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Published: Wednesday, 11/28/2007

TV feud has NFL fans seeing red

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Chuck Woehler doesn't understand the intricacies of the feud between the NFL Network and the big cable companies, nor does he care to. All he knows is he won't be able to watch his beloved Dallas Cowboys from his San Antonio home as he can every other week - and he faults the NFL for that.

Football fans will feel the impact of the wrangling like never before when two teams with 10-1 records and huge national appeal face off tomorrow night on a channel available in fewer than 40 percent of the country's households.

For the many who haven't closely followed the traded barbs about sports tiers, FCC regulations and cease-and-desist letters, the issue is simply that they want to watch a game and can't. How they react - and who they blame - will test each side's conviction that its strategy will prevail.

The potential repercussions are especially powerful because the Cowboys and Packers boast large regional, even national fan bases.

For viewers outside Texas and Wisconsin who don't subscribe to satellite TV or one of the smaller cable providers that carry the network, their plight won't be unprecedented. On a Sunday afternoon, even the biggest of matchups might not be on free TV in some areas because of conflicts with local teams' games. Small pockets of the country didn't get two highly anticipated meetings of undefeated squads earlier this season: the New England Patriots' showdowns with the Cowboys and the Indianapolis Colts.

But in places like San Antonio and Madison, Wis., the ability to watch the Cowboys or Packers is assumed to be as natural as the sun rising every morning.

NFL Network games are simulcast on free TV in the teams' home markets, so fans in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Milwaukee and Green Bay areas are all set. That leaves an estimated 4 million viewers in other parts of the states who don't get the channel.

Like Woehler, many of those deprived Cowboys and Packers loyalists directed their ire at the NFL.

"It annoys me," said Teresa Werhane of DeForest, Wis., north of Madison. "This is a huge game. Whose decision was it to put it on the NFL Network? That seems pretty stupid to me. It's really going to [anger] a lot of fans in the long run."

She was considering calling a friend with a satellite, even though they haven't seen each other in months. There's always a bar, though she has to work Friday morning.

Some other fans don't enjoy such options. Mike Martel owns several nursing homes in the San Antonio area, where a standard Sunday activity is gathering in the common room to watch the Cowboys. Because the homes get basic cable, residents won't see tomorrow's game.

"We think it's because of the greed of the NFL," Martel said.

Dawn Harrod of Wausau, Wis., is worried about her 95-year-old mother, an avid Packers fan who will miss the game.

The Packers should be on local TV, Harrod said. If not, she wouldn't be willing to pay Charter, her cable company, more to get the NFL Network.

"They should provide it," she said of Charter. "We pay enough already."

NFL Network officials are encouraging fans to switch from providers that don't offer the channel to those that do. They think enough defections will pressure the major cable companies into concessions.

A full-page ad in the sports section of Monday's Wausau (Wis.) Daily Herald blared, "You won't get Green Bay vs. Dallas on Charter." The ad offered the NFL Network and more than 100 other channels for $29.99 a month through Dish Network.

Other fans bristled at the notion of changing providers just because of the NFL Network.

"I'm not going to buy satellite to catch one game or two games a week," said Timothy Smith, a Cowboys fan in San Antonio.



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