Considering all the esoteric references fired off--frequently
without heed to the game situation or broadcast flow--by rookie
analyst Dennis Miller on Monday Night Football last fall, what
ABC really should have asked viewers was, "Are you ready for some
footnotes?" Sometimes funny, sometimes preheated or confusing,
Miller's wisecracks often left Dan Fouts, the other new analyst,
waiting with pursed lips. "Dan had to play the read-and-react
defense in the booth," says Al Michaels, MNF's play-by-play man.
"Dan would wonder, 'Is Dennis coming in? Is he not coming in?'"
When Fouts, who was an All-Pro quarterback for the Chargers, did
get a word in, he at times sounded nervous and rushed, like the
kid in class who has had his hand up for minutes. Although his
observations were usually on target, he too often deferred to
Michaels and Miller. As a result, when ABC hired ESPN Sunday
Night Football veteran Fred Gaudelli as the new MNF producer in
March, one of Gaudelli's goals was to get Fouts in rhythm. Says
Gaudelli, "I said to Dan, 'Look, you're a Hall of Fame
quarterback--you need to start sounding like it.'" To that end,
Gaudelli made a compilation tape of moments from last season that
showcased what he felt were Fouts's strengths (tough opinions and
refreshing honesty) and his weakness (being reactive instead of
assertive). Gaudelli, who made similar tapes for Michaels and
Miller, then flew to Sisters, Ore., where Fouts lives, and the
pair watched the tape together. "We talked about last year, about
Dennis and me," says Fouts. "A lot of [the problem] was we lacked
experience together. We're only going to get more comfortable."
In the preseason--a three-game dress rehearsal for Monday's opener
(Giants at Broncos, ABC, 9 p.m.)--Fouts was more vocal and
specific than he had been in 2000. During the Aug. 20
Packers-Broncos game, he made a number of astute observations,
including an apt comparison of Denver wideout Rod Smith's ability
to turn upfield after a catch with that of Jerry Rice.
Nonetheless, Fouts often sounded as if he were announcing rather
than just talking football. Away from the booth he is candid and
has a deadpan sense of humor. One of the best moments during that
Broncos-Packers game came off the air during a first-quarter
commercial break when Miller ran down his new MNF credo, which he
was writing on Post-it notes: "Commercial [intros], shut up.
Penalties, shut up. Inside the twenties, talk football. I'm a
whole new man, Al." Without hesitation, Fouts retorted, "There's
room for more [notes] too." Michaels laughed, and Miller replied,
"I've left a whole 'nother Post-it there, my friend."
Here's hoping that this season the trio can be as entertaining
when the camera is turned on.
"You're a Hall of Fame quarterback--you need to start sounding
like it," Fouts was told.