Dierdorf is leaving ABC after 12-year association


What was going to be a fairly humdrum Pro Bowl telecast on Sunday night just got a whole lot livelier with yesterday's announcement that Dan Dierdorf will be leaving ABC and "Monday Night Football."

In a statement released through his management group, Dierdorf said he had been told by ABC that there would be "no substantial offer to extend my contract," which expires at season's end.

As such, Dierdorf, an offensive lineman during his playing days with the St. Louis Cardinals, and ABC parted company after a 12-year association.

In a statement, Brian McAndrews, ABC Sports executive vice president and general manager, thanked Dierdorf, calling him "a very talented broadcaster who earned the respect, admiration and friendship of everyone with whom he worked."

Mark Mandel, an ABC spokesman, said Dierdorf will be permitted to work Sunday's game (Channel 2, 6 p.m.). Mandel said no immediate replacement has been selected for Dierdorf, but said there would be an announcement "in the near future."

Dierdorf's departure marks the second major change on the popular show in as many years. Frank Gifford, who has been with the program for all but the first year, was replaced in the booth before last season by former Maryland quarterback Boomer Esiason.

Oddly enough, there was speculation this week that Esiason would be leaving "MNF" to go back to the playing field, possibly with the San Diego Chargers, but Mandel said Esiason told ABC that he'll be returning to the booth.

Early speculation has placed former Green Bay Packers receiver and ESPN studio analyst Sterling Sharpe into the booth to replace Dierdorf, but Sharpe has never done live game analysis, and with ABC carrying next year's Super Bowl, it would seem odd that the network would have a game crew with two relatively inexperienced analysts. A better choice might be Paul Maguire, the ESPN analyst who has a great sense of humor and has experience in a three-man booth.

As for Dierdorf, while he has a daily radio show in St. Louis, his network future seems cloudy. A Fox spokesman had no comment on Dierdorf's leaving ABC and his possible relocation there, and a CBS spokeswoman said: "At this point, CBS is not interested in Dan Dierdorf."

The numbers game

Wednesday's big Maryland-Duke men's basketball showdown got the equivalent of a 6.6 Nielsen household rating and a 10 share of the audience in Baltimore area homes that have ESPN.

We'd also be remiss if we didn't tell you that the Super Bowl (you know, that football game they played on Sunday?) got a 10.9/16 rating in Baltimore households that receive Washington's Channel 5, which brings the total Baltimore rating to a 38.3/54, a shade off the national 40.2/61 figure.

Making a comeback

What if a professional sports league took a few months off, and then came back for a shortened season? Would anyone care?

The NBA and its television carriers are about to get the answers to those and other questions, starting tonight, as the league begins its season after resolving months of labor unrest.

What isn't resolved is to what extent the public remains angry, or even worse indifferent, at both the players and the owners for what transpired, and there's a lot riding on the resolution.

NBC and Turner, the league's broadcast and cable carriers, respectively, are betting $2.6 billion -- the cost of the new four-year contract that goes into effect this year -- that whatever anger exists will eventually evaporate.

"Will there be some apathy? Logic tells you yes. But our objective is to get back to what we had by the time the playoffs come around," said Kevin O'Malley, a Turner Sports executive.

Fans will certainly have the chance beginning this weekend to take in as much NBA action as they can handle, as TNT, NBC and TBS open their schedules.

TNT gets things started tonight with a doubleheader, with the Knicks meeting Orlando at 8 p.m., followed by a Houston-Lakers showdown at 10: 30 p.m.

On Sunday, NBC (Channel 11) starts its slate with "NBA Showtime" (12: 30 p.m.) and new studio analyst Isiah Thomas, newly relocated from courtside. Then, it's a doubleheader, with the Knicks host to Miami in the opener at 1 p.m., with the Lakers host to Utah in the nightcap. TBS' Monday night package of games kicks off, well, Monday, with the Lakers traveling to San Antonio at 8 p.m.

Sounds familiar

So, the New York Mets replace an outspoken, but skilled catcher in the broadcast booth for a revered former pitcher who also will assist in teaching players on the current roster, thus raising serious questions about his objectivity.

Does this movie ring true to anyone else around here?

Around the dial

ESPN2 brings its "Friday Night Fights" to the Pikesville Armory with three Washington-area fighters heading the card. Lanham's Andrew Council will meet Michael Ward of Fort Washington in a 10-round middleweight bout, with Clinton's Reggie Green taking on Jesus Rodriguez of Mexico in a super lightweight title fight.

CBS (Channel 13) has one of the big early golf tournaments of the year, the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, this weekend, with third and final-round play tomorrow and Sunday at 3 p.m. each day. In addition, the network is trotting out an occasional late-night highlights show with Gary McCord and David Feherty, around 12: 35 tonight.

A terrific slate of college basketball games is headed by tomorrow's Stanford-Connecticut men's showdown (Channel 2, 3 p.m.), and an intriguing Tulane-Memphis women's clash, same time on ESPN2.

And finally, Monday brings the first night of one of the eerily interesting "sporting" events of the year, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show from New York. The show, with host Joe Garagiola, drew a 4.0 rating last year for USA, which handily beat ESPN's heavily promoted "ESPY Awards." Share an evening with the pooch of your choice at 8 p.m.

Pub Date: 2/05/99

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