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September 04, 1997|LARRY STEWART

A consumer's guide to the best and worst of sports media and merchandise. Ground rules: If it can be read, played, heard, observed, worn, viewed, dialed or downloaded, it's in play here.

What: HBO's "Inside the NFL"

When: Season premiere, tonight, 11 p.m.

This may be the best pro football show on television. The combined production standards of HBO and NFL Films are what make it so good. The show looks back with NFL Films highlights and looks ahead with well-informed commentary while mixing in such features as "Cover Story," "NFL Crosstalk" and Curt Gowdy's "Where Are They Now?"

HBO Sports is 25 years old and "Inside the NFL," cable television's longest running sports series, is beginning its 21st season. Seems as though it started only a few years ago, doesn't it? But it started in 1977, with Chuck Bednarik and Al Meltzer hosting from Philadelphia. Len Dawson and Merle Harmon took over the next year, as the show moved permanently to New York. Nick Buoniconti replaced Harmon in 1979, and Dawson and Buoniconti have been together ever since.

Cris Collinsworth, who also works for NBC, begins his eighth season on the show, and Jerry Glanville, who replaced Jimmy Johnson, his second. Collinsworth, whose poise, glibness and willingness to ruffle feathers has made him one of the best football commentators in television, started at HBO as a reporter before moving into the studio after two years.

Gary Myers, football columnist for the New York Daily News, provides inside information and reporters Brian Burwell, Andrea Joyce and Nicole Watson share "Cover Story" assignments.

In its first 20 years, "Inside the NFL" has logged 403 shows, shown more than 600 interviews and done more than 400 profiles. Besides being on every Thursday night, it is repeated Fridays at 7 p.m. and Saturdays at 11 a.m.

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