Is it time for a change on "Monday Night Football?" Leave the personnel alone for awhile. (Howard is already gone anyway.) Look at the structure. With all three networks' ratings sufferring, does pro football's main attraction need a shot in the arm?
The MNF crew was in town for last night's Washington Redskins-Atlanta Falcons game at RFK Stadium. During the afternoon, at the Watergate Hotel, commentator O.J. Simpson, director Chet Forte and producer Bob Goodrich mulled over the future of their show.
This season, they have been plagued by "a plethora of lousy games," Forte said. "We feel snakebit. I'm going into a game tonight where I think it's going to be 45-0. Where's the incentive tonight? The incentive tonight is on the Washington side. Atlanta has all these injuries, Washington is fighting for the lead . . . we could be facing another blowout tonight. And what can we do about it? Absolutely nothing."
For now, that's correct. However, as Simpson said, there are alternatives to the present system.
"There ought to be some kind of option where you can choose the game," he said. "It's going to be tough, fighting the other two networks. I know it's all competition, but the other two networks realize Monday night is important. Take Atlanta, for instance. Obviously, two weeks ago, we would have known putting Atlanta on center stage was not the best thing for football. The fans would prefer to see the St. Louises or Miamis or Seattles or Denvers. At midseason, couldn't you evaluate the games and try to change some?"
That's one idea, although moving a game from a Sunday to a Monday in midseason could present problems itself.
Forte has another idea. Or two.
"I don't want to say I think there's a panic going on, but there is a concern," he said. "It concerns Monday Night Football more than anything, because we're prime-time television. I think we had a lot to do with making the NFL and pro football a success. I don't think the NFL wants to lose "Monday Night Football." Neither do we. Will there be concessions (by the league) in the future? There's a lot of possibilities to help out "Monday Night Football" . . . the possibility of maybe another game to go to on Monday night."
It's an idea that has been discussed before -- two Monday night games, one for the East Coast, one for the West.
Or, try this. "Maybe we need the stellar teams every week," Forte said. "We always felt if we had the one attraction, the Washington Redskins, the Raiders, that would be enough. Now, there's no question we do need the top teams on "Monday Night Football," more than we ever did before."
Val Pinchbeck, the NFL's director of broadcasting, has heard this before. "I'm sure that ABC would be very happy to have the Raiders on eight times and the Cowboys on eight times," he said. "I don't think NBC and CBS would be very happy, though."
Pinchbeck expects representatives of the league and the networks to talk about this once the season ends. Don't expect immediate results. As Pinchbeck said, "These suggestions present more problems than solutions."
NBC was quick with the promos but slow with the facts Sunday, undoubtedly confusing just about everyone on whether John Henry was going to run in next Saturday's Breeders' Cup.
The world's top money-winning thoroughbred isn't, a fact that was known Sunday morning, when the story broke in The Washington Post, among other papers. But announcer Dick Enberg, in Chicago for the Bears' game against the Los Angeles Raiders, didn't hear the news, which led to problems Sunday afternoon.
Enberg announced during his game that John Henry was a "60-40 shot" to run, referring to information he read in Saturday's papers, then quickly added a disclaimer that the network knew John Henry was injured and was checking on the news. Later, Charlie Jones, in New Jersey for the New York Jets-Miami Dolphins game, said he thought John Henry was not running.
But producer George Finkel immediately told Jones that was not "carved in stone," network spokesman Kevin Monaghan said yesterday, so Jones came right back and said John Henry might be running after all.
Meanwhile, promo ads, featuring tape of John Henry, continued to run during the games as the announcers touted him. "At the time they (the promos) were made, he was running," Monaghan said. "Now, it looks like we should not have run them."
Finally, in the fourth quarter of the Dolphins' game, Jones set the record straight by reporting the wire service stories on John Henry and, on the postgame show in the studio, Pete Axthelm made it official, saying John Henry definitely was not running.
It took a while, but NBC finally got the story straight. Yesterday, Monaghan was left to do the explaining. "We're guilty," he said.