Leonard Shapiro, Sports Columnist
Sports Waves

New Monday Night Crew Has Staying Power

By Leonard Shapiro
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, August 14, 2007; 12:25 PM

First, an admission.

I missed the first quarter of the opening Monday Night Football game between the San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos. Hey, it is preseason, and who knew the game started at 8 p.m. instead of 9 p.m.?

A second admission.

I barely made it to the halfway point of the fourth quarter. It may be August, but it is lights out for your faithful correspondent by 11:30 p.m., and even more so when fourth-team offensive tackles who would be lucky to make an Arena team are jumping offside on every other play.

Still, I saw and heard enough of ESPN's 2007 MNF debut with Ron Jaworski replacing Joe Theismann to know this new three-man combination has a more than decent chance to have some staying power.

Specifically, Jaws and my long-time friend and Post colleague Tony Kornheiser actually seemed to click. There was none of the tension that more than occasionally came over the airwaves a year ago when Theismann dominated the microphone and often talked down to Kornheiser, whether he meant to or not.

For one, Jaworski is an equal opportunity broadcaster. He makes his mostly cogent points quickly and then yields the floor to one of his colleagues. Theismann always needed 30 seconds just to clear his throat, even though his comments clearly helped the viewer understand what just happened on the field.

With Theismann now on the sidelines to collect the remaining four years of his contract, it was play-by-play man Mike Tirico who seemed to hold the floor longer than his two cohorts in the booth Monday night and that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

It was nice to have Kornheiser actually seem like one of the guys, as opposed to a third wheel. On Monday night, we got the same Mr. Tony who entertained all of his pals in The Washington Post sports department for years with that meshuganeh Long Island cynical shtick and the same broadcaster whose local radio show and Pardon The Interruption (with the mega-talent Mike Wilbon) have been runaway hits.

Kornheiser was funny and glib. Mr. Tony was Mr. Sarcastic. Kornheiser needled Jaws and Jaws needled right back, as did Tirico.

"When you say it's my treat for dinner," Kornheiser told Jaworski, "And then you take us to the free buffet for the sportswriters, that doesn't count."

When a San Francisco receiver named Gilmore got the benefit of an instant replay review on a controversial catch just before halftime, Kornhieser said "Does that make the guy catching the ball Happy Gilmore? Tirico smiled at that. But he didn't actually laugh."

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