Hey, you can throw out the record book any time CBS' "The NFL Today" and NBC's "NFL '85" lock horns. Sure, "NFL '85" has won in the ratings only one Sunday in 10 years, but when these two rivals butt heads, you can expect a hard-hitting, no-holds-barred bitter battle. These guys just don't like each other.
Ted Shaker, executive producer of the "The NFL Today": "You can slice it any way you want -- we're still cleaning their clock. Are we fat and lazy? I think we'll beat them on any story in the NFL. We worry about our level of quality. We're not concerned with NBC."
John Filippelli, producer of "NFL '85": "If you look at CBS, they've done the same type of show for 10 years with the same cast of characters for 10 years. With CBS, you get staid predictability . . . They invented the genre. But to their discredit, they haven't advanced it."
Both shows usually air in Washington at 12:30 p.m. Sundays. For the record, "The NFL Today" is the one with Brent, Irv and the Greek and "NFL '85" is the one with Bob, Ahmad and Ax.
Where "The NFL Today" is bossy, "NFL '85" is brassy. Where "The NFL Today" is stuffy, "NFL '85" is sassy. But for all of NBC's irreverence, it doesn't necessarily make "NFL '85" a better show than "The NFL Today." It just makes it different, which at least gives the viewer an alternative.
With CBS beating NBC weekly in the pregame ratings, this becomes a traditional Hertz-Avis duel. CBS/Hertz understandably has an if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it attitude. NBC/Avis, the we-try-harder folks, is going to offer you discount packages, cars with ejector seats and free nylons with every gallon of gas.
Thus, as has been the case forever, "The NFL Today" always opens with Brent Musburger telling us, "You're looking live at Giants Stadium . . . Now you're looking live at Veterans Stadium . . . " CBS proves you can be live and lifeless at the same time.
Meanwhile, "NFL '85" has discovered a nice touch by opening each week with highlights from several great games NBC has telecast over the years. This plugs in perfectly with NBC's "the tradition is here, the memories are waiting" campaign and, more importantly, gives the viewer a sense of anticipation regarding which great games might be highlighted.
For "The NFL Today," now in its 11th year, the formula has changed little. "It's been difficult to discipline myself when everyone says, 'Let's make wholesale changes,' " Shaker said. "The public hasn't called for that."
Musburger remains the steady anchor, reading scores and updates like no one else in the business and lending a sense of urgency to the broadcast just by the manner in which he comports himself. "The most important thing," Shaker said, "is that CBS hold on to Brent. The show flows through him."
Irv Cross, a highly likable fellow, always has seemed slightly overwhelmed in "The NFL Today" studio by the fast-paced chitchat. So this year, on 11 of 19 shows, Cross will be sent out into the field, playing to his strength of handling reports from game sites.
Finally, there's Jimmy (The Greek) Snyder. He's got great marquee value, but he's not worth the price of admission. He's more maddening than Mister Rogers, less insightful than Mr. Magoo. His checklist for key games is superficial, cursory analysis. And having Musburger join to push buttons to light up the Greek's board seems almost comical. (Can you imagine Cosell pushing buttons?)
While "The NFL Today" plays it straight, the funky folks at NBC aim to produce 30 minutes that seem part "Saturday Night Live," part "The Today Show." Whereas Musburger is serious and news-oriented, "NFL '85" anchor Bob Costas seems more light-hearted and whimsical, which creates an "NFL '85" that is sometimes witty and wise, sometimes senseless and stupid.
"There were some times we've gone over the edge a little bit. A lot of things we've done have legitimately not worked," Filippelli said. "We're trying to redefine what the genre is. You can't keep doing Nolan Cromwell goes fishing.
"We're tired of, 'Here's Joe Montana. He's a terrific guy who works with children in the offseason.' People are more sophisticated now . . . We try not to treat football like the sermon on the mount. We treat football with irreverence."
To that end, "NFL '85" has Pete Axthelm with his hit-or-miss essays and offbeat betting information. Recently, there was Ahmad Rashad in the role of "007" interviewing the Raiders' Howie Long, a concept that probably didn't play in Peoria or Poolesville.
"NFL '85's" latest experiments include adding a rumpled-looking Larry King reporting from a rumpled-looking D.C. office on inside news from around the league. And amazingly, later this season "NFL '85" will do a show with a studio audience.
The competition is heating up. Last week, in one of those "coincidences" similar to the occasions when Time and Newsweek manage to have the same cover stories, both pregame shows interviewed Kellen Winslow and William Andrews about their injuries.
For all of these maneuverings, "The NFL Today" remains No. 1. After all, CBS' NFC markets are larger than NBC's AFC markets, and when all is said and done, most people tune in to the pregame show of whichever game they're going to watch.
But that doesn't mean Filippelli and friends are going to roll over at CBS' command. Because, Hey, on any given Sunday . . .