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THE INSIDE TRACK | PAGE TWO

'MNF' Definitely Not What (or When) It Used to Be

October 29, 1998|RANDY HARVEY

I was on the verge when the NFL season began of calling for a boycott of "Monday Night Football." I wasn't going to watch it, I wasn't going to write about it.

I changed my mind for three reasons. One is that I enjoy Al Michaels' play by play so much that I will even endure the tiresome bickering between Dan Dierdorf and Boomer Esiason. Two is that, with the NBA lockout and no pro football team in town, I need something to write about. Three is that I like watching NFL games socially. OK, I admit it. I am an NFL junkie.

Cesar Chavez I'm not.

But even without me, many viewers here have staged boycotts. Mark Mandel, an ABC spokesman, reported that through the first five weeks of the season ratings for "Monday Night Football" were down 17% in Los Angeles.

We are not the only ones not watching. The entire West Coast, he said, was down 17%.

There are numerous factors. Did I mention there is no team in Los Angeles? Even in West Coast cities that have teams, only one was considered attractive enough for prime time. The 49ers have three Monday night games scheduled, two of which have yet to be played.

The primary factor, however, is that "Monday Night Football" is no longer "Monday Night Football." It's "Monday Afternoon Football."

The games have a 5:20 p.m. kickoff that few of us have a chance to see. By the time we have made the commute home from work, kissed the family, petted the animals, checked our e-mail and had dinner, we are lucky to see the second-half kickoff.

ABC finally gave in to the East Coast, which, when the games began at 9 p.m. back there, often didn't end until after midnight.

So, because the East Coast is unfortunately located in a time zone where the sun rises three hours too early, ABC punished us.

The good news is that "Monday Night Football" ratings across the country are the lowest they've been in the show's 29-year history. I'd like to think your boycott is the main reason. Maybe I'll join you, after next Monday night's Dallas game. Troy Aikman is coming back.

*

Let's hope NFL owners weren't offended when Mayor Richard Riordan didn't attend the meeting in Kansas City, Mo., to make a pitch for the Coliseum. I mean the New Coliseum. . . .

He was at the Central Library to kick off the "Read to Me L.A." program for children and their parents. . . .

NFL owners should recognize the importance of that. . . .

Children need to know how to read the names on the T-shirts and sweatshirts the NFL hopes to sell when its puts another team here. . . .

Negotiations are ongoing to bring an Arena Football League team to the Staples Center in the summer of 2000. . . .

The identity of the potential owners remains a secret, but I've been told they are people who haven't invested in sports before. . . .

I'd like to believe they are more aware of what they're getting into than Meditrust, which bought Santa Anita last year and already is trying to sell. . . .

Among the suitors is Churchill Downs. . . .

It's about time somebody brought authentic mint juleps to Southern California. . . .

Cavonnier, who lost the 1996 Kentucky Derby by a nose and then suffered a career-threatening injury in the Belmont, makes his comeback Saturday at Santa Anita in the California Cup Classic. . . .

"He was a lazy horse before he got to the Triple Crown races," jockey Chris McCarron says. "But he's been more than willing in the mornings now." . . .

Debra Messing, the star of "Will & Grace," is the sister of Marla Messing, president of the organizing committee for the 1999 World Cup of women's soccer. . . .

One rumor is that new Galaxy President Tim Leiweke will try to lure Coach Bob Bradley from the champion Chicago Fire. . . .

Another is that Leiweke will pursue Sigi Schmid of defending NCAA champion UCLA. . . .

For the record, Schmid is 1-0 against Bradley. UCLA beat his Princeton team in 1990. . . .

In the marquee match of the UCLA's Pacific Soccer Classic this weekend, Schmid's No. 3 Bruins meet No. 1 Indiana on Sunday. It's a rematch of last season's NCAA semifinal, won by the Bruins in triple overtime. . . .

At the same time, the UCLA and USC women's soccer teams will be kicking off at the Coliseum. I mean the Old Coliseum.

*

While wondering if anyone could have guessed the AFC's two best quarterbacks this season would be Vinny Testaverde and Doug Flutie, I was thinking: Maybe a 24-second clock would help end the NBA lockout, college basketball season can't start soon enough, one reason I like college basketball is that it doesn't take three computers to decide a national champion.

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