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Namath incident not being kissed off

The only one unfazed by Saturday night's Joe Namath interview on ESPN was the party of the second part: sideline reporter Suzy Kolber. The interview took place just before halftime of the Patriots-Jets game, ESPN's ballyhooed 200th NFL telecast. It was both embarrassing and pathetic to see Namath, the Jets' all-time passing leader, throw two of the worst passes of his life, twice telling Kolber "I want to kiss you" during the conversation.

 

Twenty-five years ago, "Broadway Joe" Namath might have gotten away with it; these days, Joe Namath couldn't.

Kolber bailed out like a pro, shouting over the babbling Namath, "Thanks Joe. I'll take that as a huge compliment. Now back to you guys."

Namath was on the field to be honored as part of the Jets' "Four Decades" all-time team at halftime at the Meadowlands.

Namath had given a coherent, though seemingly slurred, answer to Kolber's first question about the Jets' Chad Pennington: "He's a quality, classy quarterback that has touch on the football. He's not a thrower, he's a quality passer. His mind is ahead of what the defense's is. If the Jets can support him they will win the championship."

ESPN then cut to a live play with Kolber saying, "Hold it a second, Joe."

In hindsight, the wise move would have been to stay with the game. Instead, ESPN went back to the sideline and Kolber asked Namath what it meant to him to see the Jets struggling this season.

He answered: "I want to kiss you . . . I couldn't care less about the team struggling. What we know is can we improve? Our quarterback Chad Pennington missed the first part of the season, and we struggled. We're looking to next season. We're looking to make noise now . . . and I want to kiss you."

After Kolber threw it back to the booth, analysts Joe Theismann and Paul Maguire -- two guys who can expound on most anything that happens on a football field -- tiptoed around this out-of-bounds play.

"Joe's just a happy guy," said Theismann. "Oh boy is he happy," said Maguire.

ESPN issued an official statement Sunday: "Based on Joe's response to the second question, we concluded the interview expeditiously," the network said. "While Joe made some relevant football points, had we known what was to come, of course, we would not have conducted the interview."

During the game, ESPN showed hightlights of the first 199 games it has telecast. Game No. 200 produced another memorable moment, but it's one clip the network likely won't want to revisit in future years.

It really rated

Saturday night's Patriots-Jets game did a combined 29.3 rating -- a 22.4 on Channel 5 and a 6.9 on ESPN. Those numbers continued a trend of Ch. 5 drawing progressively larger audiences each time it simulcasts a Patriots game as the local market's over-the-air partner of ESPN. Last month's Patriots-Cowboys game did a 20.1 rating on Ch. 5, a 10.5 on ESPN. Last December, a Patriots-Jets game did an 18.1 on Ch. 5, an 11.9 on ESPN and, a month earlier, Patriots-Raiders did an 18.4 on Ch. 5, an 11.0 on ESPN . . . Saturday's NFL lineup has Bills-Patriots (Channel 4, 1:30 p.m.) with Dick Enberg, Dan Dierdorf, and Bonnie Bernstein in the booth. It's a CBS high definition telecast, and Comcast is hoping to have Ch. 4 on its HD tier in time . . . Fox follows (Channel 25, 5:15 p.m.) with Seahawks-49ers (available in wide screen) and announcers Dick Stockton, Darryl Johnston, and Tony Siragusa. ESPN has the second of its "Double Coverage" weekends with Eagles-Redskins Saturday at 8:30 p.m. and an easy commute for the broadcast/production teams to Sunday's Steelers-Ravens game. Sunday's CBS offerings are Jets-Dolphins (Ch. 4, 1 p.m.) with Kevin Harlan and Randy Cross announcing, followed by Broncos-Packers (Ch. 4, 4:15 p.m.) with the No. 1 CBS team of Greg Gumbel, Phil Simms, and Armen Keteyian. That, too, is a scheduled HD telecast. Fox has Bears-Chiefs (Ch. 25, 1 p.m.) with Sam Rosen and Bill Maas . . . "New England Sports Tonight" on FSNE will review its Top 10 N.E. sports stories of the year, counting down from 10 to 6 Christmas night (6:30 and 10 p.m.) and from 5 to 1 Friday.

Special event

There's hardly a shortage of NBA games on national TV. ABC and the ESPNs are combining to televise 90, and Turner does another 52. Amid the glut of games, ABC is trying to make its 18-game schedule -- starting with a Christmas Day doubleheader -- into special events. In Thursday's opener, the Kings meet the Mavericks (Ch. 5, 6 p.m.) as ex-Celtic Antoine Walker gets yet more national exposure. Brad Nessler, Sean Elliott, Dan Majerle, and reporter Jim Gray work that game. In the nightcap, Al Michaels makes the transition from "Monday Night Football" to the NBA to call the Lakers-Rockets (Ch. 5, 8:30 p.m.), working with Doc Rivers and reporter Michele Tafoya. Next spring, when Michaels does the NBA Finals, he'll have hit for the "Broadcaster's Cycle," with Super Bowls, World Series, Stanley Cups, NBA Finals, and Olympics all on his resume. It was fortuitous timing that put Rivers alongside Michaels. Rivers, dismissed as Orlando Magic coach Monday, Nov. 17, found himself working for ABC by that Wednesday. "No one wants to be fired, but the timing couldn't have been better for me," said Rivers, who already has a successful broadcasting stint with Turner on his resume. "I'm probably better prepared than when I took the Turner job when I stopped playing. Now I can reflect on both the coaching and playing experiences. I should be able to tell you what a player is thinking and what a coach is thinking and how they can be completely different without it being a controversy. I love coaching, but I wouldn't go back this year unless Phil Jackson decides he doesn't want to coach the Lakers anymore. Then all bets are off." Michaels said, "It was a happy day for us when Doc moved out of the coaching ranks. Come to think of it, it might have been a happy day for him at that point, too. It's important for me to work with someone who understands what TV is about." Rivers can empathize with the Celtics' situation. "I had eight new players in the last year and see where I am now -- on TV. The personnel changes are making it a difficult situation for Jim O'Brien. He's a terrific coach, but they've made a lot of changes and it will be difficult to get the team on the right track. Ricky Davis, if he fits, could be a real asset. I also think the guy Boston will like more than they think is [Chris] Mihm."

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

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