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'MNF' booth enters a new era

I've always been a fan of Tony Kornheiser as a newspaper writer, co-host of "Pardon the Interruption" and former host of a sports talk show that WGR carried.

One of my favorite Kornheiser pieces was a laugh out-loud "dead or alive" column he did about various celebrities. Which brings me to this punch line: "Monday Night Football," dead or alive?

Old School MNF on ABC officially is dead. With Kornheiser joining next season's ESPN broadcast, the birth of New School MNF has arrived.

After the game of prime time musical chairs among NFL announcers was over, NBC is the winner in the prestige game and ESPN the loser.

By luring play-by-play man Al Michaels to join his former MNF teammate John Madden for its new Sunday night package, NBC unquestionably looks major league and ESPN Triple A.

ESPN officials tried to sell the idea that its new announcing team of play-by-play man Mike Tirico, analyst Joe Theismann and Kornheiser was its No. 1 choice. It was a silly argument since months earlier ESPN had announced Michaels and Theismann would do the games. Michaels' decision to leave would have been a perfect excuse for ESPN to rid itself of Theismann, but incredibly he survived again.

Essentially what we have here is ESPN's Sunday night play-by-play man Mike Patrick being traded for Tirico and humorist-analyst Paul Maguire being traded for Kornheiser. The Patrick for Tirico trade is definitely a good one for ESPN since Patrick was so mistake-prone.

I withhold judgment on the Maguire for Kornheiser trade. On a conference call in which the moves were announced, Kornheiser was as quick-witted as ever. He said he hoped Tirico would stop him if he said anything idiotic. I doubt if Tirico will have that much time because calling Theismann on his idiotic comments will be a full-time job.

Kornheiser, who was passed over for MNF when Dennis Miller got the gig, has one great thing going for him: He's strongly opinionated. I asked him on the call if he would have been more outspoken about the bad calls that went against Seattle in the Super Bowl. He said he might have pointed out that Seattle didn't get one of the five or six key calls, but he doubted he would have railed against the officiating as strongly as some sports columnists did later.

If Kornheiser is able to instantly address things that sports columnists will address the next day, then he'll be a positive addition. Now if ESPN would only subtract Theismann . . .

*Michaels' departure from ABC is good news for NBA fans. It means he'll be replaced on the NBA Finals by Mike Breen, a play-by-play guy who actually follows the sport year-round. Basketball was Michaels' weakest sport.

*The happiest man at CBS about the return of James Brown to host "The NFL Today" has to be the guy he replaced, Greg Gumbel. Gumbel never wanted to leave his play-by-play seat when CBS decided to give Jim Nantz his seat next to Phil Simms on its No. 1 NFL announcing team.

CBS rewarded its team player by moving him on to the No. 2 NFL team with Dan Dierdorf. Dierdorf had been working with Dick Enberg, who reportedly isn't happy about his demotion to the third team with Randy Cross. I can't blame him. Cross is a burden, an analyst who talks nonstop and says nothing. Enberg remains a beautiful storyteller and keeps his mistakes to a minimum, something that couldn't be said about Gumbel when he last did play-by-play.

Fox, meanwhile, has to find someone to play the point guard on its loud pregame team to keep the egos of Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long and Jimmy Johnson in check.

*The newcomer to watch on NBC's Olympic coverage is snowboarding reporter Tina Dixon. She's a former professional snowboarder who won four X Games medals. I'm not a frequent viewer of the X Games but Dixon's picture in the NBC Olympic guide caught my attention.

*I agree with Buffalo Sabres TV analyst Jim Lorentz that game officials should explain why goals don't count after they go upstairs for review, as one did in the Sabres' 3-2 overtime victory over Montreal on Tuesday. But he had some explaining to do, too, because the Sabres were going to have a two-man advantage five seconds into overtime when the teams are supposed to play four-on-four. He should have told fans that the penalized team can't have fewer than three players on the ice and therefore the team with the power play is entitled to five.


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