Are you ready for some meh?

It’s so obvious it makes you wince. We are about to enter another rough spot in Monday Night Football, one that not-so-coincidentally coincides with a move from network to cable.

With the announcement yesterday that the institution of Al Michaels would no longer be running the booth during football’s most showcased routine, it signaled another ice age for the program, the first since Al thawed out the boredom in 1986.

Michaels was like Howard Cosell, perhaps without the rough, albeit interesting, edges. You can’t say why you enjoy listening to the guy, but for millions of viewers he just feels right.

That’s why the shift to a new booth will most likely bring about the growing pains and quite possibly eventual failure of any newcomer trying to replace a legend. Will it be as big a failure as Charles Rocket trying to be the next Bill Murray on “Saturday Night Live?” Or Rolf Benirschke briefly taking over for Pat Sajak on “Wheel of Fortune?”

O.J. Simpson, Frank Gifford and Joe Namath were disappointingly bland during the between-Cosell-and-Michaels void, but you could hardly call it a full-blown disaster.

Mike Tirico, Joe Theismann and Tony Kornheiser are all fine in their own right. Tirico certainly doesn’t have the gravitas of Cosell or Michaels, but he is an able, veteran play-by-play. Theismann might not be the most insightful or entertaining analyst, but he’s palatable. And as far as the traditional curveball goes, Kornheiser will probably rank similarly with Dennis Miller: He’s certainly funny and witty, but it’s unlikely his style will fit well in the MNF pantheon. He’s amazing when he’s throwing and receiving barbs with Mike Wilbon, but it’s likely he’ll be muted when stuck alongside the placid Tirico and Theismann.

It’s hard to fault ESPN executives for what they are doing. While no official reason has been given for why the originally slated team of Michaels and Theismann was scrubbed, it is probably not because Al was forced out against his will. Therefore, they turned to three people familiar to the regular viewership of the network, with the hopes that familiarity could breed adulation-something that is necessary for the unique broadcast, a weekly event that Roone Arledge envisioned as a “spectacle.”

The new team is fine for a cable show that caters to ESPN’s afternoon crowd, but this is a national audience with different tastes. If the heads of ESPN were wise, they would go back to the model that made the brand respectable. Take a powerful, perhaps a little curmudgeonly play-by-play announcer (Cosell or Michaels), a supremely knowledgeable football geek with a genial personality (like Gifford in the early days) and a zany, but broadly appealing sidekick (Dandy Don or Alex Karras).

How high would the ratings be with a team of Brad Nessler (the under-rated ABC college football, NBA and EA Sports NCAA broadcaster), Sean Salisbury and Dave Chappelle in the booth? It may sound weird now, but so did Arledge’s idea of a team comprising a jerk, a philandering former football star and a cowboy.

No one knew why it worked, but it sure as heck did.

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