Kornheiser Steals the Show

Times Staff Writer

After its debut, one thing is clear about ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” announcing team. It’s a big cast -- three game announcers and two sideline reporters -- with one star.

And that star, as evidenced by ESPN’s telecast Monday night of the Oakland Raiders’ 16-13 exhibition victory over the Minnesota Vikings, is newcomer Tony Kornheiser. He was the focal point of the telecast, and all things considered, he not only survived but was pretty good.

He came across as less obnoxious than Howard Cosell, and funnier than Dennis Miller. Miller was put in the “Monday Night Football” booth for strictly entertainment purposes. Sure, Kornheiser is also there to entertain, but he is also able to inform.


The difference between Miller and Kornheiser is that Miller was never a credentialed journalist. Kornheiser is a longtime sports columnist for the Washington Post, and with that job comes the responsibility of knowing sports, studying sports and forming opinions about sports.

An example of what Kornheiser can bring to a game telecast occurred near the end of the second half Monday. Sideline reporter Suzy Kolber, interviewing the Raiders’ Warren Sapp, asked him to throw a trivia question at Kornheiser. Said Sapp: What four quarterbacks who were No. 1 draft choices later were Super Bowl MVPs?

Kornheiser got two of them -- John Elway and Jim Plunkett. He missed Terry Bradshaw and Troy Aikman. The significance wasn’t that Kornheiser was able to name two of them, or not name two of them, it was that he had fun with it.

He also had fun when it appeared the game might go into overtime. Kornheiser, a notoriously early riser, complained it was already past his bedtime. When Vikings Coach Brad Childress decided to go for a winning touchdown rather than a tying field goal, Childress suddenly became Kornheiser’s best friend.

So maybe it will be OK to make Kornheiser the star, and maybe commentating partner Joe Theismann will be accepting of that.

But, overall, this was a good debut for Kornheiser and ESPN, despite a minor slip-up by play-by-play announcer Mike Tirico at the top of the telecast. He said the two teams on the field, the Vikings and Raiders, would be featured when ESPN begins “Monday Night Football’s” regular season with a doubleheader Sept. 11. But he also said the Vikings and Raiders would be on the road that night. Well, he was half right. The Vikings will be at Washington, but the Raiders will play host to San Diego.