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Can Shy Montana Transfer His Charisma to Screen?

August 24, 1995

Joe Montana is a rookie, and Fox Sports ain’t. That’s what’s happening on TV on opening day of the 1995-96 NFL season.

Last year, the emphasis was on Fox’s first fling in sports as it struggled for status as a major network. This year, the spotlight falls on NBC with Montana making his debut on the reborn ``NFL Live″ pregame show and Dick Enberg anchoring a new three-man booth with another network newcomer, Phil Simms.

NBC also has the first of its two Super Bowls under the NFL’s four-year TV contract signed in 1993.

``It’s like being a rookie again,″ Montana said. ``Just when everything starts to feel comfortable, you have to start all over again.″

TNT and ESPN will split up the Sunday night games as usual, ABC brings the same cast of characters to ``Monday Night Football,″ anchored by Al Michaels, and Pat Summerall and John Madden begin their 15th season together, their second on Fox.

NBC, meanwhile, is making the big noise, and it also will have to answer the most intriguing question of the early season: Can Montana, huge in talent, shy on words, translate his enormous popularity into entertaining television?

``Everybody says, `You’ve got a lot of knowledge.′ True. And they say, `When you talked to the press, you never spoke out.′ True too,″ Montana said. ``I always had to be a little guarded when I was a player.

``But it’s just like scouts looking at first-round picks. You really don’t know. You don’t know how good you’ll be until you get there.″

Montana said the studio might at least shield him from having to be too critical of specific plays or players until he is more comfortable on the air. Then, he can go into the booth as a game analyst.

In the meantime, fans and viewers might get a chance to know a slightly different Joe _ the one his teammates knew.

``In some ways, I hope they will, but they’ll never see the kind of person you really are. Hopefully, you’ll see more personality. Hopefully, it’ll come out because there will be more face-to-face contact,″ he said.

The other big-name newcomer at NBC is Simms, another former NFL quarterback, who comes by way of ESPN. He will join Enberg and Paul Maguire on NBC’s three-man announcing team.

``It’s a Super Bowl year. It’s a special year for us,″ Enberg said, explaining the motives of NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol for trying a three-man team. ``I think Dick wanted Phil to bring his recent Super Bowl experience to the blend, and, of course, Paul is very popular.″

Enberg’s most recent experience with a three-man announcing team was in college basketball when he worked with Billy Packer and Al McGuire.

``This situation is analogous,″ Enberg said. ``Al and Paul Maguire are similar in that they very often say what they’re thinking without thinking about what they’re saying. And Simms, like Packer, is more analytical.″

The one pitfall in a three-man team is too much talk, ``and we all talk too much,″ Enberg said.

``The truth is, three in a booth is usually one too many,″ Enberg said. ``We’ll have to be aware of that and monitor it. My original thought was to put Phil on some of the lesser games until Thanksgiving, but Dick wanted him with us from the start. The pressure really is on Phil.″

Last season, Fox rolled out its hour-long pregame show, co-hosted by Terry Bradshaw and James Brown with Howie Long and Jimmy Johnson as analysts. The same set of characters is in place this season, along with the NFL’s most revered announcing duo, Summerall and Madden.

``On the one hand, Pat and I had been together for 14 years, so that was pretty comfortable,″ Madden said. ``But it was the first time ever for Fox, and that wasn’t very comfortable. I just wondered if all those cables would get plugged in.

``It was kind of exciting because it was something new and different. Being part of that was kind of fun.″

But only kind of fun.

``I don’t have any desire to have that feeling back,″ Summerall said. ``Now, I know Fox can do it. Now we can concentrate on doing it better.″

With its AFC coverage, NBC actually won the season-long ratings race last year with Fox, which televises the traditionally stronger NFC games. Part of the ratings advantage was due to the Patriots’ resurgence in the major TV market of Boston. Overall, in fact, AFC matchups were better than those in the NFC, which suffered with mediocre teams in both New York and Washington.

Summerall and Madden are expecting better from the NFC this year.

``I said to John earlier, I can’t ever remember being more excited about a season than this one, and we’ve been at this a long time,″ Summerall said. ``Of course, when I worked for CBS, I always had something else to do this time of year, like golf and tennis. Now, it’s just football, and I’ve got the same six months everybody else does.

``And I couldn’t wait to get back to it, either.″

End Adv Weekend Editions Aug 26-27

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