In the Booth With Mr. Tony

By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 10, 2006; 5:17 PM

Like my 50ish friend and fellow Long Island native Tony Kornheiser, I, too, usually have a tough time making it past halftime of "Monday Night Football". So maybe I missed Mr. Tony describing Baltimore Ravens head coach Brian Billick as a "preening shmoe" as he so often used to do on a regular basis in print, on radio and television for so many years.

In the first half of the Ravens loss to the Denver Broncos on Monday night, Kornheiser had a number of chances to utter one of his signature phrases, but sadly, he held off. At one point in the first half, the camera was on Billick stalking the sidelines and Tony was talking about Billick's great good fortune in having a quarterback like Steve McNair fall into his lap this season. I thought surely, here it comes: "HEY BRIAN, YOU PREENING SCHMOE!!!!

But it didn't happen.

Maybe he used the line in the second half, when I was drifting off to sleep, further induced toward the Land of ZZZZs by a defense-dominated game -- not to mention Joe Theismann's rambling riffs -- that surely sent millions in the eastern time zone toward their pillows and down comforters, the better to check out the final score on the web or morning paper on Tuesday morning.

But I doubt it.

Tony is a friend of mine, and friends don't pull punches with friends.

Yo Tony, it's time to take off the gloves, not to mention the governor, on your inner you. It's really about time to start acting more like the brilliantly acerbic, equal opportunity, slicing and dicing machine of a Mr. Tony we all have known and loved in various multimedia settings for so many years.

I say this as a critic who Mr. Tony once labeled "The Assassin" because of my own occasional propensity to take shots at so many of the gas-bags and no-talents doing sports on radio and television. But I'm not here to bury TK this day. I would just like him to be, as our mutual friend Dan Jenkins might say, his genius own-self, even if ESPN's suits -- not wanting to do anything to offend their NFL partners -- apparently seem to have something else in mind.

I am not alone in this. Ever since ESPN got into the Monday night business in the preseason, I've been asking a wide variety of people, in and out of the media, to give me their quick-hit impressions on Tony and the telecast, now on ESPN for the first time in history. Here's the short version of what I've been hearing, and observing my own self.

--Theismann and Kornheiser, believe it or not, often are difficult to differentiate because their voices sound too much alike. I've known both of them for a lot of years and don't have that problem myself, but if you close your eyes and listen to the broadcast in 15-second doses, all those people who say they initially have a hard time telling who is actually doing the talking definitely have a point.

--Tony's openings at the top of the telecast are terrific. Obviously he takes as much meticulous care in writing them as he always did with his columns in The Post. In fact, they sound very much like his columns in The Post, and that can only be a good thing. During the game, however, he too often goes back to points he made in that opening instead of pushing into other areas. It's not a real big thing, but it's been noticeable, for sure.

--Theismann talks too much. Big surprise there, right? Joe T came out of the womb with the vocal cords of a carnival barker and he hasn't stopped yapping since. During one second-quarter stretch of the Denver-Baltimore game, I timed his comments at about 15 seconds per pop, sometimes maddeningly longer.

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