Though the way they stood by passively will always be a blight on their careers, the ESPN Sunday NFL Countdown crew of Chris Berman, Steve Young, Michael Irvin and Tom Jackson can be thankful the Donovan McNabb-Rush Limbaugh flap overshadowed what New York Post columnist Phil Mushnik correctly dubbed, "The worst NFL studio-show expert analysis of the season."
For those who forgot, after the Patriots lost 31-0 in Week 1 to Buffalo, ESPN's panel chipped in on the New England obituary. Jackson was the most vocal, looking into the camera and saying: "Let me be very clear about this. They hate their coach."
The others chimed in. Irvin said Patriots management, namely coach Bill Belichick, was discounting how much Lawyer Milloy meant to the team. Guys like him, Irvin said, "make the difference on your football team."
(As Salon.com columnist King Kaufman noted, Irvin included Hugh Douglas in that statement, and it should be noted Philadelphia made the NFC Championship Game despite letting him go in a Milloy-esque move).
Now here were are, New England riding a 14-game winning streak and favored to win the Super Bowl. And Jackson? The Providence Journal says he conceded last week that " "Hate' may have been too strong a word."
Gee, ya think?
Those darn Patriots, always making "experts" look silly. They did it the last time they were in a Super Bowl as well, when John Madden advised New England to run the final minute-and-a-half out and play for overtime. The Patriots did the opposite and beat St. Louis on a last-second field goal.
CBS should consider itself warned.
Limbaugh, the nonexpert on ESPN's panel, was the only one who had the Milloy drama right, as he rightfully crowed to his listeners last week. He claimed the NFL was a business, that "Belichick always gets rid of guys a year too soon and therefore never faces massive rebuilding," and that the Patriots were professionals who would overcome this.
We might be applauding Limbaugh now had he been as smart a few weeks later when pegging McNabb, who was just 12 dropped passes in the NFL Championship Game away from the Super Bowl.
FANTASTIC FOUR: Phil Simms and Greg Gumbel will call today's action. It is Simms' fourth Super Bowl, including Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa.
PICKS AND PANS: CBS NFL Today studio host Jim Nantz is predicting the first Super Bowl overtime, saying it's in Carolina's "gene makeup." Deion Sanders says if Carolina gets behind early, Jake Delhomme will look like Peyton Manning in the AFC Championship Game.
And in his typical bland and safe style, Dan Marino says Carolina must be able to run the ball to keep New England's offense off the field.
AND IF YOU CARE: Fox isn't doing the game, but that didn't stop it from making predictions: Terry Bradshaw and Daryl Johnston like Carolina (and so do all the NASCAR guys), but Jimmy Johnson is taking New England.
WORKING OVERTIME: CBS analyst Boomer Esiason gets a workout today, doing his usual studio gig for television and calling the game with Marv Albert on CBS Radio/Westwood One.
Esiason and Albert did Monday Night Football for Westwood One this season, but obviously the former NFL quarterback will have a conflict today.
Esiason has taped the Westwood One opening with Albert. At 10 a.m. he meets with the rest of the NFL Today crew to go over the show's plan a final time. From 2-6 p.m. he works the pregame festivities. When that ends, he hustles to the radio booth for kickoff.
At the two-minute warning he heads back to the studio set for the halftime show, then back to the radio booth when that concludes. Then it gets tricky.
Depending on how the game turns out, Esiason and the producers will have to make a choice _ does he stay to do postgame with Albert or get back to the set for TV. That probably will depend on how close a game it is.
"It will require a little bit of communication," Esiason said.
It promises to be at least an 11-hour day of nonstop work for Esiason, who says, "I wouldn't want it any other way."
GIFT-WRAPPED GAME: On ESPN Radio's GameNight last week, football analyst Beano Cook said the Super Bowl is "one of the biggest days of the year in this country. If they would exchange gifts, it would pass Christmas."
LOW-CARB CRAZY: Here's a sign that the low-carb craze has gotten out of hand:
Saturday, Fox analyst Troy Aikman and CBS correspondent Marcus Allen joined fellow Super Bowl MVPs Terrell Davis and Franco Harris in hosting the "Ultimate Low Carb Tailgate Party," showing men and women of the Armed Forces how to make zero carb cocktails with spirits like Smirnoff and Crown Royal, among others.
_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.
PREGAME: Aerosmith, Toby Keith, Willie Nelson and Walter Suhr and Mango Punch.
NATIONAL ANTHEM: Beyonce Knowles.
HALFTIME: Janet Jackson, P. Diddy and Kid Rock.
SUPER BOWL TODAY, 2-6
SUPER BOWL, 6-10
+ 2-3 p.m.: Jim Nantz, Dan Marino, Deion Sanders and Boomer Esiason welcome viewers with pre-game analysis and highlights from the NFL Tailgate Party set, while Armen Keteyian and Bonnie Bernstein report on each team.
+ 3 p.m.: Keteyian chronicles the lives of NFL rookies Kyle Boller and Terrell Suggs of the Ravens during the 2003 season from training camp to the day after being eliminated from the playoffs.
+ 3:50 p.m.: Dick Enberg visits with the families of the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster on the one-year anniversary of the tragedy.
+ 4 p.m.: Jay Glazer goes behind the scenes with Carolina coach John Fox for pre-game coverage of team meetings and personal moments during preparations.
+ 4:25 p.m.: CBS News reports from Baghdad with troops watching the game.
+ 4:30 p.m.: Marcus Allen visits with New England running back Antowain Smith and talks to him about playing in the Super Bowl in his hometown of Houston. Sunday night Smith's mom hosted the entire Patriots team for dinner.
+ 5:10 p.m.: Nantz talks with President Bush.
+ 5:30 p.m.: Lesley Visser visits with the family of Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme in his Louisiana hometown of Breaux Bridge.
+ 5:40 p.m.: Dan Marino conducts a quarterback-to-quarterback talk with New England's Tom Brady.
SUNDAY NFL COUNTDOWN,
11 A.M.-2 P.M.
+ Greg Garber examines the similarities between New England QB Tom Brady and San Francisco legend Joe Montana.
+ How is it to play for Bill Belichick? Andrea Kremer went to his players for the answer.
+ Tom Jackson examines Jake Delhomme's journey from Breaux Bridge, La., to NFL Europe to NFL backup to Super Bowl starter.
+ What do General Custer, Evel Knievel and Adam Vinatieri have in common? Kremer has the answer in a profile of the Super Bowl XXXVI hero.
+ Panthers defensive end Mike Rucker talks a lot of trash on the field. But Rucker is not your average trash talker. He refuses to use curse words. Chris Connelly examines how the talkative Panther keeps it clean.
+ John Fox took a previously 1-15 team and turned it into the NFC champion. Panthers players tell Tom Jackson about Fox's pivotal first meeting with the team and how it affected the Panthers' future.
+ He Hate Me, a.k.a. Rod Smart, the Panthers' kick returner, hits the hottest parties with Kenny Mayne in the weekly, off-beat segment, "The Mayne Event."
+ He was the greatest player in the history of Houston football. Earl Campbell led the Oilers to back-to-back AFC title games in the 1970s. His running style earned him a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame but left him battered and bruised. Garber finds out about Campbell's life after football.
+ Three years ago, Trent Dilfer was the winning quarterback of Super Bowl XXXV. This year, Dilfer and his family suffered a horrible tragedy. Dilfer and his wife talk to Andrea Kremer about the life and death of their 5-year-old son, Trevin.
+ Quarterbacks, linemen and pass rushers take you inside the blindside _ the 180 degrees QBs can't see. Tom Brady, Hugh Douglas, Rodney Harrison, Peyton Manning, Willie McGinest, Joe Montana, Anthony Munoz, Jonathon Ogden, Jason Taylor, Lawrence Taylor, Tra Thomas and Michael Vick weigh in.
+ The most recent time Houston hosted a Super Bowl was the last time a game the goal posts were on the goal line. NFL Films takes a humorous look at the perils of the goal-line goal post and the decision to move it.
+ Steve Young, Michael Irvin and Torry Holt break down the Patriots' short passing game.
+ Tom Jackson and Jeff Fisher break down the Panthers' pass rush.
+ Jackson, Irvin, Darren Woodson, Fisher and Holt break down the Patriots' physical secondary.
_ Compiled by John C. Cotey.