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Dave Lind

After much hand-wringing, consternation, and wild speculation, the Powers-That-Be at ABC have announced their new broadcast team for Monday Night Football 2000. Yes, most of you no doubt already know who was tabbed for the coveted spots alongside Al Michaels, but for those of you who have been living in a cave, the lineup will be as follows:

Play By Play: Al Michaels
Jock Analyst: Dan Fouts
Third Wheel: Dennis Miller

Yes, that's right- Dennis Miller, the smarmy Saturday Night Live vet whose show you might have flipped past on HBO the past few years.

The reaction has been predictable. Virtually everyone in the sports business agrees that returning MNF producer Don Ohlmeyer has flipped a gasket and made the biggest hiring blunder since CBS stuck a microphone in front of Phyllis George. Airwaves all across America are abuzz with the railings of professional sports commentators, many of whom have dedicated decades to learning the craft of speaking intelligently into a microphone, who are tearing their hair out at the prospect of ABC entrusting a position of such enormous responsibility to an untrained, untested, inexperienced...comedian. My God, the man has never even PLAYED professional football!

Of course, the overwhelming majority of the fans who will he counted on to tune in every Monday night are overjoyed, but what do they know.

Get real, people! If ABC can trust Charlie Sheen to fill the shoes of Michael J. Fox, I can hardly see how Dennis Miller will have any trouble at all following in the footsteps of Boomer Esiason. I, for one, am overjoyed that Don Ohlmeyer demonstrated even a small amount of brass and tried something new. Pairing a distinguished broadcast journalist with a clueless former jock may have been innovative and exciting forty years ago, but for the love of sleazy women, it has been done to DEATH! The notion that all of the collective knowledge of the game of football is reserved only to those who have actually suffered head trauma on the gridiron is ludicrous. Both Esiason and his predecessor, Dan Dierdorf, spent more than a decade each in the NFL and neither one has ever had a single insightful football-related comment escape their lips, on air or off, Miller could do nothing more than sit in the booth and make Sebastian Janikowski jokes for seventeen weeks and he would STILL be a major improvement over Esiason.

Having said that, and having thus established the bar of success so low, allow me to go on record predicting that Dennis Miller will be a HUGE success in his new job. Contrary to popular belief, indepth knowledge of football is not crucial to the success of a broadcaster. Howard Cosell knew about as much about football when he started on MNF as Pedro Guererro knows about recombinant DNA, yet he remains the standard by which all of his successors are compared, What vital is that the commentator in question be intelligent, articulate, and charismatic. None of which were Esiason or Dierdorf, all or which are Miller and then some.

The problem with MNF and its sagging ratings over the past few years are two-fold:

One, the scheduling of games was uninspired at best. Division winners of the previous year were simply paired off over and over, Green Bay, Dallas, San Francisco. Denver, etc, etc, etc. Each team was given three games a year on Monday night and were thus overexposed and uninteresting.

Two, write it off to bad luck, but for whatever reason MNF has been victimized by a seemingly endless stream of blowouts. Even when fans did tune in, often times what they found was a 28 - 3 halftime score and Dan Dierdorf insightfully pointing out that "Buffalo is gonna have to put some points on the board if they want to get back in this thing." Suddenly, Ally MacBeal starts to look pretty good.

Now, Dennis Miller can't do much about the first problem, but he will help out immensely with the second. Part of a broadcaster's job is keep the game interesting even when it is not close. Back in the early days of MNF, Don Meredith and Howard Cosell had their subtle little on-air feud that kept viewers amused even during the worst blowouts. Dierdorf? Esiason? Gifford? The strategy seemed to be "pretend the game is close, maybe the fans won't notice."

Bad strategy.

Dennis Miller is exactly what Monday Night Football needs. What he lacks in football knowledge he more than makes up in intelligence and personality, two elements the booth has solely lacked in recent years. Imagine watching a Monday Night Football game with the volume up.

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