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It's a road game for the Fox team

NFL show to set up at Gillette Stadium

"We want everybody to be calling it `Fox-borough' this weekend."

That's the word from Scott Ackerson, coordinating producer for "Fox NFL Sunday," the network's pregame NFL program. The show, which normally emanates from a Los Angeles studio, is making a rare in-season "road trip" and will originate today from Gillette Stadium (Channel 25, noon).

"Unlike other organizations, we cover the NFL," said Ackerson, taking a shot at his CBS "The NFL Today" competition. In truth, Fox, which televises the NFC, generally concentrates on teams and stories from that conference, while CBS mostly pays attention to its AFC teams. However, Ackerson is as outspoken about his show as his talent (James Brown, Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long, and Jimmy Johnson) is about the league.

With eight of the top 10 Nielsen markets home to NFC teams (New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco-Oakland, Dallas, Washington, Atlanta, and Detroit), Fox annually wins the pregame ratings battle with CBS. This year, Fox has a 3.4-2.3 lead after five weeks.

While CBS has teams in three of the top 10 markets, only Boston (No. 5) isn't a market it shares with Fox. (New York, the No. 1 TV market, and No. 6 San Francisco/Oakland are the shared markets.) In Boston, the CBS show has outranked Fox's, 3.5-1.1, to date this season. But while the Fox numbers are consistent in Boston, the CBS show numbers jumped to 5.7 and 6.9 the past two weeks when it was followed by Patriots 1 p.m. telecasts.

Fox expects to do well here this week, with the show leading into its featured Seahawks-Patriots telecast, with Dick Stockton, Cris Collinsworth, and Troy Aikman in the booth.

Not surprisingly, the pregame show will be heavy on Patriots content.

Johnson does a segment with his friend, Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "Bill called Jimmy when he heard we were coming to town and offered any help we needed," said Ackerson. "You'll remember that Bill went to Florida to visit with Jimmy and pick his brain a bit in the offseason. I know we have some good stuff in this."

Johnson also ranks his top teams of all time. For New England fans, it will be interesting to see where (or whether) the Patriots rate.

"I have an idea what Jimmy's going to say," said Ackerson. "Some organizations are going to be a little upset."

Long will break down the New England defense and give his analysis of what makes it so good, and Patriots owner Robert Kraft will visit the "studio."

"We'll do everything just as though we were in Los Angeles," said Ackerson. "We'll go on at all the halftimes and do the postgames."

They won't wind up working in the dark, however, because Fox has no late games; instead there are two League Championship Series games scheduled to follow football. Meaning Boston is also a "Fox-borough" today.

Homecoming weekend
Last year, Fox did a "road show" from Pittsburgh, where Bradshaw, the former Steeler, and the network helped the team commemorate its 1,000th game.

Today's visit to Massachusetts could be considered a similar homecoming for Long, who is a native of Charlestown and attended Milford High School. Trouble is, there will be little or no time for visiting.

"We arrive at 12:15 Saturday afternoon and go right to the stadium for a technical run-through, then there's a production meeting, and after that a meeting with our Fox affiliates," Long said during the week. Then the crew was scheduled to head to Fenway Park for last night's ALCS game.

"It's been a long time since I've been to a Red Sox game," said Long, who still declares himself not only a member of Red Sox Nation but one who's helped grow its ranks. His sons, Chris, Kyle, and Howie, are Sox fans.

"We watched the ALCS last year, staying up to all hours. My boys thought it was all over, but they learned the hard way that it wasn't," he said.

Long was torn between watching his beloved Sox or getting back to his hotel room to watch his son's Virginia football team against Florida State. Chris, a 6-foot-4-inch, 265-pound freshman defensive end, was out with mononucleosis, but Long said, "I still want to see the game. They're 5-0 and No. 6 in the country. I make every one of their afternoon games, then fly to LA for the show."

Long continues to make Radio Shack and Chevy ads. He's swapped a Teri (Hatcher, in the Radio Shack ads) for a Terry (Bradshaw, with Fox).

"The new Terry is uglier and much more of a pain," he said.

The Radio Shack relationship has had a long run. "And it's been a productive one," he said. It's likely the Chevy ads will have a long run, too. Chevy is sponsoring a "Tough Guy" show that Long will host during Super Bowl week.

Long looks at the Patriots and predicts the franchise's biggest challenge may be to keep player personnel vice president Scott Pioli.

When he analyzes the Patriots' defense for today's show, he'll likely sing the praises of safety Rodney Harrison and linebacker Tedy Bruschi.

"It's not like the Patriots just dominate people," he said. "It's just that they're so much more comfortable in clutch situations than anyone else. I'm a believer that confidence comes through preparation, and they're probably the best-prepared defense in the league. Those two [Harrison, Bruschi] are key players who keep guys accountable, not just on Sunday but on Wednesday through Friday, too. If I had to list the top 10 defensive players in the league, I'd be hard-pressed not to have them on my list.

"[The Patriots] do a great job to change schemes from week to week, quarter to quarter, and series to series. They show you so many fronts, groups, and packages that they couldn't do it if they weren't really smart and well-prepared."

ESPN weighs in
ESPN's "Sunday NFL Countdown" has a pair of Patriots-related items. Who better to examine the team's Chinese language website and the team's following in the Far East than Kenny Mayne? Andrea Kremer has a far more serious segment in talking with defensive lineman Richard Seymour about the effect the murder-suicide involving his father had on his life . . . Fox's only other scheduled Patriots telecast will be when the 49ers come to town on Jan. 2. If the Patriots are on Fox a third time, it would be in the Feb. 6 Super Bowl in Jacksonville . . . So let's see if we have this straight. If the Sox are eliminated, NESN will air the "Denis Leary Celebrity Hat Trick" hockey game (taped Oct. 3 at the FleetCenter) tomorrow night at 8. However, if it's a baseball travel day, NESN will air "Sox Talk Live," a two-hour call-in show with Tom Caron, Jerry Remy, and Don Orsillo. If there's a Sox makeup game, NESN will have pregame and postgame shows . . . In response to many e-mailers: Both WBCN (104.1 FM) and WEEI (850 AM) say they synchronize their audio with TV broadcasts for those fans who prefer to watch the network broadcasts but listen to the local announcers. The Patriots synch theirs with the main Comcast feed, and the Red Sox with Fox. However, with the multiple ways signals are distributed (and the extensive additional delay for high definition), consider yourself fortunate if you're among the fortunate who receive both close enough to have that option . . . Is there any doubt that Al Leiter, doing so well for Fox on the Sox-Yankees games, has a baseball analyst's job waiting for him when he retires as a player?

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

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