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Sports

Madden joins ABC; Miller out on MNF

| Friday, March 1, 2002

NEW YORK (AP) - Boom! Just like that, John Madden is in, and Dennis Miller is out.

Madden is carrying his inimitable mix of enthusiasm, opinions and analysis to ''Monday Night Football,'' leaving Fox Sports and agreeing to a four-year, $20 million deal with ABC Sports to pair with Al Michaels in a two-man booth.

Miller - a comedian known for obscure references not football smarts - leaves after two seasons and declining ratings. Dan Fouts and Eric Dickerson also were taken off ABC's prime-time NFL broadcasts, while Melissa Stark stays as a sideline reporter.

''I had this opportunity, and I wanted to do whatever it took to get it done,'' the 65-year-old Madden said Thursday. ''This is where I want to finish.''

Michaels, on ''Monday Night Football'' since 1986, is Madden's first new boothmate in more than two decades. Madden and Pat Summerall were paired at CBS in 1981, then moved to Fox in 1994, along the way becoming the signature voices of NFL games.

Madden had one year at $7.5 million left on his contract with Fox, but the network agreed to scrap that deal after Madden rejected a three-year, $15 million extension and asked permission to talk to ABC, an industry source told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Madden and ABC then hammered out a contract worth about $5 million per season, another source said, also on condition of anonymity. It all happened in about six hours Wednesday.

''This is something that came very quickly. I'm numb, but even through the numbness I realize how lucky I am,'' Madden said.

''Every broadcaster would love an opportunity to be part of 'Monday Night Football.'''

He'll also work for ESPN, appearing on NFL studio shows and possibly ''SportsCenter.''

While with Fox and CBS, Madden was one of dozens of NFL announcers working each Sunday, and viewers didn't necessarily get his game in their market.

Now, Madden moves to the only game in town on Monday nights.

And ABC gets the strongest NFL color analyst it's ever had, along with the sort of buzz that Miller's hiring only initially generated and that ''Monday Night Football'' really hasn't held since the days of Cosell, Meredith and Gifford.

Mirroring a general TV trend, the show's ratings declined seven straight years, including a 9 percent drop this season to a new low of 11.5 (each rating point represents a little more than 1.05 million TV homes). Fox's NFL games averaged 10.2, down 4 percent from last season, while CBS stayed at 9.5.

''I don't want to put too much pressure on John - he's been with us all of 20 minutes now - but,'' ABC Sports president Howard Katz said, ''yeah, I expect the ratings to go up.''

Madden ''has a tremendous knowledge of football and of television,'' Michaels said. ''I can't imagine the blending not working almost perfectly from the first telecast.''

Madden's ABC debut will be at the Aug. 5 Hall of Fame preseason game between the Giants and Texans. ABC will air the 2003 Super Bowl, Madden's ninth as a broadcaster.

Madden said yesterday that Summerall's departure from Fox - the network didn't renew his contract - played a role in his own move.

''I was going to be working with a new partner, anyway, and to have the opportunity to work with Al Michaels - you just can't beat that,'' Madden said.

Fox outbid other networks in 1994 to lure Madden and Summerall, thereby lending legitimacy to its new status as a sports broadcaster. So why let him go now• In part, Fox didn't want to keep an unhappy Madden for a year, then have to start its search for a new top announcing pair afresh in 2003.

''It was made very clear to us by (his agent) that John's wish for a long, long time has been to work on 'Monday Night Football,''' Fox Sports chairman David Hill said.

Plus, Fox's parent, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., took a $909 million write-off this month on its NFL, major league baseball and NASCAR contracts. Saving something by letting Madden go can't hurt.

Unlike Miller, Madden comes by his football bona fides honestly. He coached the Oakland Raiders to the 1977 Super Bowl championship and his .750 regular season winning percentage is the highest in NFL history.

ABC has tried to get the NFL, CBS and Fox to agree to flexible scheduling to avoid poor late-season matchups. While the generally accepted theory is that viewers tune in to watch teams and not announcers, Madden could be an exception.

''When you have a lopsided game, someone like Madden can help keep the audience tuned in longer,'' said Paul Schulman, of media buying company Advanswers PHD. ''His personality, his knowledge of the game and his sense of humor is such that he can find something in a game that other color men might not see.''

That, perhaps, is why Madden's $5 million salary at ABC was surpassed by only 11 NFL players last season.

Fox is expected to make lead baseball announcer Joe Buck its new top play-by-play NFL broadcaster. He could be paired with former Bengals wide receiver Cris Collinsworth, who has been on Fox's NFL pregame show.

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