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Despite critics, veteran team is still the standard

By ERNEST HOOPER

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 23, 2000


ST. LOUIS -- Pat Summerall and John Madden often have said they want to broadcast football games forever, but some critics are wondering if that's a promise or a threat.

In my mind, Summerall and Madden still are the premier team as they embark on today's NFC Championship Game. But there seems to be a rising stream of criticism about their performance, particularly Summerall's.

Summerall always has been dour, emulating the late Ray Scott with his economy of words. But his low-key approach is not garnering universal acclaim, and others believe he's slipping in the basics.

In last week's Minnesota-St. Louis game, Summerall seemed almost uninterested when Isaac Bruce scored on a 77-yard touchdown on the Rams' first possession. And on Tony Horne's kick return, Summerall first misidentified him as Torry Holt.

"I don't like it," Madden said of the criticism of Summerall. "When you go out there and you're on live television for three hours, everyone is going to do good things, some average things and some bad things. You can pick and nitpick any way you want to.

"It's easy to talk about it when it's all over and you know what happened. But when you don't know what's going to happen and it's live ... "

Madden has drawn fire for relying too much on schtick and not enough on substance.

It may be accurate to say this famed duo has slipped, but when stacked against other top teams, it still rates a notch above. Madden still delivers impeccable analysis in his off-beat style. It's an authoritative voice that carries weight because of his experience.

Summerall may need to sharpen his calls, but his style doesn't need added hype.

Madden insists he and his friend are as excited as ever about their job. Quitting hasn't been discussed, and Madden said he can't imagine life without football.

There will come a time when the two retire. And for some the retirement may be welcomed. But I've always said the two are like the old recliner at home. It's too comfortable to put in the garage sale.

JAWORSKI READY: All it would take is a telephone call.

If Rams coach Dick Vermeil decided to summon his old Eagles for a football game today, former Philadelphia quarterback Ron Jaworski said he would respond instantly, and he wouldn't be alone.

"That's the kind of guy he is," said Jaworski, who will help cover the game for ESPN today. "I covered the Rams game in Tennessee this year, and in the room the night before the game were 12 former Eagles who all lived in the Nashville area. He has called them all to stop by.

"He remembers everybody. When a player is done playing, he doesn't throw them away like an old wash towel."

A lot of people thought Vermeil was a retread who couldn't succeed, but Jaworski always thought Vermeil could turn it around in St. Louis, in part because of the loyalty he inspires in his players.

"I was somewhat surprised and disappointed to hear all the talk of the game passing him by last year," Jaworski said. "When he left the game in 1982, he didn't just fall off the face of the Earth. He was always in tune with the game.

"He would talk to coaches and go to meetings and see what the Bill Parcells and Joe Gibbs were doing to be successful."

Jaworski said the most disappointing thing about Vermeil's tenure in Philadelphia was how he left, emotionally burned out two seasons after getting Philadelphia to the Super Bowl.

"Knowing the type of person he is, he didn't leave the game with a good feeling," Jaworski said. "You feel good about the guy. Anyone that comes across Dick knows he's such a classy guy.

"You like to see those guys have success, and all four coaches typify the class and character and good qualities you like to see."

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