MNF with Madden should be a treat

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 16, 2002

If you happen to be a football addict like myself, then you are no doubt delighted to see football games back on the tube once again, even if it is meaningless preseason NFL action.

For true football fans, the time frame between the end of one football season and the start of another one can be particularly agonizing, but the beginning of televised pro exhibition games is a clear signal that the beginning of regular season NFL and college football action is just around the corner.

Although there have only been about three NFL preseason games on television thus far,

an early highlight was the annual Hall of Fame contest recently between the expansion Houston Texans and the New York Giants which marked the unofficial debut of ABC's Monday Night Football for this season.

While the game between the Texans and the Giants was no classic, as games between second and third-stringers for the most part rarely are, but the game was hyped more than most preseason games due to the debut of longtime legendary color analyst John Madden on the MNF set.

Unless you have been in a cave and did not know, ABC mercifully refurbished the MNF team for this season, with Madden joining announcer Al Michaels in the broadcast booth and Melissa Stark serving as sideline analyst.

Gone are woeful members of the MNF staff such as the incredibly unfunny Dennis Miller, the totally incoherent Eric Dickerson and the dismally boring Dan Fouts.

Watching Monday Night Football had becoming an increasingly unpleasant experience over the past couple of years or so and I basically had grown accustomed to muting my television during MNF games, choosing to listen to music while watching the game or listening to the radio broadcast of the game.

At first the experiment with Miller seemed intriguing, and ABC was no doubt hoping to boost ratings of MNF which had been sagging for some time while trying to appeal to younger viewers.

But it was painfully obvious from the outset that the chemistry between Michaels, Miller and Fouts was strained at best, and while Stark is a consummate professional on the sidelines, Dickerson was totally laughable and rarely understandable.

If MNF was going to add a sports fan/comedian to the mix, it could have least attempted to find a funny one, as Miller's obscure references failed to amuse many people other than his hard-core fans.

And while Miller did improve somewhat from his first season to his sophomore one, he still never was able to totally get a handle of when to stick in a joke or "comical" reference and Michaels and Fouts were usually left to try and cover up for yet another awkward Miller moment.

It was obvious, though, just by watching the Hall of Fame Game that the Michaels/Madden team should be gold for ABC, as it is a "Dream Team" of sorts of the sport's most popular color analyst with arguably the finest announcer in sports period.

The chemistry lacking from the woeful ensemble of the past couple of seasons is immediately present, and bringing back Stark, who is a fine analyst and also is not bad on the eyes, was also a very good decision.

For all the talk about trying to appeal to a younger generation of watchers, football purists still want in-depth analysis of the sport that they are watching, and not comedy, and that is why the Madden-Michaels pairing should be such a refreshing change.

It will be nice to be able to actually watch Monday Night Football again this season, and not only for the action on the field, but the top-quality commentary from the broadcasting booth.

The only question is, did the pairing of Madden and Michaels take so long to finally happen?

Stan J. Griffin is a reporter and columnist for The Andalusia Star-News.