Post's Tony Kornheiser Gets Hot 'Monday Night' Date

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By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 9, 2006

Tony Kornheiser says the last time he stayed up to watch an entire "Monday Night Football" game was around the time of his bar mitzvah.

A joke, of course. But yesterday, Kornheiser was contemplating some lifestyle adjustments. As a newly named analyst on "MNF," Kornheiser has signed on for a season of late nights.

The Washington Post sports columnist figures to be equal parts acerbic critic and comic foil -- Howard Cosell with a broader sense of humor, or maybe Dennis Miller with more football smarts -- when he begins calling NFL games in August with a new "Monday Night" team: play-by-play announcer Mike Tirico and former Redskin Joe Theismann.

The three will share the booth when "MNF" moves to ESPN after 36 years on ABC.

Kornheiser says he usually goes to bed before 9:30 p.m., not long after Monday night games usually get started, and wakes up about 5 a.m. "I live like a barn animal," he said yesterday during a coming-out teleconference. But he'll make the sacrifice, he says, to be on "MNF," which brought pro football to prime-time TV and helped establish football as the nation's most popular sport. "Speaking as a sportswriter," he said, "it's pretty incredible."

Theismann and Kornheiser are the 14th and 15th color announcers in "MNF's" history, a list that includes the legendary original team, Cosell and Don Meredith, and such one-season wonders as Fred "The Hammer" Williamson. Kornheiser is the second sportswriter (after Cosell) and third non-NFL player or coach (after Cosell and Miller) to become a "Monday Night" analyst.

Kornheiser, who would not discuss the terms of his contract, sounded confident about analyzing football. After giving his opinions in print, on radio and on TV for the past 35 years, "it doesn't seem all that hard to take the skills of criticism and say, 'That's a good play' and 'That's not a good play,' " he said.

At the same time, however, he could not recall broadcasting a live game. "I've never done this," he said. "It seems daunting. I could be a disaster."

Theismann, who often sparred with co-color man Paul Maguire on ESPN games, said: "It can only enhance the broadcast to have different views and perspectives in the booth. When you have different views of a situation, it's interesting to the fans."

In addition to staying up late, Kornheiser will have to deal with getting to games. Given his fear of flying, he says he might have to crisscross the country in his own bus, much as his "Monday Night" predecessor and fellow flight phobic John Madden has done for years (the former coach calls his bus the Madden Cruiser; Kornheiser could have the KornKruiser).

Madden and Al Michaels, ABC's "Monday Night" team the past four years, are leaving ABC for NBC's new Sunday prime-time NFL games next season. Michaels, who had been with ABC for 30 years (and who most famously called the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" Olympic hockey action), was in the middle of an eight-year contract with Walt Disney Co., which owns ESPN and ABC. ESPN declined to discuss the specifics of Michaels's departure.

Kornheiser's plans for his various day jobs are uncertain. He has three commitments: his thrice-weekly Post column; a weekday sports-talk program on WTEM (980 AM); and the daily ESPN talk show "Pardon the Interruption," which he hosts with fellow Post columnist Michael Wilbon. Of these, only "PTI" is locked in; Wilbon and Kornheiser will continue the show, broadcasting Mondays during the season from whichever city is hosting the "MNF" game.

Kornheiser says he wants to continue writing his Post column, although his travel commitments to ESPN could affect his output. "The Post has paid the rent and for my kids' schools for an awfully long time," he said. "I'd do anything I can to be affiliated with them."

Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. said one possibility is for Kornheiser to produce a blog about his weekly travels. "We have many months to talk about it," Downie said. "We're very flexible, and he is, too."

The Post also wants to snare Kornheiser as the host of a program on WTWP, the radio station the paper is programming with Bonneville International Corp., owner WTOP AM and FM.

" 'Monday Night Football' creates a time crunch and makes some of the things we've discussed tough to do," said Tina Gulland, who heads The Post's radio and TV projects. "But we're Tony's biggest fans, and we'll try to figure out a way he can contribute."

Indeed, he said last night that his "guess" was that he would take a leave of absence from WTEM while on "MNF."

As of yesterday, Kornheiser was trying to stay focused on the big picture. Or perhaps the little one. Ready for his prime-time close-up, he offered, "I'm most afraid of the [high-definition] makeup."


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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