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Nantz Couldn't Ask for More

Sports Weekend | TV/RADIO / LARRY STEWART

July 02, 2004|LARRY STEWART

In the 1960s and for much of the '70s, NBC's Curt Gowdy was everywhere -- announcing the Rose Bowl, the Super Bowl, the NCAA tournament, baseball, the World Series, and pro and college football.

Brent Musburger and Pat Summerall became omnipresent at CBS, as did Jim McKay and Keith Jackson at ABC.

But then the networks began shying away from having one or two main announcers. In an era of escalating rights fees, salaries became an issue. Besides, giving that much power to one person was not always a good idea.

At CBS, Musburger had become known as an "anchor monster," and he was fired abruptly at the 1990 Final Four in Denver. It was a messy situation.

Never again, network executives vowed, would any on-air person be given so much exposure, and thus so much power.

But now, it seems, the networks are going back to that. Fox has Joe Buck as its main voice on the NFL and major league baseball. ABC has Al Michaels on its prime properties, "Monday Night Football" and the NBA.

And last week, CBS announced that Jim Nantz, already its play-by-play voice on the Final Four and its main host on golf, would also become the No. 1 play-by-play announcer on the NFL.

In essence, he and Greg Gumbel will be switching NFL roles. Nantz will become Phil Simms' play-by-play partner on game telecasts, and Gumbel will take over Nantz's former role as the host of "The NFL Today."

Nantz, an honorary member of Bel-Air Country Club, came to Los Angeles to play in the club's three-day Swinging Bridge Invitational member-guest golf tournament and took time to talk about his new position.

"At first, I wasn't so sure about it," Nantz said. "Did I want to give up the studio? Did I want to do all that traveling? But once it was laid out for me, I got more and more excited about it.

"When I came to CBS at the age of 26 in 1985 to mainly do a college football scoreboard show, my idols were Brent and Pat. I could only dream that someday I would get the kind of assignments they got.

"Now, here it is 2004, I'm 45 and I've come to the realization that I have gotten all of the assignments they had."

Nantz has been the host of "The NFL Today" for six years, and he was the lead college football announcer in 1989 and '90 and again in 1996, when his partner was Terry Donahue.

Those were Musburger roles.

Nantz has been the main host on golf since 1988 and, although he was the No. 2 play-by-play announcer when CBS lost the NFL to Fox in 1993, he is now No. 1.

Those were Summerall roles.

Nantz is clearly top dog at CBS. And no one has called him an "anchor monster" -- at least not yet.

Tour de Lance

Lance Armstrong begins his quest for a sixth consecutive Tour de France victory Saturday, and Outdoor Life Network, providing most of the U.S. television coverage, will be all over it.

OLN vice president John Carter, speaking from Belgium, said, "This Tour is probably going to be the biggest thing that's happened in cycling ... and probably one of the biggest things that's happened in sports in general in the last 25 years or so."

Well, that's overstating it a bit, but, yes, this is big.

OLN will devote 340 hours to the Tour, up from 280 last year, with CBS providing three hours of OLN-produced coverage on the final Sunday.

But what if Armstrong fades, or is injured? That would be worse than Tiger Woods dropping out of contention in a golf tournament.

"We hope the way we are presenting the Tour this year allows viewers to see how big and how great an event it is," said OLN senior vice president Mark Fein. "There are other riders that are going to be competing with Lance that we want the American public to get to know."

But Fein also said, "Certainly we wouldn't be honest with ourselves if we didn't realize that the event would take a ratings hit if Lance got knocked out, got injured or left early."

No kidding.

HD in High Gear

High definition television is finally beginning to really catch on and become more prominent. Fox Sports Net had an ultra-modern, double-wide $8-million high definition production truck at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday night for one of the 18 Dodger games it is televising in high definition this season, although the telecasts are currently available to only Time Warner cable subscribers.

The man in charge, Frank Coll of National Mobile Television, said the truck was one of only 12 in the country.

"But there will be 25 by the end of the year," he said.

That's pretty fast growth.

Bully, Bully

Is ESPN becoming too big for its britches?

It was reported by the New York Times this week that the U.S. Justice Department's antitrust division may be looking into how ESPN locks up deals with college conferences and doesn't allow those conferences to make other deals.

The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reported that ESPN attorneys had sent a Miami-based upstart, the X Channel, a warning to cease and desist using the X Channel moniker.

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