Dennis Miller Debuts as NFL Commentator

For Monday Night Football, the buzz has turned to quip-filled reality.

Producer Don Ohlmeyer hired standup comic Dennis Miller to shake up the broadcast booth tonight, and the Saturday Night Live alum was there with play-by-play man Al Michaels and new analyst Dan Fouts. At the Hall of Fame game, the teams on the field, the San Francisco 49ers and the New England Patriots, were also intent on better seasons.

Miller, known for long “rants” on his weekly HBO comedy show, said he didn’t plan on dominating the broadcast, but he did get off to a fast sardonic start.

“I do know football reasonably well. I know well enough that I didn’t play the game,” Miller said. “So therefore I would defer on most things to people who had the guts to play it. I watch it as much as anybody and I can bring a little humor, hopefully. I just want to make it entertainment to some extent.”

Judging by the laughing reactions of his colleagues in the broadcast booth, he had a decent chance of succeeding.

“Al, if there’s anybody in this stadium more pumped up than me they wouldn’t pass the league’s standardized drug test,” Miller told a chuckling Michaels during the game’s opening remarks.

Making Football Into ‘Entertainment’

MNF’s Nielsen ratings have gone down each of the past five seasons.

Michaels, before the game, said the MNF crew, like any young team, will need time to grow.

“Everybody will make a certain judgment after five or 10 minutes of the game and that’s going to be unfair,” Michaels said. “I think over the course of the season it will get better and better, it’ll get smoother and smoother.”

The kickoff was moved up an hour to 7 p.m. so the game would not conflict with the network’s coverage of the opening night of the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. During brief intermissions during the game, Michaels exchanged comments about the convention with ABCNEWS anchor Peter Jennings.

Game Concludes Weekend’s Festivities

The game concluded a weekend of festivities. More than 100 members of the Hall were on hand for a reunion. They were joined by Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, Howie Long, Dan Rooney and Dave Wilcox, all inducted into the Hall on Saturday.

The debut of Miller — who paid tribute to the sacrifices to their bodies that players made to become Hall-of-Famers — adds some spice to a game pitting a pair of teams that missed the playoffs last year.

San Francisco went 4-12 and finished a distant fourth in the NFC West behind Super Bowl champion St. Louis. New England was 8-8 and tied the New York Jets for fourth place in the AFC East.

Tonight, the Patriots won the exhibition game, 20-0. Kevin Faulk, a second-year back, set up a field goal with a punt return, then turned a short pass into a 25-yard touchdown.

Patriots’ quarterback Drew Bledsoe started the first series, but other players soon were taking the snap. New England coach Bill Belichick said he wanted to take a long look at young backups Tom Brady, a rookie out of Michigan, and second-year player Michael Bishop. In addition to throwing the TD pass to Faulk, Bishop also scored on a 22-yard run.

Bledsoe also won’t play much in the Patriots’ second exhibition game against Detroit. The Patriots plan to save him until veteran offensive linemen Bruce Armstrong and Max Lane fully recover from knee injuries and several young prospects gain experience.

“I’d be happy with two preseason games. I’d be ready to go,” Bledsoe said. “Five preseason games is a lot and I don’t feel I need to play all those games to be ready for the season. So I’ll see a little bit of time in the first two and then we’ll pick it up for the last three.”

Rebuilding Process for 49ers

The 49ers were also sorting out their quarterback situation, because Steve Young retired.

Jeff Garcia, who started 10 games filling in for Young last year, was ready at quarterback along with Rick Mirer.

Young’s 37-year-old batterymate, Jerry Rice, returned for another season, saying he wanted to be around to teach younger players of the 49ers winning ways

The 49ers face bigger questions on defense, where they ranked last in the NFL a year ago.

Belichick, who replaced Pete Carroll in the off season, will be coaching his first game with the Patriots — and was expected to get a strong reaction from partisan Ohio fans. Belichick coached the Cleveland Browns from 1991 to 1995 and was there when owner Art Modell moved the franchise to Baltimore after the ’95 season.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.