For years, Chris Berman has wanted to call a pro football game—something he hasn't done in all his time at ESPN. Before the 2009 season, we've heard, Berman asked the network if he could call just one game, maybe a late-season nothingburger like Cardinals-49ers. And ESPN, as it always has, slammed the door in his face. That image—Berman looking longingly at the NFL schedule, his nose pressed up against the glass—would be almost excruciatingly sad if it were anyone but Berman.
But now Berman will get his wish. ESPN announced today that Berman will get the latter half of ESPN's Monday Night Football doubleheader on NFL opening weekend. He will call the Chargers-Raiders game with Trent Dilfer. He'll be calling the final Monday night pre-season game as well.
Chargers-Raiders is a rivalry game but obviously not an A-game. Peruse the list of Monday Night games; it's remarkable how weak the schedule is. Sunday night eats its lunch. Maybe that explains why cable's highest-rated program dropped in ratings last year. Despite handing over $15 billion for MNF rights for the next decade, the NFL is not helping out ESPN.
But this is something that Berman has wanted desperately for years—something that he has been "thinking about his whole life," he said in a Front Row podcast. ESPN has had football rights for over two decades, but the network hasn't thrown him anything—not even a Jags game in Week 15. In the 1990s, when ESPN went from a half-season to the full slate of Sunday night games, Berman said that he asked to get in the booth. He was denied. And it didn't help when years later a guy Berman despises, Tony Kornheiser, got a booth assignment before Berman was even asked. After ESPN dropped the ball and lost the rights to Sunday night a few years ago, Berman lost the one piece of real estate he treasured more than anything: NFL Primetime. He has been bitter about all of this for some time.
But it obviously works for ESPN here. The network generates a little buzz for a late-night, old AFL West Coast game and throws an old-timer a bone in the process. When you've been awful for so long, you deserve a little reward.