Unless you're a football-obsessed geek or a TV sports critic, no
doubt you limit your Sunday NFL pregame viewing to one network.
While CBS, ESPN and Fox all deliver on preparing fans for the
day's action, they don't do so equally well. Here is Richard
Deitsch's report card, with examples from last week's shows.
ESPN's NFL Countdown. What The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer is to
news coverage, Countdown is to NFL pregame shows, offering the
best mix of merriment, information and journalistic bona fides.
Last week analyst Tom Jackson--in unheralded fashion becoming
one of the best in the business--scolded Vikings wideout Randy
Moss for admitting he took plays off: "This is not so much about
Randy Moss as it is about the integrity of the game, which he
puts into question." Countdown's features are sharp and
informative, and the pace moves briskly thanks to traffic cop
Chris Berman. As Carly Simon says, Nobody does it better. Grade:
Fox NFL Sunday. Much like its network's biggest star--Bart
Simpson--NFL Sunday is flashy, fun and a little mischievous.
While the show has carried the frat-house revelry of anchor
James Brown and analysts Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long and Cris
Collinsworth to ratings victory (Fox averages almost double the
audience of its over-the-air rival, The NFL Today on CBS), it's
also worth noting that Long and Collinsworth are among
football's most astute commentators. Fox's features often lack
the gravitas of ESPN's, but reporter Pam Oliver's piece on the
Bears' depth at running back was Sunday's best pregame feature
on any network. You can--and should--question the need for T&A
(weather forecaster Jillian Barberie), but it's clear why
viewers flock to Fox: The folks on camera seem to be having as
much fun as we are watching them. Grade: B+
The NFL Today on CBS. While Fox's pranksters are running on all
cylinders, CBS's Jim Nantz-led crew remains a work in progress.
Former coach Jerry Glanville is on hand to provide comic relief,
but he's not very funny. Moving the show outside onto New York
City's Fifth Avenue, however, was a winning move, and The NFL
Today has enterprising reporters in Armen Keteyian, Lesley
Visser and Jay Glazer. Rookie analyst Deion Sanders, easily the
best-dressed Sunday personality, has added more flash than
substance. Last week he provided viewers with a list of coaches
he expected to be fired. While it was a little confusing as to
why he selected the coaches, Sanders made it clear that the
segment was being sponsored by Southwest Airlines. Grade: B-
For its mix of merriment and information, ESPN's NFL pregame
show gets the highest grade.