Considering all the esoteric references fired off—frequently without heed to the game situation or broadcast flow—by rookie analyst Dennis Miller on Monday Night Football last fall, what ABC really should have asked viewers was, "Are you ready for some footnotes?" Sometimes funny, sometimes preheated or confusing, Miller's wisecracks often left Dan Fouts, the other new analyst, waiting with pursed lips. "Dan had to play the read-and-react defense in the booth" says Al Michaels, MNF's play-by-play man. "Dan would wonder, 'Is Dennis coming in? Is he not coming in?' "
When Fouts, who was an All-Pro quarterback for the Chargers, did get a word in, he at times sounded nervous and rushed, like the kid in class who has had his hand up for minutes. Although his observations were usually on target, he too often deferred to Michaels and Miller. As a result, when ABC hired ESPN Sunday Night Football veteran Fred Gaudelli as the new MNF producer in March, one of Gaudelli's goals was to get Fouts in rhythm. Says Gaudelli, "I said to Dan, 'Look, you're a Hall of Fame quarterback—you need to start sounding like it.' " To that end, Gaudelli made a compilation tape of moments from last season that showcased what he felt were Fouts's strengths (tough opinions and refreshing honesty) and his weakness (being reactive instead of assertive). Gaudelli, who made similar tapes for Michaels and Miller, then flew to Sisters, Ore., where Fouts lives, and the pair watched the tape together. "We talked about last year, about Dennis and me," says Fouts. "A lot of [the problem] was we lacked experience together. We're only going to get more comfortable."
In the preseason—a three-game dress rehearsal for Monday's opener (Giants at Broncos, ABC, 9 p.m.)—Fouts was more vocal and specific than he had been in 2000. During the Aug. 20 Packers-Broncos game, he made a number of astute observations, including an apt comparison of Denver wideout Rod Smith's ability to turn up-field after a catch with that of Jerry Rice. Nonetheless, Fouts often sounded as if he were announcing rather than just talking football. Away from the booth he is candid and has a deadpan sense of humor. One of the best moments during that Broncos-Packers game came off the air during a first-quarter commercial break when Miller ran down his new MNF credo, which he was writing on Post-it notes: "Commercial [intros], shut up. Penalties, shut up. Inside the twenties, talk football. I'm a whole new man, Al." Without hesitation, Fouts retorted, "There's room for more [notes] too." Michaels laughed, and Miller replied, "I've left a whole 'nother Post-it there, my friend."
Here's hoping that this season the trio can be as entertaining when the camera is turned on.