Howard Cosell has not come out of retirement.
That's one good thing you can say about this year's crop of football broadcasters.
But Joe Namath and Joe Theismann are back, just as they threatened.
Namath, who still delivers commentary as though he's reading a movie script for the first time, is teamed with bland Tom Hammond, the sometime horse-racing announcer, on NBC's NFL roster.
They're also the No. 1-ranked entry in this year's Bottom Ten of Broadcasters, an informal poll of disgruntled ex-season-ticket holders, part-time bartenders, fired coaches, steroid-ex-players and retired cheerleaders.
Rated No. 2 in the ESPN team of Joe Theismann and . . . well, if you have to know, Mike Patrick. His identity is academic because Patrick isn't expect to get a word in all year while sitting next to the motor-mouth ex-quarterback.
The 1990 TV season also marks the return of several dullards who view their games through rose-colored binoculars, including Don Criqui, Dick Stockton, Jim Nantz and James Brown. Serious criticism to these guys is refraining from calling a 30-yard-punt "booming."
Criqui's broadcasts pack all the color, insight and wit of his airline commercials. He's paired on NBC with Bob Trumpy, who complements Criqui by being overbearing. There was the time, for instance, when Trumpy reacted to an official's call at a Raiders-Houston game by shouting, "No! No! No!" And, then, when the call was upheld after a review, Trumpy shouted, "No! No! No!"
CBS' Stockton is paired with Merlin Olsen (No More Mr. Nice Guy, Merlin--Please!) Nantz's hired help at CBS consists of Tim (Mr. Cliche) Brant and superfluous sideline reporter John Dockery. And Brown's partners at CBS is ex-49er center Randy Cross, who's known mainly for his looks (he's the guy in the beer commercial who's recognized by the waitress only when he bends over).
As with worried football teams, the networks have reshuffled their rosters, raising some intriguing questions. Can fans stand four quarters of defrocked pre-game hosts Irv Cross (CBS) and Brent Musburger, who was picked up on waiver by ABC? What innovation can NBC come up with to match its invaluable addition to last year's "NFL Live" show (a game-site weatherman)? And, finally, will CBS replace James Brown, the announcer, with James Brown, the singer, who'd be vastly more interesting?
Excitement centers on the rookie network announcers, too. After all, one of the might just be another Chris Schenkel, the utterer of such classics as: "Maryland had to come from behind to beat tough Villanova 24 to 0."
Two of the newcomers are former NFL star receives Todd Christensen and Cris Collinsworth. But don't think that NBC is trying to capitalize on their names at the expense of broadcasters who actually have credentials. Christensen, for instance, has emceed "American Gladiators," a trash-sports TV show in which contestants try to accomplish feats like climbing a barricade while fighting off an opponent.
Meanwhile, ex-49ers coach Bill Walsh will be struggling to win the Comeback of the Year competition after a disappointing rookie season as an NBC commentator. The network had hired him with the hope that he would fill the slot of Electrifying Ex-Coach to match CBS' JOhn Madden.
Instead, Walsh proved to be colorless and overanalytical, as typified by one game in which he took a dislike to the pass-rushing technique of Buffalo star Bruce Smith. Walsh proceeded to set an NFL broadcasting record for Most Times Repeating the Same Criticism of the Same Player in the Same Quarter (5). Maybe Walsh thought Smith could hear him.
At least we can be thankful that the 20th anniversary of ABC's "Monday Night Football" is behind us. So we won't be subjected to a repeat of last year's weekly, self-congratulatory viewer poll of alleged memorable moments ("Most Exciting Shot of the Replay Booth While Officials Are Mulling Over a Disputed Off-Sides Call," etc).
In general, though, the 1990 run of unimaginative, offend-nobody network announcers may well cause fans to think back to the golden moment of TV football viewing, Dec. 20, 1980. That was the day NBC experimented by showing the New York Jets-Miami Dolphins game without broadcasters.
The Bottom 10 1 Tom Hammon-Joe Namath NBC 2 Mike Patrick-Joe Theismann ESPN 3 Don Criqui-Bob Trumpy NBC 4 Dick Stockton-Merlin Olsen CBS 5 Brent Musburger-Dick Vermeil-Mike Adamle ABC 6 Dick Enberg-Bill Walsh NBC 7 Jim Nantz-Tim Brant-John Dockery CBS 8 James Brown-Randy Cross CBS 9 Tim Ryan-Irv Cross CBS 10 Jim Henderson-Hank Stram CBS Special Citations: Worst Toupee Stram); Most Likely to Fall Asleep While Broadcasting (Pat Summerall, CBS); Worst Trademark Phrase "Oh My"--(Enberg); Squeakiest Vice (Adamle).