For now, the night belongs to Jon Gruden.
The question is: How long will he make it last?
Gruden, the former coach, catalyst and controversy magnet of the Tampa Bay Bucs, landed one of the plum jobs in sports Monday. One minute, Tony Kornheiser decided he was leaving his analyst's job on Monday Night Football, and by the time he had cracked open the door, Gruden was sitting in his old seat.
Just that quickly, Gruden had changed his career.
Just that quickly, you wondered if he would ever change back.
That's how good this gig is. Monday Night Football. It's the job that Howard Cosell had. And Dandy Don Meredith and Alex Karras and O.J. Simpson. And John Madden and Joe Namath and Dan Fouts. And, a little later, Dennis Miller and Kornheiser.
And now, it belongs to Gruden, media member.
Sadly, Gruden won't get a chance to call a game featuring his old team. This year, the Bucs are strictly Sunday afternoon fodder. Who knew? In the divorce between the Bucs and Gruden, he won custody of Monday night.
"If I can withstand the pressure,'' Gruden said, "maybe I can hang in there and keep this job for a while.''
Ah, but how long is "a while''? One year? Two years? Ten years? Neither ESPN nor Gruden would discuss the length of Gruden's new contract -- evidently, ESPN only considers that news if it's reporting on coaches employed elsewhere.
"Let me put it like this,'' Gruden said. "This is my first day on a new job. I'm going to take it one day at a time. Who knows what in the world is in store for any of us?''
If you have to guess, however, expect Gruden to return to the sideline. No one who knows Gruden would expect a broadcaster's job -- even one this good -- to satisfy him for very long. He is a football coach, the son of a football coach. And eventually, he is going to want another team of his own.
There is a difference. An analyst calls a play, and fans listen. A coach calls a play, and players perform. It is the difference between describing a concert and leading an orchestra.
For now, however, this is a nice way to spend an autumn, don't you think? And working for TV certainly didn't lessen the job market for Bill Parcells, did it?
Gruden is on the telephone, humming the MNF theme song to sportswriters from across the nation.
"My favorite memories come back to the sound,'' Gruden said. "The lead song, I have in my CD deck. I've been listening to it for the last few days. It gets me going. It gets my juices going.''
When Gruden was young, and when Monday Night Football was the same, he used to argue with his father to stay up for the second half of whatever game was on that week. He remembers Bo Jackson against the Seahawks, he remembers Earl Campbell against the Steelers, he remembers all the old Raiders' victories.
As a coach, Gruden had some fine times on Monday night. His first Bucs victory at Raymond James came in a Monday night game against the Rams. The season opener in Philadelphia in 2003, a 17-0 victory, was probably the last great victory of the defending world champions. Then there were the tough Monday nighters: The 38-35 loss to the Colts in overtime. Last season's 38-23 loss to Carolina that started a four-game losing streak. Looking back, wouldn't you love to hear what Jon Gruden, the analyst, has to say about those games?
And now, the chair alongside Mike Tirico and Ron Jaworski is his. On Monday night. Think about that. Monday night is about Jack Bauer and Gregory House and Barney Stinson and Peter Petrelli -- and Jon Gruden.
"I'm excited to see how I will do at this,'' Gruden said. "It's a big change. I don't know if I can dress well enough to be on TV with my wardrobe. I've got a long way to go. I'm going to do whatever I have to do to do a good job.''
What kind of analyst will Gruden be?
Don't expect him to be over-wordy: "I like Pat Summerall,'' he said."Sometimes the less you say, the better. You try to say something in 25 words or less. Don't waste people's time.
Don't expect him to be over-critical: "I'm not trying to be a piece of barbed wire there with a growl. I want to razz the other guys once in a while. I want to have some fun.''
Most of all, don't expect him to make it permanent, either. Oh, if I ran ESPN, I would have asked him to commit for two years; otherwise, the network would have to break in a new analyst again next year.
Still, it's hard to imagine Gruden agreeing to a deal that would keep him from pursuing the right job if it comes along. Just a guess, but one of the things Gruden will be analyzing is just which job is the right one.
Personally, I think Gruden will do well in the booth. I think he'll be bright, and I think he'll be funny.
Also, I think he'll be brief.
Don't expect Jon Gruden to be out of coaching for long
For now, the night belongs to Jon Gruden.