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Attention Turns to the Booth

The contracts have been signed, the financial analysts have weighed in on the mind-boggling numbers, and now the fun begins.

Who will be the announcers for “Monday Night Football” on ESPN and the Sunday night games on NBC when the NFL’s new television contract takes effect with the 2006 season?

Will the team of Al Michaels and John Madden move from Monday nights to Sunday nights? Will one or the other or both bolt to NBC? And what about the current ESPN Sunday night team of Mike Patrick, Joe Theismann and Paul Maguire?

Mark Shapiro, ESPN’s executive vice president in charge of programming and production, and George Bodenheimer, the president of ESPN and ABC Sports, have some big decisions to make over the next year or so.

“During this upcoming season, we’ll be plotting and listening and entertaining job applications,” Shapiro said Thursday from Bristol, Conn. “We would hope to have everything in place as far as our talent and productions teams are concerned sometime after the season.

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“Will there be changes? Absolutely.”

Of Michaels, Shapiro said, “Al is the best play-by-play announcer of all time, in my opinion.”

Shapiro is equally high on Madden. But, at 69, is he too old for ESPN’s young, hip audience?

“Just look at the popularity of his video games,” Shapiro said. “Anybody who thinks John Madden is too old for our audience isn’t in touch with our youth. John is already involved in our Sunday and Monday night pregame coverage, and we want to expand his role this coming season.”

The Michaels-Madden tandem certainly ranks better than ESPN’s current Sunday night team. So shouldn’t they be a shoo-in? Not yet. ESPN is keeping its options open.

The cable network has the luxury of time, and an abundance of riches. Not only does it have a stable full of ESPN and ABC announcers, Shapiro said there are people from other networks who have already expressed interest in working on “Monday Night Football.”

One concern with Michaels and Madden is the hefty salaries they may command.

“That is always a factor, but it is not the primary thing,” Shapiro said. “You want the best people.”

Shapiro said he prefers a two-man booth, but added that he likes the team of Patrick, Theismann and Maguire.

Here’s one idea: Have Keith Jackson involved, at least at the start of “Monday Night Football” on ESPN. He was the play-by-play announcer for “Monday Night Football” when it began on ABC in 1970.

Shapiro says Chris Berman will be the host of ESPN’s Monday night pregame shows, which will originate from the game sites. It figures that Tom Jackson, who has been a Berman sidekick since 1987, Steve Young and Michael Irvin are front-runners to remain as a team.

But what about newcomers? Brett Favre, if he retires after one more season, will be coming out at the perfect time. Certainly ESPN and NBC would be interested in him as either a studio analyst or game analyst.

The solid NBC football announcing team of Tom Hammond and Pat Haden should get consideration for the Sunday night booth. And Bob Costas figures to be the host of NBC’s pregame coverage.

Because his NBC contract expires at the end of the year, Costas said Thursday that it would be presumptuous of him to comment at this time.

“But I will say that this is another great deal put together by Dick Ebersol, and it is great news for NBC,” Costas said.

Ebersol, chairman of NBC Sports, said NBC first became interested in the Sunday night package after he met on Nov. 22 with Denver Bronco owner Pat Bowlen, chairman of the NFL’s broadcasting committee. Ebersol flew to Los Angeles the next day to meet with Steve Bornstein, the NFL’s executive vice president of media.

That weekend, on Nov. 28, Ebersol was seriously injured in a Colorado plane crash that claimed the life of his 14-year-old son, Teddy. Ebersol returned to work March 29.

Last Friday, Disney gave up its exclusive negotiating rights for “Monday Night Football” after a $1.575 billion-a-year bid to keep the status quo -- Sunday night games on ESPN and Monday night games on ABC -- was turned down. That’s when NBC was able to officially make the deal that was finalized on Monday.

The way Ebersol sees it, Sunday night will become the NFL’s premier night. “The NFL will rate higher on Sunday nights than on Monday nights,” he said.

Another plum for NBC is that it will have first crack at showing highlights of all Sunday games on its pregame show. ESPN’s “NFL PrimeTime” will air after the Sunday night game.

But ESPN’s Bodenheimer is thrilled about getting “Monday Night Football.”

“It is the ultimate in appointment viewing, more so than Sunday night will ever be,” he said.

Short Waves

There is no Los Angeles team in the NBA playoffs, which begin this weekend. But Clipper Coach Mike Dunleavy will be. He has been hired as a game analyst by TNT and will be paired with Dick Stockton. ... The fate of Laker announcer Paul Sunderland probably won’t be known until sometime in May. Word is the Lakers are considering a change because the ratings are down. Earth to Lakers: Maybe the team’s performance had something to do with that.

Joe McDonnell’s 81-year-old father, Bill, died Monday morning after a seven-week battle with brain cancer. But McDonnell declined to take time off from his KSPN (710) show. “My father would have wanted me to go to work, and it helped me keep my mind off everything,” McDonnell said. ... Because of ESPN Radio’s draft coverage Saturday, Mike Willman’s “Thoroughbred Los Angeles” show on KSPN will begin at 8 a.m. instead of 9. ... Former jockey Julie Krone joins the Hollywood Park simulcast announcing team of Willman and Kurt Hoover, beginning with tonight’s opening program.


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