For the 2002 NFL season, expect some surprise teams to step to the front. Expect the favorites to triumph more often than not. Expect plenty of passing, rushing and receiving records to be broken.
For certain, expect to hear much hyperbole come Sunday morning during NFL pregame shows. Whether it's CBS' The NFL Today, Fox's NFL Sunday or ESPN's NFL Countdown, such talk comes with the territory.
Yet that's all OK. No one's complaining, because it only means the sport watched most on TV has returned.
And while NFL pregame shows routinely approach a new season by addressing familiar topics and issues they addressed roughly the same way a year earlier, expect this year's shows to look and sound a little different than in years past.
In particular, The NFL Today has undergone significant changes since last season that could make it much more interesting. CBS replaced former coaches with former players. Mike Ditka and Perrysburg native Jerry Glanville are no longer part of the show, although the former Bears coach is expected to make an appearance occasionally.
Dan Marino and Boomer Esiason will join host Jim Nantz along with Deion Sanders, who has elevated his status from show contributor to one of the show's regular talking heads.
It's early yet, but this group could have the kind of chemistry that could pull some viewers away from Fox and ESPN during the noon-1 p.m. time slot that leads in to NFL games.
What the group brings to the table is what has worked quite successfully for Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long, Cris Collinsworth and host James Brown on Fox. Marino, Esiason and Sanders are all recently retired players who are expected to offer players' perspective on game strategy and issues. They're there to help us peek into the minds of players like Peyton Manning and Donovan McNabb. They're also there to share some of their own experiences that we may not have previously heard.
CBS is banking on trading coach-speak for unguarded player-speak as a way to surpass the other two shows in terms of ratings and popularity. Sanders, known almost as much for his gift of gab as his Pro Bowl-playing career, said taking part in such a show is basically “doing what we did as a child growing up talking about and playing football.” In the end, Sanders could become the most popular personality to look forward to seeing and hearing on Sunday mornings.
Marino and Esiason, two of the NFL's best quarterbacks during the 1980s and '90s, will be counted on to share some of their thoughts about today's game compared to when they played. And it's Nantz's job to moderate the group.
Change hasn't occurred only on The NFL Today. Fox's pregame show has undergone a slight makeover, with Collinsworth leaving the studio to work with Jack Buck and Troy Aikman as part of the network's lead announce team, replacing the longtime No. 1 tandem of John Madden and Pat Summerall. Bradshaw, Long and Brown are back and occasionally will be joined by Jimmy Johnson.
On NFL Countdown, which airs at 11 a.m. on ESPN, former coach Bill Parcells will join an already-crowded set of Chris Berman, Steve Young, Chris Mortensen, Sterling Sharpe and Tom Jackson. Madden, who left Fox for ABC's Monday Night Football, also will show up at times throughout the year.
Then there's Fox Sports Net's The NFL Show that airs Sunday mornings from 10:30-12. The show welcomes comedian Tommy Davidson to the fold this fall.
For the second year in a row the women's finals will receive prime-time billing, while the men's final is relegated to its traditional 4 p.m. Sunday time.
A year ago it was the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, playing against each other in a historic match that drew a huge TV audience. And tomorrow night we'll have Sister Act II, as both won semifinal matches yesterday.
There are several reasons besides the Williamses why the network has placed greater emphasis on the women's competition than the men's. Jennifer Capriati, Lindsay Davenport, Monica Seles, Martina Hingis and, of course, Anna “never will win a tournament” Kournikova probably are better known in most U.S. households than most of the men professionals.
There are far more interesting storylines in women's tennis than there are in men's tennis. Whether it's sibling rivalries, young versus old or even who can dress the best, they all contribute to making the women's game worthy of prime-time exposure.
The men's semifinal matches will air today at 11 on Channel 11.
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