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SPORTS WEEKEND | TV-RADIO / LARRY STEWART

Simms Becomes Impact Player for CBS

October 23, 1998|LARRY STEWART

Baseball is over and the NBA is nowhere in sight, which means football now has center stage.

That's particularly good news for CBS, which Sunday offers the NFL game of the year, at least so far, with Jacksonville at Denver.

Working the game will be CBS' No. 1 announcing team of Greg Gumbel and Phil Simms, who are jelling almost as well as the Broncos.

How good is Simms?

Consider this: When Fox got the NFL in 1993, it needed to establish immediate credibility, and one way to do that was to hire the commentator perceived as the best. So Fox hired John Madden.

When CBS got the NFL back earlier this year, it faced a similar situation, and Simms was the network's choice to be the No. 1 commentator.

The high regard for Simms is well deserved. He's informative without being offensive and offers a touch of humor without forcing it.

The fact that he is a former New York Giant quarterback and the 1987 Super Bowl most valuable player doesn't hurt, but his insights and communication skills are what put Simms in such a lofty position.

If all it took to be a commentator was to be a famous New York quarterback, Joe Namath would be hauling in the big bucks.

Simms never thought about broadcasting as a career. He figured he'd someday end up in coaching.

But after the Giants released him before the 1994 season--he had off-season shoulder surgery but his salary may have been more of a factor--ESPN called and offered Simms a job as a studio analyst on the "Edge NFL Matchup" show.

"I thought, no problem, I can talk and I have opinions," Simms said. "But right away I found out it's not that easy. You have to have something pertinent to say, you have to say it so everyone can understand what you're talking about, and you have to say it in a certain length of time.

"You know, about one in five football players want to be broadcasters. But hardly any of them know anything about it. To tell you the truth, when I started, I stunk."

But NBC saw the potential.

"When NBC hired me [in 1995], I really didn't know they were going to put me with Dick Enberg and Paul Maguire on the No. 1 team," Simms said. "Sometimes being a little bit blind is good, and that's me.

"Before the Super Bowl, Dick told me it was OK to be nervous. But my thinking was, what is there to be nervous about?"

So Simms isn't nervous as he approaches Sunday's big game. But he knows it's more than just another game.

"There's no question that the Broncos have distinguished themselves as the No. 1 team in the NFL," he said. "Right now there is a little gap between them and the next best team, the Minnesota Vikings. Then there is another little gap to the next tier, which includes Jacksonville. I think the fact that the Jaguars lost last Sunday [to Buffalo] may make for a better game. It may have served as a wake-up call."

Simms loves working with Gumbel, and he loves working in a two-man booth as opposed to NBC's three-man booth.

"I learned so much from Dick and Paul, I'll always be indebted to them," he said. "Those guys were great to me. But I really like the two-man booth. There's less traffic and more room. It's like putting two cars in the garage instead of three."

Things couldn't be going much better for Simms. His son Christopher, the oldest of his three children, is the top-rated prep quarterback in the country. He plays for Franklin Lakes Ramapo High in New Jersey. "It's great, because I work with Christopher and that takes care of the part of me that still wants to coach," Simms said.

Because of who his father is and because the 6-foot-5 left-hander is so good, Christopher Simms has been getting incredible media attention in New York.

"I've tried to control the amount of publicity, but I must say Christopher is handling it pretty well," Simms said. "I think hanging around the locker room after my games and listening to me talk to the media has helped him a lot. He talks pretty good."

Like father, like son.

SHORT WAVES

NFL ratings are generally down, but CBS shows a 4% increase over where NBC was at this point last season, 8.7 to 8.4. . . . CBS' Jim Nantz, after doing "The NFL Today" on Sunday, will serve as master of ceremonies of a charity dinner honoring Arnold Palmer on Tuesday night at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The affair benefits the Richstone Family Center in Hawthorne and its efforts against child abuse. The late Jim Murray has a building named after him at the center, and Tuesday night's program will include a video tribute to Murray, presented by Roy Firestone. The dinner chairwoman is Linda McCoy-Murray and the honorary chairman is Barron Hilton. Information: (310) 970-1921, Ext. 30.

UCLA, which plays at California, is back on ABC on Saturday, with Brent Musburger and Dan Fouts again the announcers. The Bruins' game against Oregon last Saturday got an NFL-type rating, 10.1, in Los Angeles. . . . USC's game at Oregon on Saturday is a Fox Sports Net syndicated game being carried by Channel 9 in Los Angeles. The announcers will be Bill Macdonald and David Norrie.

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