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Madden gets ball for Sunday call


John Madden's bombastic characterizations and down-home homilies have earned him a stunning 14 Emmy Awards over a 25-year career in sports broadcasting.

Now those reverberating traits will help ensure he remains the pre-eminent voice of the NFL when the league shuffles its television lineup after the 2005 season.

NBC announced yesterday Madden has signed a six-year contract to be lead analyst for its Sunday night telecasts when the network resumes NFL coverage in 2006.

"In my opinion, he's the best analyst of any kind in sports television history," Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports & Olympics, said in a teleconference. "John's so much more than a football legend, too; to me, he's an American icon."

Madden's arrival at NBC from ABC will formally stamp the transition of the NFL's top prime-time broadcast from Monday night to Sunday night in the eyes of most experts.

"I think it does," said Brian Decker of Eisner Communications, a Baltimore ad agency. "What they're trying to do is have some synergy from what they had Monday night and bring that over to Sunday. Having Madden legitimizes them."

Said Robert Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University: "This is a way to give a little continuity to help smooth over the transition. In a lot of ways, football fans don't like change, so to speak."

ESPN will switch from Sunday nights to take Monday night's broadcast.

NBC's move to Madden may steal more than Monday Night Football's thunder. Ebersol said he would wait until the NBA Finals end before talking with Madden's Monday night partner, Al Michaels, about NBC's play-by-play job.

"The play-by-play man has to be a good matchup [with Madden]," said former Ravens owner Art Modell, who lauded Madden and endorsed Michaels "as the finest broadcaster in sports today, bar none."

Madden's insight and folksy humor mark him as the best in sports color commentating, according to Steve Solomon, the president of SJS Sports and a former executive at ABC.

"Over the years, I don't think announcers moved the ratings needle," Solomon said. "If any one ever did, it was John Madden. His insight, his history and his name is of terrific value. I think he still has what it takes. It will be interesting to see who he'll be paired with."

Solomon expects NBC's Bob Costas to wind up as the studio host, which would open the door to a Michaels-Madden tandem.

Since joining CBS in 1981 with a four-game contract, Madden, 69, has followed the NFL around the dial. He spent 13 years with Pat Summerall at CBS, eight at Fox and the past three at ABC.

During that time, he became renowned for his aversion to plane flights, his passion for football and his EA Sports video game, "Madden NFL Football." Madden has been a spokesman for Ace Hardware, Outback Steakhouse, Tinactin and Sirius Satellite Radio. He also has co-authored several New York Times best-selling books, including Hey Wait a Minute! (I Wrote a Book!).

Most of what Madden says on television merits exclamation points as well.

"All he's got to do is show up," Thompson said. "I really think his presence is kind of comforting. In a world where they change the recipe of Coke, he's Coke Classic."

Said Decker: "It's his personality. He's like the Howard Cosell of football."

In a 10-year coaching career with the Oakland Raiders, Madden posted a 103-32-7 record that included a victory in the January 1977 Super Bowl.

In 2006 at NBC, he'll take on ABC's Desperate Housewives, the No. 1 show for 18- to 49-year-olds.

"You've got to remember, Desperate Housewives is a much more female-oriented program," Decker said. "In dual-TV-set households, the guy's in one room and the woman's in another. And who's to say ABC will keep it on Sunday night in 2006?"

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