Unlike most former jocks who become sportscasters, Dierdorf learned broadcasting from the bottom up. His first job behind the mike came in 1974, when, still with the Cardinals, he teamed with Hart on a Saturday afternoon call-in show for KMOX radio. He still works for KMOX as the host of Sports Open Line, a nightly call-in show on which NBC announcer Bob Costas, a KMOX alum, regularly appears. "Dan isn't just a jock, but he's comfortable with jocks," says Costas. "He's not a guy who'd sit down and read Voltaire, but somewhere along the line he's probably heard about Candide. He'll set you up, and you can set him up."
One of the bright spots of Dierdorf's KMOX career was "The Friday Frank Forecast," a feature on Sports Open Line during which Costas, who did (and does) the Major League Baseball Game of the Week telecasts on Saturdays, would phone in from whatever ballpark in the country he happened to be visiting. "Well, Bob, how is that Steel City sausage?" Dierdorf would ask. "And how about the texture of the bun? Is it poppyseed? A hearty and thick bun...?"
Last year Dierdorf also was the sports director and 10 o'clock sports anchor for KMOV-TV. And he did a Monday NFL report for the CBS Morning News. He would leave St. Louis on Friday for wherever the CBS Sunday game was being held, interview the coaches on Saturday, broadcast the game on Sunday, fly to New York that night for the next day's Morning News show, get up at 5 a.m. and do his report, fly to St. Louis later in the day, unpack, review a tape of the Cardinals' Sunday game, race to KMOX for a two-hour show at 6 o'clock with St. Louis coach Gene Stallings, take the elevator down to KMOV to do the 10 o'clock sports and, finally, climb into bed at 11:30.
This grueling schedule worried Debbie, who feared her exhausted husband was inviting a heart attack. "One night Debbie picked me up, and we went out to dinner," Dierdorf recalls. "She said, 'Honey, I don't normally interfere, but do you realize that we have not sat down and had dinner with the kids as a family in more than five weeks?' " Dierdorf has since scaled back on at least one front: He has reduced his KMOV load from anchoring the 10 p.m. sports to doing a few features and commentaries a week. He will earn more than $1 million from his various ventures this year.
How will Dierdorf come across on Monday Night Football? It probably will depend on how well he mans the show's telestrator—the device, new to ABC, that allows an analyst to draw plays on the screen—and how well he can tap-dance around Gifford and get along with the other deckhands. Dierdorf is a born talker who will have to button it up more as part of a three-man crew than he did as half of the two-man CBS team. "I wonder what it's going to feel like biting my tongue," he says.
But Dierdorf is an uncommonly candid communicator. As for Howard Cosell's contempt for the jockocracy, he says: "Everybody on Monday Night owes a debt to Howard. But I have forgotten more about football than Howard Cosell ever knew. Howard only existed in that environment because he had people around him who knew the game. Let's be realistic. Howard had his strengths. But analyzing a football game was not one of them."
Jack Buck, a KMOX colleague, who will recommence his Monday night broadcasts on CBS Radio this season and thus will be on opposite Dierdorf, says the major thing Dierdorf has to look out for on Monday Night Football is "the smoking pistols." According to Buck, "They'll all be gunning for him—it's the nature of things when you get that high. What's Dan going to do that Gifford couldn't and vice versa? They want a fun theme. Well, they'd better get the Smothers Brothers, because sooner or later the game settles down to business."
But don't forget, beneath the jocularity, Dierdorf is all business.