Airwaves: These guys get you into gear 

One good thing about the beginning of the real NFL season is we all get to enjoy the Sunday pregame shows.

In the last decade, network and cable Sunday pregame studio shows have become very, very popular. Since I used to do that for a living, here is Artie’s 2 cents on the three Sunday morning studio shows:

1. “NFL Today,” CBS, 9 a.m.

The network scored a major coup two years ago when highly respected host James Brown left Fox and joined this crew. He is the glue that holds this show together.

In addition,  ex-Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher as an analyst has been an outstanding addition. Cowher brings a coaching point of view in a direct, easy-to-understand voice.

While analysts Dan Marino and Shannon Sharpe will continue to improve, experienced Boomer Esiason is consistently good. Charlie Casserly, the info-and-gossip man, does a nice job of being insightful and up-to-date — especially on league issues.

2. “Fox NFL Sunday,” 9 a.m.

When J.B. left Fox, Curt Menefee was selected to host the show. He has fit in smoothly by allowing the stars of the show to do their thing and basically not get in the way. He is the traffic cop directing this high-powered group. Co-host Terry Bradshaw, who turned 60 this week, is always outstanding.

Howie Long is the rock of the show. Consistent and even-keeled, the former Raiders defensive lineman makes solid, concise points without being goofy or hysterical. Jimmy Johnson provides a coaching viewpoint on issues that he delivers in an often-humorous fashion.

Michael Strahan joins the group today. Hopefully the set will not be too crowded.

Jay Glazer is the on-camera information person. Off-camera information man John Czarnecki provides the group with first-rate, up-to-date news for each show.

3. “Sunday NFL Countdown,” ESPN, 8 a.m.

Chris Berman is the lead character in this group. He clearly is the star (he started doing the show in 1985) and does a great job of setting up his studio partners.

The only issue that I have with this two-hour show is there are too many bodies. This year, ex-NFL player Cris Carter joins the show, replacing the overwhelmed Emmitt Smith. Carter needs to get more depth and pertinent information on the subject matter. Tom Jackson has been Berman’s sidekick seemingly forever. This former linebacker is the same every year: He is just plain good. He and Berman have a great chemistry.

Mike Ditka, the old Chicago Bears coach, is down to earth and never worried about saying the politically correct thing. He is fun and refreshing. Keyshawn Johnson has shown dramatic improvement. Chris Mortensen does a solid job when he is not taking himself too seriously.

Don’t forget about NBC’s night show


In case you have not had your fill of Sunday studio shows or NFL games, NBC will top your day off with not only a featured game, but another studio show.

“Football Night in America” (4 p.m.) will begin its third year with the addition of Dan Patrick as Keith Olbermann’s sidekick during the highlight portion of the show. These two longtime buddies from their ESPN days should liven up the traditional — at times boring — recap of the day’s game highlights. They will be a treat and an easy listen.

However, the nucleus of the show is the hosting of Bob Costas and Cris Collinsworth. Both men, fresh from their wonderful work during the Olympics, provide insight, humor, knowledge and outstanding opinions to the show. Collins-
worth might be the best overall NFL studio analyst on the tube today. Costas is Costas. His career body of work speaks for itself.

Additional analysts and recently retired NFL players Tiki Barber (who struggled in Beijing) and Jerome Bettis are OK. The greatness of Costas and Collinsworth overcomes any deficiencies these two bring to the table. Peter King from Sports Illustrated is the information man.

I find this an interesting, if not crowded show. Olbermann is coming directly from his work in another arena, the national political conventions, while Costas, Collinsworth and Barber are still jet-lagged from China. The show does a good job of getting a preview from game announcers Al Michaels and John Madden directly from the site of the game. Tonight’s game features the struggling Chicago Bears vs. Indianapolis from the Colts’ new digs, Lucas Oil Stadium.

As a follow-up to its innovative usage of the digital platform at the Olympics, NBC will stream its games this year and allow the Internet viewer numerous camera-angle choices and added facts that will not be part of the telecast.

On top of all this, NBC has this year’s Super Bowl. With the Olympics, “Sunday Night Football” and the Super Bowl, it has been and will be a big year for the peacock!

WHO SAID IT


Art Shell

“He was my friend. He was my brother. I will never forget him,” the fellow Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive lineman said of former Raiders teammate Gene Upshaw at Tuesday’s memorial. This year, the NFL will honor the late players union president with a patch worn on uniforms.

Brian Billick

“Mike’s very aware of what this season means for him,” the former Baltimore Ravens coach said of 49ers coach Mike Nolan’s status entering this year. Billick is now a game analyst with Fox.

WHAT TO WATCH


CARDINALS AT 49ERS The 49ers host the Kurt Warner-led Arizona Cardinals on KTVU (Ch. 2) at 1:15 p.m. This is a huge opening game for both teams if they want to make a run for the playoffs this year.

BRONCOS AT RAIDERS The Denver Broncos and Jay Cutler travel to McAfee Coliseum to take on the Raiders on the second game of the Monday night doubleheader at 7:15 p.m. on ESPN and KPIX (Ch. 5). The Broncos want to get back to their winning ways and the Raiders need to re-establish respectability.

LIFE BY NUMBERS


Hours of NFL programming worldwide for 2008

200,000

Languages NFL games will be broadcast in

32

Record of Super Bowl winner in first game of next season

34-7-1

Artie Gigantino spent 25 years as a coach at the major-college and NFL levels, was lead college-football analyst for Fox Sports Net for seven years, was with CBS for one year and was an executive with the Raiders for three years. E-mail him at agigantino@sfexaminer.com.







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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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