each Saturday on Channel 45 at 6 p.m. The team-produced show will also look each week at a great football moment from Memorial Stadium in a segment called "Memorial Memories." Siragusa will also be host of "Ravens All-Access," a new behind-the-scenes look at the team, premiering next Thursday at 6 p.m. on Home Team Sports.
"Ravens Kickoff," another team-produced pre-game show, moves from Channel 45 to Channel 2 this season, with hosts Scott Garceau and Lisa Berc. It will air at 11 a.m., with a re-air at 11: 30 on HTS.
Garceau, the team's radio play-by-play voice, returns to the booth on WLIF (101.9 FM) and WJFK (1300 AM) for a second season, flanked by analyst Tom Matte. Bruce Cunningham, who had been in the booth last year, will report from the sideline. In addition to the usual two-hour radio pre-game show, this year's host is Stan "The Fan" Charles, WJFK will debut "The NFL on 'JFK," Sunday at 10 a.m., anchored by the underrated Gary Stein, who reports that the new show will resemble a TV pre-game show, only without pictures.
Around the dial
Believe it or not, there are football alternatives for those who need them. The Orioles-New York Mets game tomorrow airs on Fox (Channel 45, 1 p.m.) and during the pre-game segment, Chip Caray talks to outfielder Eric Davis about his comeback from colon cancer.
There's mondo U.S. Open tennis from CBS (Channel 13) this weekend with seven hours of coverage both tomorrow and Sunday starting at 11 a.m. Finally, the WNBA crowns a champion in a one-game, winner-take-all grudge match tomorrow at 3: 30 p.m. on NBC (Channel 11).
Pub Date: 8/29/97