ESPN has reduced its main "Monday Night Football" crew from three to two, asking Ron Jaworski to step out of the booth and leave Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden to it. A few days ago, speculation got out that Chris Berman would call the second half of the network's opening MNF doubleheader, and that was confirmed by ESPN's PR department on Wednesday morning.
Six-time National Sportscaster of the Year Chris Berman has been the face of ESPN's NFL coverage for nearly three decades. The 2012 season will be Berman's 28th as host of Sunday NFL Countdown. He's also hosted ESPN's NFL Draft and Super Bowl week coverage, and he continues to emcee the Pro Football Hall of Fame's annual enshrinement ceremony in Canton, Ohio.
In fact, Berman himself was inducted into the Hall of Fame as the Pete Rozelle Radio-TV Award recipient in 2010. But this coming NFL season, Berman will try something he's never done before … call an NFL game. He and analyst Trent Dilfer have been assigned to the booth for the San Diego Chargers-Oakland Raiders game as part of ESPN's season-opening Monday Night Football doubleheader on September 10.
Berman will host the three-hour Countdown in Bristol on the opening NFL Sunday. After the show, he'll fly cross country for this AFC West rivalry game the next night (10:15 p.m. ET). The west coast game will follow the Cincinnati Bengals-Baltimore Ravens opener, which will be called by the regular MNF team of Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden (7 p.m.).
In preparation for the assignment, Berman and Dilfer will also call the Arizona Cardinals-Tennessee Titans MNF preseason game on Aug. 23 (8 p.m.).
"I have worked with Boom for four years now and I've never been around someone who loves the NFL more than him," Dilfer said. "I firmly believe that his passion and mine for the game of football will translate to the audience."
Reaction in the Twitterverse was less than positive. "Berman-Dilfer pairing for Chargers' opener is interesting," Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune quipped. "One guy has fun/doesn't take himself seriously, one thinks he invented football."
"I was a little surprised," Berman said in the press release. "Our president, John Skipper, and our VP of programming were together. And in the middle of an interesting evening, they turned to me and said, 'We'd like you to call the second "Monday Night Football" game.' I said, 'Wow -- there's something I never really thought about.' Of course, I've thought about calling NFL games my whole life, but given what I do, and the Sunday duties -- it's Week 1 of the season, and you get your hands full. I didn't see it coming, and I said, 'I've gotta give you guys credit.' They understand that I haven't called a football game in a while, though I've called many baseball games, and U.S. Open golf, etc, etc. I was really surprised, and excited about hearing it, to be honest with you. It's a nice surprise after 32 years [with the network]; it really is.
"It's two friends doing a game, and I intend to get out of his way," Berman said about working with Dilfer. "He can tell us a lot about what's going on -- certainly offensively. He's done it, he's been there, and he articulates it beautifully. We have Philip Rivers and Carson Palmer, two veteran [quarterbacks], and who could talk better about what they're seeing and what they're trying to do play-by-play and quarter-by-quarter than Trent Dilfer? I'm thrilled that I'm working with a really good friend, doing this game."
I get the outrage over Berman calling a game of this importance given his limited experience in an NFL football booth, but this won't be anywhere near the trainwreck the NFL Network had on its hands when it decided to think "outside the box" with the horrific Bryant Gumbel experiment a few years back. Nor is there any way it could be as bad as any of the multiple games Matt Millen is inexplicably asked to call for multiple networks on a weekly basis. Berman at least understands the game at a more than basic level, and his style is far more in tune with a visceral sport like football than it is with golf. That ESPN can't tell the difference really isn't Berman's fault.
As for Dilfer, while he is absolutely a knowledgeable playbook guy, he's also known to have some very definite opinions in favor of quarterbacks with limited athleticism -- in fact, the more a quarterback resembles Dilfer, the better he is in Dilfer's eyes. His over-the-top slurpage of former TCU and current Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton turned him into a cartoon character during the 2011 NFL draft. When the Seattle Seahawks, a team Dilfer used to play for, passed on Dalton in the first round, Dilfer said that Seattle had basically blown its entire draft -- a notion that several players, including Richard Sherman and K.J. Wright, might disagree with. And his insistence that Colt McCoy and Jimmy Clausen would be better NFL quarterbacks than Sam Bradford remains one of the most humorous predictions in NFL history.
Dilfer's also on board with ESPN's flawed Total QBR metric to a ridiculous degree, throwing aside any disagreements with the system in his usual all-caps hyperbolic style. So, you can expect to hear a LOT of QBR stuff during the game.
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