Last week CBS, Fox, ABC and ESPN committed themselves to spend $17.6 billion to telecast NFL games from the start of next season through 2005. Whether those are "edge-of-the-cliff numbers," as one network executive called them, or whether, as Sean McManus, president of CBS Sports, says, "We are not going to lose money on this deal," doesn't matter much to viewers. What they want to know is, What does this new and bewildering universe of astronomical numbers, changing networks and yo-yoing commentators mean to the couch potato? Some answers:
•It means longer Sundays for the bleary-eyed NFL loyalist. The first game of the CBS or Fox double-header will still start at 1 p.m. EST, but the second game will begin at 4:15 instead of 4:00. There will be three more 30-second commercials in every game, bringing the total to 59, which will be accommodated by one extra TV timeout. That means there will now be five TV timeouts each quarter. The ESPN Sunday-night game will start at 8:20, 20 minutes—and a proportionate amount of pregame mumbo-jumbo—later than past Sunday-night games.
•It means a more productive Tuesday for the East Coast workforce. ABC has moved the kickoff for Monday Night Football from 9 p.m. EST to 8:20, which should allow most games to end before midnight.
•It means a new configuration in the broadcasting firmament: While John Madden re-upped with Fox for close to $8 million a year, Boomer Esiason decided that Monday-night commentating was healthier than Cincinnati Bengals quarterbacking, and Phil Simms will almost certainly be the star of CBS's No. 1 play-by-play team.
•It means more NFL in the off-season. The contracts call for networks to create NFL-friendly material and also run more league-produced material (read: puff pieces) like the NBA-produced Inside Stuff, which runs 52 weeks a year on NBC.
•It means fans who depended on HBO's Inside the NFL for their midweek dose of football footage better start praying. At week's end the fate of Inside's 22nd year was in the balance because HBO was balking at some of the league's demands on running the aforementioned puffery.
•It means a fading from TV screens of old reliables Dick Enberg and Frank Gilford. NBC's losing the NFL means that Enberg's big moments will come on golf, the Olympics and Wimbledon, while Esiason's hiring pushed Giff into the role of pregame host and, in all likelihood, more face time on Regis & Kathie Lee.
There He Goes Again
Yeah, we know: No one quotes Yogi Berra anymore because his sayings get repeated so often. But we couldn't resist. Asked recently how he felt about the Yogi Berra Museum, which is set to open in June in Montclair, N.J., Yogi replied, "It's a great honor, I guess. Most people don't have museums named after them."
Billy Sims's Sad Saga