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Theismann Joins ESPN Crew as NFL Returns

Associated Press

Twelve years ago, Mike Patrick and Joe Theismann worked together for the first time on a University of Maryland basketball telecast.

“We made a good team because we liked each other and we respected each other,” said Patrick, who had met Theismann a year earlier while covering the Redskins for a Washington television station.

“I respected Joe because he never ducked a question after a game, even if he played poorly. And because of his personality, he was always interesting to talk to.”

Patrick and Theismann will be reunited today when ESPN kicks off its second year of regular-season NFL coverage with the Washington-Houston game at 5 p.m., Pacific time.

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ESPN will telecast an NFL game each Sunday night for the next eight weeks. The cable network also will show the Pro Bowl on Jan. 29.

Last year, ESPN used a 3-man booth with Patrick, Roy Firestone and a weekly guest analyst. The combination never clicked.

This year, the booth will be less crowded. Patrick will return as play-by-play man, and Theismann will provide commentary. The guest analyst has been scrapped, and Firestone has been switched to halftime features.

“The guest analyst just didn’t work,” Patrick said. “A broadcast team is like a football team--the longer you’re together, the better you get. Our problem was, we had a new team every week.”

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Firestone, who is a superb interviewer, was miscast as an analyst. In his new role, he will have more freedom to explore NFL issues and personalities.

“Roy’s a very creative guy,” said John Wildhack, the show’s producer. “I think he does better with a less structured format, like the halftime features.”

Theismann, who left CBS to join ESPN, is thrilled to be working with Patrick again.

“He’s my perfect complement,” said the fast-talking former quarterback, whose playing career was cut short in 1985 by a broken leg. “I have a tendency to go at another speed. Mike’s much calmer; nothing flusters him. He has a calming effect on me.”

Theismann admits he used to talk too much on the air. During ESPN’s preseason NFL telecasts, he made a conscious effort to tone down his act.

“I think if you listened to him a few years ago and compared that with the way he sounds today, you’d hear a world of difference,” Patrick said.

Tonight’s game features two teams with 5-3 records.

Washington, the defending Super Bowl champion, is tied for the NFC East lead with the New York Giants even though starting quarterback Doug Williams missed four games following an appendectomy. Mark Rypien, who became the NFL’s leading passer while filling in for Williams, is back on the bench but ready to play if Williams falters.

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“If Williams plays erratically, look for a change,” Theismann said. “I know (Coach) Joe Gibbs has a lot of confidence in Rypien.”

Under Coach Jerry Glanville, the Oilers have become contenders in the AFC Central. They also have become the most penalized team in the NFL.

“Jerry is the gunfighter in black,” Theismann said. “His team has that image now and they’re trying to live up to it.”


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