? Irvin's influence When he hired Michael Irvin for Sunday NFL Countdown in July, ESPN executive vice president Mark Shapiro said the former All-Pro receiver offered "closeness to the game, an engaging personality and television experience." While you can argue that Irvin's previous TV work didn't amount to much (basically he'd been a regular on Fox Sports Net's Best Damn Sports Show Period), he has, on Countdown, been a dramatic improvement over the surly Sterling Sharpe, whose biggest asset was his ability to scream louder than anyone else on the set. Personality has always been a long suit for Irvin, and the self-proclaimed Playmaker has added spice to the Sunday-morning show. He has been unafraid to criticize some of the NFL's most revered players, saying earlier this season that Packers quarterback Brett Favre could no longer carry a team. "They still think Brett is the ultimate weapon," Irvin said. "He is not." When Irvin and Steve Young debated the value of skill players versus offensive linemen, Irvin unabashedly bashed the big men. "How hard is it," an amused Irvin asked, "to run your body into somebody else's body?" As long as ESPN keeps him away from sit-down interviews with players, in which he usually comes off as little more than a back-slapping ex-jock, Irvin's a good fit for the show.
?Real news The latest Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, which was to air on HBO on Tuesday night (it re-airs Oct. 30 and five times in November) includes a charming profile of 66-year-old Ed Agre, the sole anchor, newscaster, sports reporter and weatherman at KXGN-TV in Glendive, Mont. Of the 210 Nielsen markets in the U.S., KXGN is 210th, but Agre treats his job as if it's SportsCenter, traveling with a beat-up, handheld video camera to cover local football, basketball and volleyball games. Another segment of Real Sports, on deep divers Pip�n Ferreras and his late wife, Audrey Mestre (SI, June 16), includes eerie footage of Mestre on her fatal dive.