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Cowboys remain a force, Fox's Long says

Fox is televising the Dallas-San Francisco game to 90 percent of the nation at 4 p.m. Sunday, but some people would have you believe it's a funeral, not a game, that the network will air.

With a loss, the Cowboys would be 4-5 and two games behind the New York Giants in the NFC East. Fox analyst Howie Long, however, won't write Dallas off.

"Until they pull the plug on the resuscitator, I don't count Dallas out," Long said. "They have too many big players. They seem to be a team that rises to challenges, and we've all been waiting for them to rise.

"I don't think there's a better matchup in football than the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys right now, for a lot of different reasons. The organizations are extremely competitive, the cities are competitive. They've had so many great rivalry games."

Long is part of the Fox studio show that will be on location at 3Com Park. John Madden and Pat Summerall will handle the game.

"Dallas is looking to re-establish themselves and quiet all the critics, and San Francisco is looking to dispel any myths that the first half of the season, due to scheduling, is in great part responsible for their 7-1 record," Long said.

GADGET FOOTBALL: ESPN begins it's 11th season of NFL coverage Sunday with the Detroit-Green Bay game at 8 p.m.

The network's coverage will feature several innovations, including "preplay," which will allow analyst Joe Theismann to diagram what he thinks will unfold via computer-generated 3-D graphics from various camera angles.

Why the unique approach?

"Because our network caters to the sophisticated fan no matter what sport we put on," coordinating producer Fred Gaudelli said. "Obviously, with the NFL being the premier sport in America these days, we put a lot of thought into how we can take the viewer and take the fan deeper inside the game so they understand more and know more."

DAY OF A-COHN-MENT: That was just one of the names ESPN fans came up with for Linda Cohn's marathon tour of duty Thursday, but the network finally settled on Lindapalooza.

Cohn spent a day doing various duties on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN International, ESPN Radio and ESPN Sports Net. Cohn often works for the various entities, just not on the same day.

BASKETBALL MANIA: Turner Sports begins another NBA season with NBA Tipoff '97 Special at 7 tonight, followed by the Bulls-Celtics game at 8 and the Jazz-Lakers at 10:30.

In what may be Michael Jordan's last season, Turner is not going to pass on any opportunity to air Air Jordan. Turner Sports executive producer Mike Pearl said there's a difference in ratings between Jordan games and others.

Pearl said the key is to promote the league's younger stars.

"We're not going to sit here and say when Michael leaves, it's not going to affect the ratings. It certainly will," Pearl said.

"It's our job through our features and through our announcers being prepared with good story material and good biographical material to make the games more interesting."

STATION CHANGES LINEUP: Jim Rome and The Jungle begins on WZTM-AM 820 at 1 p.m. Monday. And Frank Robertson chose to leave because he had more duties at WTVT-Ch. 13, WZTM general manager Drew Rashbaum said.

The new lineup will have T. J. Rives pairing with Times columnist Hubert Mizell from 8-10 a.m., Tom Korun from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. and Rome from 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Rashbaum said the change will give Rives the opportunity to supplant all the shows with more reporting from the Bucs and Lightning camps.

The hope is that, while Mizell and Rives most likely will be cordial, they won't be afraid to go at it every once in a while. Some good-natured verbal sparring always makes for good entertainment, and it's hard for me to believe Rives and Mizell will see eye to eye on everything.