Listen up! Tony Kornheiser had to be better than the short-lived sitcom loosely based on his life.
And he was. Much better. And that’s even putting aside such a low standard as “Listen Up.”
Kornheiser joined Mike Tirico and Joe Theismann in the booth for “Monday Night Football,” which moved to ESPN this season after 3½ decades on ABC.
Because of the ill-fated Dennis Miller Experiment a few years ago, many ears were cocked to wiseacre Kornheiser, who once wondered how Jacksonville snagged the Super Bowl, asking: “What, Tuscaloosa was booked?”
As Monday night’s debut approached, Kornheiser played the expectations game like a Beltway spin doctor in a way that would make James Carville and Mary Matalin proud.
He was so nervous that he perspired not just through his shirt, but through his suit, Kornheiser wrote Monday in his “Monday Night Diary” in The Washington Post. He worried that on live television “it’s very possible that there’ll be so much water pouring off my body that I’ll short out the entire electrical system at the Metrodome.”
His flopsweat wasn’t visible like Albert Brooks’ gushers in “Broadcast News.” And he already has the job — unlike Brooks’ character, who blew his on-air audition.
Still, the low-expectations game continued through the show’s opening. Tirico noted Kornheiser’s 35 years as a writer, as well as his success on radio and ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption,” adding: “And now you’ve made it to ‘Monday Night Football.”’
“I made it to it. Now will I make it through it?” Kornheiser responded as the other two laughed.
Both Theismann and Kornheiser quickly delved into the “ugly past” of the Minnesota Vikings, who were playing the Oakland Raiders, with Kornheiser pointedly talking about how the Vikings were “the most scandal-plagued team in the entire NFL last year.”
“I won’t go through the whole laundry list, but the sex-boat thing, that was a show-stopper. As they say on ‘Seinfeld’ — ‘That’s gold, Jerry. That’s gold.”’
(A reminder of what wasn’t gold, Jerry: Jason Alexander playing the fictionalized Kornheiser in that CBS series in 2004.)
Tirico sustained the broadcast’s tradition of solid, straightforward play-by-play men, while Theismann sometimes sounded too empathetic with the players. He also can overstate the obvious. (And while we’re at it, let’s just trot out that Theismann once said: “Nobody in football should be called a genius. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein.”)
When Kornheiser pointed out that Raiders quarterback Aaron Brooks missed his first four pass attempts, Theismann quickly stated than everyone was still learning so early in the exhibition season.
Theismann also came across as a little too self-serious, especially when he and Kornheiser clashed about how far removed from football new Raiders offensive coordinator Tom Walsh was. Walsh ran a bed & breakfast for about seven years.
“Now I know you’re going to say he stayed in football. But does that look like a guy who’s staying in football?,” Kornheiser said as bucolic photos with Walsh were flashed on the screen. “He’s preparing menus and making beds. ... You comfortable with that, Joe?”
“Actually I am,” Theismann said.
“Would you be comfortable if Bob Newhart were also hired? He ran a B&B,” Kornheiser said, referring to Newhart’s second successful series in the ’80s. (The shrink Newhart played in his ’70s series didn’t come up.)
Kornheiser also differed with Theismann about how well wide receiver Randy Moss would do in the coming season. Of course, Theismann thought he’d do better than Kornheiser did.
In the second half, Kornheiser marveled that Brad Johnson, the 37-year-old Vikings QB, thinks he could start another three to four years.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
The chemistry among the new “MNF” broadcast trio failed to approach what Kornheiser has with “PTI” co-host Michael Wilbon. But that’s extremely high, so it would be difficult to replicate anyway.
Back on “PTI” earlier Monday, by the way, Wilbon goodnaturedly zinged Kornheiser by saying he couldn’t stay up late enough to watch — something Kornheiser often says and got around to saying again in the final seconds when it appeared the Vikings might kick a last-second, game-tying field goal.
“This is just a disaster for me — overtime. It’s way past my bedtime,” Kornheiser whined.
But then Vikings head coach Brad Childress opted to win or lose in regulation, causing Kornheiser to laud him as “a member of the bald brotherhood with me.”
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