ESPN comes tumbling into Washington homes in a big way this weekend. On Sunday at 8 p.m., much of Washington will be exposed to the sports cable network for the first time when the Redskins play in Miami as part of ESPN's unprecedented eight-game package of NFL regular season games.
Most of the D.C. area is not wired for cable, and even some folks with cable probably have disregarded ESPN up until now. But whenever the Redskins play, Washington watches, so it's difficult to ignore ESPN any longer. A word of warning: proceed with care. The good news about ESPN is that it's on 24 hours a day; the bad news about ESPN is that it's on 24 hours a day.
It's always hard to eat just one potato chip, and ESPN, for better or worse, is a bag of potato chips.
So our advice is -- watch the game, if you must, but don't lazily lie on the couch after it's over and mindlessly keep looking at your TV. You may never get up.
The game also can be seen on WUSA-TV-9, part of ESPN's agreement with the NFL to allow over-the-air stations in each of the participating teams' markets to broadcast the game. That means you don't need cable to watch the Redskins-Dolphins game.
Either way, you'll be watching an ESPN production, so to familiarize everybody, here is a handy clip-and-save guide to ESPN and its NFL programming:
When ESPN went on the air in 1979, ESPN stood for Entertainment and Sports Programming Network. But now, ESPN just stands for ESPN, a marketing move made a couple of years ago largely because the cable network doesn't have any entertainment programming (other than professional wrestling, which hardly is entertaining).
Just in case you think ESPN is some fly-by-night operation that doesn't deserve the NFL and doesn't know the NFL, be advised that its NFL-related programming includes "NFL GameDay," "NFL PrimeTime," "NFL's Greatest Moments," "NFL Memories," "NFL Monday Matchup" and "NFL Magazine." In fact, if NFL Films ever went out of business, ESPN might have to change its name to EPN.
As with all NFL games, cars, razor blades and beer will be heavily trumpeted during commercial breaks.
Those of you watching the Redskins-Dolphins game on ESPN can see its unmatched 7 p.m. "NFL PrimeTime," one hour of highlights from all NFL games. Those of you watching the game on Channel 9 will have to settle for CBS' 7 p.m. fare, "60 Minutes," one hour of highlights from the rest of the world.
You will see the same game telecast whether you watch the game on Channel 9 or ESPN (with the exception of some commercial spots).
ESPN uses 10 cameras and six replay machines, which is comparable to what ABC uses on "Monday Night Football." In fact, everything about ESPN's Sunday night NFL games is just like "Monday Night Football," except that when you go to work the next day, it's Monday instead of Tuesday.
ESPN likes to use low-angle camera shots on replays more than the networks.
There will be a reverse-angle camera and there will be a blimp.
ESPN uses a three-announcer booth, with commentator Roy Firestone in the Johnny Carson role, play-by-play man Mike Patrick as Ed McMahon and the designated guest analyst as the "Tonight Show" guest who overstays his welcome. This week's guest analyst is Larry Csonka, whose first ESPN appearance seven weeks ago was marked by a series of mumbles, grunts and sentence fragments.
At halftime, studio analyst Tom Jackson will attempt to dissect a play or two. While he's talking, we will see two views of the same play, both on the screen at the same time. This is ESPN's famed "X/O Cam;" the X/O stands for extraordinarily obfuscating.
ESPN's ratings for its NFL telecasts have been fabulous, with an average of 5.9 million homes tuning in each week. (Remember -- ESPN is only available to 50 percent of the nation.) By comparision, NBC averages about 9.8 million homes for its Sunday afternoon games and ABC averages 16.8 million homes on Monday nights.
If you don't yet appreciate ESPN's weekly addition of NFL football on Sunday nights, remember that the cable network at this time last year was showing, among other things, professional wrestling on Sunday nights.