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Madden, Michaels hit it off in broadcast booth

Posted: Tuesday, August 06, 2002

John Madden gave viewers an early ''boom!'' and plenty of ''hecks'' in his ''Monday Night Football'' debut -- and nary a highfalutin' reference.

All in all, Madden's first broadcast for ABC Sports, at the Hall of Fame exhibition game in which the New York Giants beat the expansion Houston Texans 34-17 in Canton, Ohio, was everything one would have expected and perhaps have hoped for.

His style was as different as possible from that of his predecessor as a buzz-generating, big-name hire for the high-profile broadcast booth, comedian Dennis Miller.

The true measure of the success of Madden and ''MNF'' mainstay Al Michaels, of course, won't come until the TV ratings during the regular season -- the show's viewership numbers have declined for seven years.

''I don't want to take the temperature too soon,'' Madden said by telephone 20 minutes after going off the air. ''You just kind of build and get more comfortable as you go.

''I do know this: With Al, it's going to work.''

Madden jumped to ABC from Fox in February with a four-year, $20 million deal (only 11 NFL players made more than $5 million last season). The show dumped Miller and analyst Dan Fouts, who stayed with ABC to call college games.

Something that became clear Monday: We're going to be seeing a lot of Madden. During the first commercial break, he and Michaels appeared in an ad plugging ABC programming. Later, he popped up in an ad for athlete's foot medicine. And Monday's 11 p.m. EDT ''SportsCenter'' on ESPN -- like ABC, owned by The Walt Disney Co. -- plugged a video game carrying Madden's name.

While Miller was hired two years ago to bring irreverence, Madden was brought aboard with an eye to his years of experience and viewers' familiarity with his style.

Madden and Michaels eschewed broadcasting a game in the comfort of a studio as a workout before taking to the airwaves.

''We didn't have one second of practice,'' Madden noted.

By the sound of things, they didn't need to.

''I wasn't worried about technical mistakes, because those are correctable. I wanted John and Al to be themselves, and they were,'' ABC Sports president Howard Katz said after the game. ''They had great rapport and showed how well they can work together.''

In the opening moments, Madden -- who coached the Oakland Raiders to the 1977 Super Bowl title -- picked his spots. Late in the first quarter, though, he and Michaels already seemed quite comfortable with who should speak when, something the Michaels-Miller-Fouts trio never quite had right after two seasons together.

''The first part, you have all the business to take care of: starting lineups, and Al does that; change of possession; commercial. It's easier just to lay out, not to get anything in,'' Madden said. ''That was kind of the plan.''

After Madden finished a riff about how comfortable No. 1 draft pick David Carr looks, Michaels said with a laugh, ''How are you doing? Are you getting more comfortable?''

Madden replied: ''Yeah, I'm comfortable as heck.''

''Me, too,'' Michaels said.

(Michaels actually had the biggest difficulty of the night, more than once referring to the ''Houston Texas'' -- dropping the ''n.'' Hey, it's a new team.)

Michaels, on ''MNF'' since 1986, is Madden's first new boothmate in more than two decades. Madden and Pat Summerall were paired at CBS in 1981, then moved to Fox in 1994, along the way becoming the signature voices of NFL games.

When Miller joined ''MNF,'' his debut was peppered with references to the pope, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the Rosetta stone. Here's about as esoteric as Madden got Monday: Telling Paul Tagliabue, ''You're like Switzerland, aren't you?'' when the NFL commissioner stayed neutral while a touchdown play was being reviewed.

Madden stuck to his schtick -- Mr. Plainspoken.

When Texans offensive lineman DeMingo Graham helped spring a long gain in the first quarter, Madden said, ''He makes that block right there! Boom!'' He proclaimed rookies Carr and Jeremy Shockey ''the real deal,'' called Aaron Glenn ''a heck of a corner,'' and declared his stay in Canton ''a heck of a weekend.'' When a first-year defensive back was beaten on a play, Madden said he ''looked like a rookie all the way on that one.''

By the end of the first half, the announcing provided by Michaels and Madden was conversational and informative. It had the feel of two guys on bar stools watching the game with you -- except these two guys happen to be the pre-eminent play-by-play announcer of the past two decades and the owner of the best career winning percentage for an NFL coach.

Not a bad combination.

------

Howard Fendrich is the TV sports writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at hfendrich(at)ap.org.



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