They're always like this, Merril Hoge snug in his popsicle-blue
Barcalounger and Ron Jaworski lazing at his desk, the pair
pinballing from one topic (who's better: LaDainian Tomlinson or
Deuce McAllister?) to the next (AFC East champ: Miami or New
England?) to the next (Can a team win a championship without a
running game: yes or no?). On the second floor of NFL Films'
Mount Laurel, N.J., offices, in a cubby that serves as the
production office--war room for Edge NFL Match-Up, the analysts
spend most of each Tuesday during the season sitting in front of
two televisions preparing segments for the weekly show while
locked in a good-natured, football-heavy sparring match. In the
firing line sit the show's host, Suzy Kolber, executive producer
Greg Cosell (Howard's nephew) and a handful of staffers who
alternately revel in and take cover from the salvos they
encourage. For when Hoge and Jaworski are in full rag and
whirring and clicking their way through the previous week's
slate, all seems right in the world of television's most cerebral
A day spent with the gang at NFL Match-Up--which airs Sunday
mornings from 8:30 to 9 a.m. Eastern--is essentially like
enjoying a really good NFL Sunday on the couch with your buddies.
If, of course, your buddies are 1) affable, discerning and
quick-witted; 2) possess 23 years of NFL experience between them,
as do Jaworski (from 1974 to '89 a quarterback with four teams,
most notably the Philadelphia Eagles) and Hoge (a running back
from '87 to '94 with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Chicago
Bears); and 3) have access to the same film that coaches do,
provided to NFL Match-Up by its parent, NFL Films.
The program makes that footage--often tantalizing, with its
full-field and end-zone perspectives, easy and interesting to
digest. "That tape opens up the game in ways you can't understand
until you've seen it," Jaworski says. "Without it we'd be just
another show." With it, NFL Match-Up, which breaks down the
week's top games by unit, takes the fan far beyond the highlight
packages and the other Sunday morning gabfests.
"Unless you're watching and using the coaches' tape, you can't
know what's happening on the field. To me, that makes us the only
real football show," says Cosell. "We're not about entertainment
or personality at the expense of information."
Jaworski and Hoge both take pride in that approach. "I was on a
flight last week, and I got my favorite compliment," says Hoge.
"A guy told me that ours is by far his favorite NFL show, because
we don't just repeat the same things everyone else is saying."
Even a film junkie like Jaworski remains stunned at the show's
power to inform. "Players say things to me all the time," he
says. "Once I was at a golf tournament, and a current NFL
quarterback--I won't say who because it'd embarrass him--pulled
me aside and thanked me. I'd said on a show that a linebacker
will give away his coverage, be it zone or man, in the first two
steps of a QB's drop, and we ran a film package showing it. He
told me that he'd never heard that before. It was great."
It's not just players watching, either. The league's coaches
regularly watch the show, if only to keep up on other teams. "I'm
really impressed with the show," says Tennessee Titans coach Jeff
Fisher. "There's not another show like it that lets the viewer
see the game from a coach's perspective."
"When I call coaches for explanations of certain plays we're
using on the show," says Jaworski with a smile, "I know they're
talking to me because they watch us and appreciate what we do
each week. It makes it easy to come in here every Tuesday. In all
honesty, I can't wait for next Tuesday."
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS STARS ON FILM Kolber mediates while Hoge (left) and Jaworski analyze and debate on the likes of Tomlinson (inset).
COLOR PHOTO: JUSTIN SULLIVAN/REUTERS (TOMLINSON) STARS ON FILM Kolber mediates while Hoge (left) and Jaworski analyze and debate on the likes of Tomlinson (inset).
Here's a look at the ratings for Sunday NFL pregame shows over
the past two years (2002 figures through Dec. 1).
Sunday NFL Countdown, ESPN 2.0 1.7
Edge NFL Match-Up, ESPN 0.6 0.8
The NFL Show, Fox Sports Net 0.5 0.9
The NFL Today, CBS 2.6 2.6
Fox NFL Sunday 4.1 3.5
One ratings point equals 1.06 million television households.