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Enberg maintains earthy quality despite reaching the top of his field

DICK ENBERG walked into the Genesee Bar at the Hyatt last week dressed in a three-piece outfit. It wasn't a suit.

With his three layers of shirts and sweatshirts on, the unpretentious NBC play-by-play announcer could have been mistaken for any Western New Yorker about to head outdoors.

And that is probably why he is so successful. Despite his hefty salary and all of his announcing awards, Enberg still is able to relate to how the common man and fan feels.

His "Oh, my" enthusiasm when he calls games like today's Buffalo-Denver AFC Championship contest always comes off as genuine emotion rather than fabrication.

Over a Molson last week in the Hyatt, the 57-year-old Enberg sounded like a teenager when he described talking to Jim Kelly and Bruce Smith that day at Rich Stadium. How does he keep his enthusiasm?

"I love what I do," added Enberg in a subsequent interview in Los Angeles. "I'd be sitting in front of the set watching the games anyway and here I get to go to the arena, talk about it, be paid well for it and have access to talk to the coaches and players. I still have a lot of dreams and I really am a fan.

"I get excited by meeting players and to be allowed access. To meet a Michael Jordan and sit with him in the room, I say this is special. I don't take all of this for granted."

He also doesn't have any trouble playing second fiddle to his analyst. He recalled an incident in St. Louis years ago when a security guard in Busch Stadium spotted him and then partner Merlin Olsen before a game. The guard's shouts to Olsen in an empty stadium reverberated through the arena.

" 'Hey Merlin OlsenOlsenOlsen,' "' replayed Enberg with delight. " 'You are the greatest all-propropro. No. 747474. Los Angeles RamsRamsRams. Little House on the PrairiePrairiePrairie. Father MurphyMurphyMurphy. You are the bestbestbest. And you with the red coat (Enberg). I don't know your name but you're famous, too.' "

Maguire feels he's the best

His ego is obviously firmly in check. But his body language suggested it was bruised a little this week by comments made by Paul Maguire to USA TODAY. Maguire said he felt he and Marv Albert were the best football team at NBC but wouldn't get the top assignments as long as Enberg was around.

"The thing is, the way it was written may not have been how Paul presented it," said Enberg. "I think it doesn't do anything for Paul. It isn't becoming.

"I'm hoping he was saying, since NBC had decided I was No. 1, whoever I work with will be the No. 1 analyst. They had a chance to make that man Paul and it didn't happen."

For now, Bill Walsh is that man. With rumors that Walsh may rejoin the San Francisco 49ers or that Bill Parcells may replace him in the booth anyway, Enberg realizes that today's game could be his last with Walsh.

Early last week, NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol said Parcells only signed a one-year deal and hadn't been offered Walsh's spot. He added that Walsh's contract has one year to run and the contract says he'll be the primary analyst. (Ebersol and Walsh were to meet Saturday amid speculation that the analyst would take the 49ers job and Parcells would get Walsh's job as the primary analyst.)

Enberg says Walsh improved

Enberg said he would prefer to stay with Walsh and feels their chemistry has improved over the last three seasons. However, he admits that he was more comfortable in his lengthy relationship with Olsen.

"Merlin was easier," Enberg said. "Maybe in 12 years Bill will understand the profession better, but probably not. Merlin was a professional from the first day. I think he understood more of the subtleties of what happens in the booth than Bill."

While Walsh gives viewers insights that other analysts miss, he also misses names. Last Sunday, Walsh misidentified three Bills.

"It is not that Bill doesn't care but he feels 'I'll blow a name but you know what I mean,' " said Enberg. "He gets so focused it almost becomes incidental. By the time I get ready to point it out, it is too late to correct him."

From his facial expression, you get the impression the mistakes concern Enberg more than Walsh, who is more concerned with providing insights than getting the names right.

"It has been an upward chart with Bill," adds Enberg. "He has gotten better each game each year and he'll be better if he continues."

He isn't sure how much better the Bills can play in home playoff games. Asked by a Denver critic for a prediction on Sunday's game, Enberg tried to sound diplomatic.

"With the risk of alienating all the nice people in Denver, I'll be stunned if it is a close game and I hope I'm wonderfully surprised," said Enberg.

He isn't rooting against the Bills. It is just that after calling a series of Notre Dame romps, Miami's romp in the Orange Bowl and the Bills' blowout of the Chiefs, Enberg wants to see a close game.

"The home-field advantage graduates in importance as you get close to the Super Bowl," Enberg said. "In Denver it would be a totally different game.

"When you look at the last three playoff games and what Buffalo has done to supposedly the best of the rest, it is rather frightening."

CBS, which carries the Super Bowl, is probably frightened at the thought of a Denver upset. How would Enberg see a Washington-Bills Super Bowl compared to a Washington-Denver Super Bowl?

"I think Buffalo can beat Washington," said Enberg. "It sounds like I'm picking on Denver but Washington-Broncos has Bud Grant (who lost four boring Super Bowls) and Minnesota written all over it."

In other words, Enberg thinks the Bills are the bestbestbest.

Costas expects Bills' victory

Bob Costas, who is in Buffalo to host "NFL Live!," also expects a Bills victory. "I wish, for competitive purposes, it would be played in Mile High Stadium," Costas said. "You could see in that atmosphere Denver playing a close game, and maybe even pulling an upset. In Buffalo you can imagine a dozen scenarios in this game and 11 of them have Buffalo winning and about eight or nine have them winning big."

Albert, who worked several Bills games with Maguire, likes the Bills, too. Albert didn't care to add much to Maguire's remarks in USA TODAY.

"Paul always has a way of understating the situation," deadpanned Albert before turning serious. "I would never say anything like that (what Maguire said)."

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