By SHARON GINN
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 25, 2002
All the rumors -- as well as conventional wisdom -- point to Joe Buck replacing Pat Summerall next season as John Madden's partner on Fox NFL broadcasts. But Madden, who in 21 years as an analyst never has sat next to anyone else in the booth, said Wednesday that he can't think beyond the Feb. 3 Super Bowl, their final game together.
Hearing from Summerall on Friday that he planned to step down as the network's No. 1 play-by-play announcer was "kind of like a kick in the stomach," Madden said. Both knew the day would come, but they barely had discussed it.
"I really haven't thought about what's next or who's next," Madden said. "I'm just thinking about what's happening now, and that this championship game will be the last time we'll ever do that, and the Super Bowl. ... I'm just trying to absorb it."
When Madden was paired with Summerall as a rookie at CBS, "I was all over the place," he said. "And he could take something and say it in one second."
As the years went by, it became clear to Madden that Summerall made him a better analyst. "All the things that I didn't know how to do or wasn't interested in, he would take care of," he said. "I never said that I was a television guy. I'm a football guy that does television. A football coach. Eventually you have to become a broadcaster, but having Pat Summerall as a broadcaster, I never had to do that."
But in recent years, media criticism of Summerall, 71, has intensified as his performance slipped. He was prone to misidentifying players, or mispronouncing names. It was time for him to step down, and he deserves credit for making the decision himself, instead of being pushed out the door by his bosses.
Buck, Fox's lead baseball announcer, seems to be Summerall's most likely successor. He called several NFL games after the World Series ended, and his bosses have showed interest in increasing his role. ABC Radio's Keith Olbermann reported Wednesday morning that Buck was about to seal a deal that would give him the top NFL job, citing network sources. But Madden said Wednesday afternoon no one had talked to him about a new partner.
As for Summerall, he won't say whether he's in discussions with CBS for a possible return to his old network in some capacity. "We're (still) under contract," said his agent, Sandy Montag. Summerall also could remain at Fox.
LEAD REPORTER: John Saunders has filled in as host of ESPN's Sports Reporters since Dick Schaap left to have hip replacement surgery in September. With Schaap's unexpected death last month from complications, Saunders is the show's permanent host, the network announced this week.
Saunders has done a solid job under the circumstances, but he admits he's no Schaap, who hosted the show for 12 years and was one of the most personable and versatile talents in broadcasting. "Following Dick Schaap is like being the first coach after Vince Lombardi or John Wooden," Saunders said.
LAST CALL: Longtime WFLA-TV sportscaster Dick Crippen left the station two years ago to join the Devil Rays as director of community development, but has continued to do occasional segments on the air. That will end in two weeks, he said, as his contract with Ch. 8 ends. He will continue working for the Rays and as a freelance journalist and boat racing commentator.
FINE TUNING: If you haven't tired of listening to Keyshawn Johnson, check out ESPN's Sports-Center at 11 p.m. Sunday. In the Sunday Conversation, he'll discuss Tony Dungy's firing, Bill Parcells' jilting of the Bucs and his relationship with Warren Sapp.