With his wise-guy shtick and winning chemistry with partner Michael Wilbon, Tony Kornheiser attracted critical praise and a wide following as a cohost of ESPN's Pardon the Interruption. So when the network acquired the rights to Monday Night Football in 2006, he was an interesting choice to add a leavening touch to the three-man booth, alongside play-by-play man Mike Tirico and analyst Joe Theismann.
This is an article from the May 25, 2009 issue
The experiment, which came to an end on Monday when Kornheiser stepped down—citing his longtime fear of flying as one reason—was a mixed bag. His comfort level rose significantly when Theismann, with whom he often collided on air, was replaced in 2007 by Ron Jaworski, a football wonk and far better foil (and broadcaster) than Theismann. But Kornheiser was never fully accepted by the football-viewing public, and even he seemed to realize that the outsider act on which he depended was impossible to sustain in a crowded booth for three hours. (Kornheiser once chastised himself in a newspaper column for not being subversive enough on MNF.)
Kornheiser's replacement is Jon Gruden, the former Raiders and Bucs coach. "I'm not going to be a negative barbwire with a growl on my face," Gruden says, though he said he would be critical when the situation called for it. His inclusion tilts the booth in a decidedly X's-and-O's direction. "Jaws practically lives at NFL Films and Coach Gruden was known for getting up at three in the morning and popping in film," says MNF producer Jay Rothman. But as a guest analyst on the NFL Network during this year's draft, Gruden was engaging, prepared and showed a refreshing ability to be self-deprecating. "On the surface they can be perceived as hard-core," says Rothman. "But we're going to have a lot of fun."