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Much ground covered on road to milestones

Back in horse-'n'-buggy days, milestones signified "highway" waypoints. Today, the term denotes significant personal or corporate achievements such as the following media-related ones the NFL celebrates this week -- not counting Saints receiver Joe Horn's record $30,000 "roaming" charge for an in-game Superdome cellphone call.

 

1. ESPN's 200th telecast. This milestone is of note because ESPN is New England-based and Game No. 200 is tomorrow night's Patriots-Jets game. Locally, Channel 5 will simulcast the 8:30 p.m. game and precede it with a pregame show at 7 p.m.

If a new network came along today and bought part of the NFL's TV rights, it would receive thousands of resume tapes from wannabe broadcasters. In contrast, here's how ESPN's venerable play-by-play man Mike Patrick, who has called all 199 of ESPN's NFL telecasts to date, got the job in 1987.

Patrick already had been at ESPN for five years, doing an outstanding job on his first love -- college sports. Then he was offered the NFL job.

"I tried to turn it down," said Patrick. "I told Steve Bornstein [then ESPN senior vice president, programming and production, now the No. 1 poohbah at the NFL Network] that I loved doing college sports. He said, 'Are you an idiot? This is the biggest thing we'll have.' I thought about it for a day and said yes. After all, I figured, he knew better than I did."

Along with Patrick, a handful of the production staff has been with ESPN's NFL team since the beginning. In the booth, analyst Joe Theismann came aboard in Year 2. Paul Maguire, the other analyst, joined in 1998, and sideline reporter Suzy Kolber in 2001.

In the early years, ESPN had a half-season schedule, but since 1998 it has televised games throughout the season, carving out a Sunday night niche in which it gets the final word on the whole day of NFL action. "We call it appointment viewing," said John Wildhack, ESPN's senior VP for programming.

Tomorrow night's telecast begins the first of two "Double Coverage" weekends, in which the ESPN crew will work both Saturday and Sunday nights in different cities. The telecasts will feature special openings and clips of memorable moments from past telecasts.

Roy Firestone, Patrick's analyst in Year 1, will join the crew for part of the Patriots-Jets game and provide a halftime essay reflecting on the years the crew worked with a different analyst each week, among them Dick Butkus, Larry Csonka, Jim Brown, Ed Marinaro, Roger Staubach, and O.J. Simpson.

Tomorrow's Chris Berman "Fastest Three Minutes" will be devoted not to its usual weekend highlights but to highlights of ESPN's past NFL coverage.

2. Fox's 10th Anniversary. On Friday, Dec. 17, 1993, 10 years ago Wednesday, Fox network was awarded the rights to televise the NFL. Thus, Fox Sports was born. Fox became the brash new kid on the network block, and its innovations energized all sports coverage across the TV spectrum. Fox Sports president Ed Goren: "It wasn't as if we were replacing just another NFL broadcaster. CBS had the No. 1 pregame show in the history of the NFL. They were an original when they launched `The NFL Today' years earlier. Their NFC ratings year after year were the No. 1-rated football package.

"We threw out all the rules," Goren said. "In doing so, I think that we heard a lot of people say, `You can't do this. You can't do that. You can't do a one-hour pregame show. You can't do a show out of Los Angeles. What are you doing putting a football field on your set? And what's that silly thing up in the corner of your game coverage, that FoxBox thing?'

"We had a lot of people telling us what we couldn't do. We didn't do much research except for long days and long nights [of planning]. We went with our guts, and thank the Lord, our guts have gotten a little bigger, but they were pretty good back then.

"Since we started, there have been changes in all other sports organization, but 95 percent of the people who started with us are still here," Goren said. "Fox NFL Sunday" charter member Jimmy Johnson found that out when the staff greeted him upon his return to the show last season after a six-year hiatus. "Dang, you're all still here," Johnson said. They may still be there, but no one's standing still. "TV is like a shark. Stop moving and you die," said Fox chairman David Hill.

3. The next frontier? Sirius satellite radio and the NFL this week announced a seven-year deal to broadcast all NFL regular-season games nationwide. The subscription service will be aimed primarily at displaced fans, allowing, for example, Patriots fans in New Mexico to hear Gil Santos and Gino Cappelletti's call of the game, complete with the local commercials from flagship station WBCN (104.1 FM). There's no extra charge above the basic monthly charge for the NFL games. The satellite radio company also will provide the radio version of The NFL Network's TV programming, devoting a channel to the league.

Access inroads

WCVB's "Patriots All-Access" should draw its top rating of the season tomorrow in its evening time slot as the Patriots' pre-pregame show (Channel 5, 7-8 p.m.). Michelle Bonner will have features on lineman Tom Ashworth and defensive back Tyrone Poole. There also will be footage from the Channel 5 cameras' exclusive time inside the Patriots locker room following last Sunday's victory over Jacksonville. At 8, Channel 5 will have another pregame show, "Meadowlands Matchup," with Mike Lynch, Mike Dowling, Steve Nelson, and ex-Jet Joe Klecko (father of Patriot Dan Klecko) at Giants Stadium. Lynch will have a sitdown with Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli, and Dowling will look back at highlights of the team's 10-game winning streak . . . Jim Baker, the Herald's resident curmudgeon/sports media columnist, files his final column Sunday. He promises a few "parting shots" as he heads reluctantly to retirement after a career that began 40 years ago at the Buffalo Courier-Express and continued in Boston with nearly 21 years on the radio-TV watch . . . "Ice Picks," the ESPN.com voting through which fans can select which NHL game will be shown on ESPN2, started its second run last night. The voting, which continues until Dec. 28, allows fans to choose between Sabres-Bruins (Neely Night in Boston) or Penguins-Flyers as ESPN2's Jan. 12 telecast. Of course, even if the ESPN2 telecast is the Bruins' game, that feed would be blacked out in Boston, where the game will be seen on NESN . . . The WWZN (1510 AM) "Diehards" broke the news of the Celtics-Cavaliers trade from the FleetCenter Monday afternoon, and when the report was picked up by WEEI's "Big Show," it was credited to "broadcast reports." . . . WBCN Patriots pregame cohost Pete Brock is a regular on FSNE's "New England Sports Tonight" on Fridays (6:30 and 10 p.m.) . . . "Sports Pulse" will have a "Great Gifts for Guys" segment tonight (CN8, 10 p.m.).

Bill Griffith's e-mail address is griffith@globe.com

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