Friday, August 25, 2006

Jim Williams: Will Gumbel be fired before season?

Jim Williams, The Examiner
Aug 25, 2006 5:00 AM (2 hrs 9 mins ago)
Current rank: # 4 of 7,046 articles

BALTIMORE - When the NFL Network hired Bryant Gumbel as their play-by-play man for their new eight-game national TV package, they knew he was not going to be a yes man. After all, he was hand-picked by outgoing NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue. So Gumbel is set, right?

Well, maybe …

In his final editorial remarks on HBO’s Real Sports, Gumbel said Tagliabue needed to show his successor Roger Goodell “where he keeps Gene Upshaw’s leash,” referring to the NFL Players Association president. Gumbel also said Goodell should remind NFL owners that they’re “making obscene amounts of money.” So after Gumbel attacked the NFLPA and the owners, Tagliabue, Goodell and NFL Network president Steve Bornstein will meet to decide what to do about Gumbel.

I took a look at a column I wrote awhile back when Gumbel got the job. Both he and Bornstein told me that the NFL was not going to stop him from speaking his mind on either Real Sports or on the NFL Network.

Is Gumbel testing the NFL Network to see if he indeed has that freedom of speech? If so, it’s a big gamble and one that may indeed cost him his job before he ever steps into the broadcast booth. Some even question if Gumbel did this to get out of his deal with the NFL.

There is no way that the NFL fires Gumbel. He will be their play by play voice and the face of the network, by keeping him the NFL Network will show that they can take punches from the media and yes even from someone they hired.

My biggest disappointment is how Bryant handled the Gene Upshaw matter. He knows Upshaw and could have had him on the show and debated him face to face. But instead he took the cowards way out and attacks him without allowing Upshaw to defend himself. It was a classless act from someone who is bright, talented and knows better than to play that kind of journalism.

So Bryant Gumbel will stay with the NFL Network but I would love to see him settle things with Upshaw on Real Sports in a face to face manor. After all that would be the fair thing to do.

Monday night madness

It has been two weeks since ESPN launched Monday Night Football, and at last count, more than 200 stories had been written — some good and some bad — about Tony Kornheiser. The New York Times had at least three earlier this week as everyone weighs in on “Mr. Tony.”

The Dallas-New Orleans game set an ESPN record for the networks most watched program ever. That is a bit misleading as the move from ABC to ESPN does not allow for the difference in broadcast vs. cable ratings but that said the numbers will still very good. People are liking what the see with the new MNF crew.

In its 1970s heyday, MNF was a personality-driven show that inspired Tuesday water-cooler banter about Howard Cosell, who managed to become the most loved and hated man in sports during the same year. If TK can master even a tiny bit of that Tuesday-morning buzz, he’ll be around for a very long time. My guess is that Tony will be fine.

Look for MNF on ESPN to set at least 8 to 10 ratings records and once again become Tuesday water cooler chat.

Jim Williams is a seven-time Emmy Award-winning TV producer, director and writer. You can e-mail Jim at


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