Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Rush Intercepts Pigskin Politics ; ESPN Hopes Rush Limbaugh Will Provide 'Curiosity Factor'

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Rush Intercepts Pigskin Politics ; ESPN Hopes Rush Limbaugh Will Provide 'Curiosity Factor'

Article excerpt

Rush Limbaugh can now add "cheeseheads" to his "ditto heads" fan base.

As the NFL kicks off its new season this week, conservative talk- show host Limbaugh will swap Beltway bureaucracy for pigskin politicking on ESPN's "Sunday NFL Countdown" pregame show where he will analyze the day's matchups alongside veteran sportscaster Chris Berman and former NFL stars Tom Jackson, Steve Young, and Michael Irvin.

"He's a lightning rod," says Bob Rauscher, ESPN's senior coordinating producer for NFL shows. He hopes the Limbaugh experiment will entice new viewers. "Rush will bring lively debate and a curiosity factor."

Limbaugh, who will keep his day job as syndicated radio host, made a cameo appearance Thursday on a special edition, preceding the New York Jets-Washington Redskins season opener. His regular gig begins Sunday and runs each week this season.

The Limbaugh-ESPN pairing is the latest attempt to win football fans' attention during the competitive pregame-show wars. Fox, for example, added a buxom weather girl - ostensibly to alert fans, for example, that it often snows during December games at Chicago's Soldier Field - and comedian Jimmy Kimmel to spice up its NFL show.

This season, newly minted sideline reporter Lisa Guerrero, who replaces Melissa Stark on Monday Night Football, has already created a stir by posing in lingerie for the men's magazine FHM.

And on HBO's "Inside the NFL," comedians George Lopez and Wanda Sykes sit alongside Bob Costas and several former pro footballers.

But in a recent Sports Illustrated column, writer Roy S. Johnson criticized the move for politicizing spectator sports.

Rauscher and Limbaugh insist "NFL Countdown" won't become "Crossfire," the politically aggressive show on CNN. When it comes to California controversies, for example, Oakland owner Al Davis is fair game; embattled Gov. Gray Davis is not.

Limbaugh, who worked for baseball's Kansas City Royals before tackling talk radio two decades ago, lobbied hard for a spot on ABC's Monday Night Football several years ago. Instead, the job went to left-leaning comedian Dennis Miller, who lasted one season before being replaced by football lifer John Madden.

During a recent teleconference with reporters, Limbaugh said he was delighted to join the football fray. He began casual conversations with ESPN more than a decade ago and, on several occasions, has visited the cable network's Connecticut studios.

"I've been watching these football shows and saying, 'I'd love to do that,' " says Limbaugh. "ESPN is giving me the chance. I'm really looking forward to this."

His sports background includes a tepid stint as an offensive lineman during high school in Cape Girardeau, Mo. Limbaugh maintains long-running friendships with several former and current NFL owners and players, perks created by his widespread radio fame. …

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