The rosters are set, the starting lineups have been announced. Management confidently predicts that the teams will be tough, opportunistic. They have depth, if not talent, but you can be sure they'll be in every game.
The television networks, which almost never beat themselves, are ready for the 1979 National Football League season. A look at the division races: MONDAY NIGHT
ABC is in a league of its own. With no competition for the last nine years, ABC has a lock on the division.
But last year's schedule was tough. There were three games with Cincinnati minus quarterback Ken Anderson, and the ABC stars finished with a 20.1 Neilsen rating, 1.4 points lower than the year before when the team had its best season ever.
In 1978, ABC was a one-quarterback team led by Don Meredith, and Dandy Don was out for six games. So, following the conventional wisdom that you take the best man available regardless of position, ABC acquired Fran Tarkenton from the Minnesota Vikings in a major offseason deal.
Will ABC succeed with a two-quarterback system?
Tarkenton, who is unaccustomed to being anyone's backup, said "I'm not the other quarterback. When I'm in the booth, I'm the only quarterback."
Tarkenton has called his own plays throughout his professional career. But at ABC, Frank Gifford has been calling the plays for the last eight years. Can Tarkenton adjust to his new position?
The wily vet, Howard Cosell, is back for his tenth consecutive season. He has shown that he can take a hit as well as anyone. You've got to hand it to him -- the man plays hurt.
ABC works strictly out of a pro set, using 10 cameras for each telecast, 11 if the network goes to the air with the blimp.
They run their patterns well and they have teamwork. If Cosell fumbles, Gifford is there to carry the ball. Meredith can pass it off as well as anybody in the game. And Tarkenton is there to scramble it; or scramble with it, as the case may be.
With Cosell leading the offense, ABC will be a potentially explosive team. SUNDAY AFTERNOON
CBS and NBC are once again going head to head. Both teams had something of an offseason in '78. Management attributes the slips in ratings to a lack of stamina on the part of the viewing public, which was unprepared for the longer 16-game season. They expect the public to be in better shape this year.
Both rosters are deep in play-by-play men (good execution, good fundamentals) and color commentators (the special teams). But insiders say there are really only two kinds of players at the networks: smoothies and jocks.
Both teams are basically conservative. They try to avoid the bomb, Both rely on the special "chemistry" of their passing combinations: Summerall to Brookshier. Enberg to Olsen.
Now the matchups:
NBC: General manager Ted Nathanson, whom most people call a producer, says, "Since we're not doing the Super Bowl this season, I can't say we're going all the way to the championship." Still Nathanson isn't conceding anything to anybody: "I think our coverage is better than anybody else's."
NBC's line is anchored by Merlin Olsen, who joined the team in 1977. The former defensive tackle and his partner, Dick Emberg, are No. 1 on the network's depth chart. They give NBC strength up the middle.
John Brodie, the second-string jock, needs to study his playbook some more if he wants to continue calling signals.
During the off-season, NBC strengthened its bench by acquiring the seasoned vet Don Criqui in a free-agent deal with CBS.
CBS: Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshier are back as the team's formidable first string. They are backed by a coaching staff beefed up during the offseason. John Madden, formerly of the Oakland Raiders, joins Hank Stram and George Allen, making CBS the best coached network.
CBS waived veterans John Unitas, Jim Brown and Nick Buoniconti but acquired Curt Gowdy from NBC. In Gowdy, they have gained a man with invaluable field experience. But how many seasons does he have left?
This is the team that CBS confidently expects will go to the Super Bowl. In fact, they know they're going to the Super Bowl. It's their turn. The networks decided to alternate after both showed up for Super Bowl 1 and nobody won.