- The Washington Times - Friday, March 1, 2002

Legendary football analyst John Madden yesterday joined ABC's "Monday Night Football," giving the venerable broadcast its biggest jolt of star power since the departure of Howard Cosell.
In a deal that came together in less than seven hours late Wednesday, Madden was released from the year remaining on his Fox Sports contract and agreed to a four-year, $20 million pact with ABC. Madden will work the booth with incumbent play-by-play man Al Michaels and replace analysts Dan Fouts and Dennis Miller. ABC also parted ways with sideline reporter Eric Dickerson and retained Melissa Stark.
"This is a dream team," ABC president Alex Wallau said of the Madden-Michaels pairing of two men who hold 17 Emmy Awards between them. "This is as exciting a move as I can remember in terms of assembling talent."
Fouts is expected to remain with ABC Sports in some capacity, while Miller's departure marks the sudden end of a two-year experiment in which "MNF" broke new ground in TV sports by adding a comedian to the broadcast.
Miller's considerable efforts to learn the game on the fly won plaudits, while his acerbic tone and frequently obtuse references to classic literature, history and pop culture frustrated many viewers. Miller's much-debated arrival was unable to prop up ratings for "MNF," and viewership in 2001 sank for the seventh consecutive year to a record low average of about 12 million U.S. households a game.
Madden, 65, is expected to change all that. His gregarious style has won legions of fans, and NFL video games bearing his name are annual bestsellers. The former Oakland Raiders coach will make his first ABC on-air appearance during the NFL Hall of Fame preseason game Aug. 5 and will broadcast his ninth Super Bowl in January.
"This is something I've always wanted to do," said Madden, who started his broadcasting career at CBS and also will appear on ESPN as part of the ABC deal. "I decided long ago that if the stars ever aligned, I was going to try for this, and everything just lined up."
The first and most significant step toward Madden changing networks came last fall when Fox declined to renew the contract of Pat Summerall, Madden's play-by-play partner of 21 years. With Fox's plans for Madden still unresolved, his agent approached the network this week for a release from the final year of the contract, which would have been worth $7.5 million to Madden. Fox consented and may use a tandem of Joe Buck, its top baseball play-by-play man, and studio analyst Cris Collinsworth as its top NFL announcer team.
"John has meant a great deal to the network during his eight years at Fox, and we appreciate all of his efforts on our behalf. He gave every broadcast his very best," Fox Sports chairman David Hill said.
Madden's arrival also heralds the return of a more back-to-basics format for "MNF." Even before Miller's arrival, the broadcast sought more casual fans through extensive pregame and halftime features and a more jovial tone. Before a game between winless Washington and winless Dallas last season, ABC went so far as to air motivational speakers like Tony Robbins and Richard Simmons commenting on the teams' woes.
"This is about football. That will be the main thing," Madden said. "It's about the game, and the game is about the players."
The Madden profile, already outsized, stands to increase even more as a result of the move to ABC. Madden holds long-term marketing relationships with Ace Hardware, Tinactin, EA Sports and Outback Steakhouses. The future of the annual All-Madden Team show, owned by Madden, remains uncertain, and Madden agent Sandy Montag will not be actively seeking additional endorsements. But given the status of "MNF" as one of the highest-ranked shows on ABC, promotion of Madden will be heavy.
"Given the enhanced visibility, this will certainly be a big, big plus for John's sponsors," Montag said.

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