Dennis Miller Makes Debut Tonight

Monday, July 31st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CANTON, Ohio (AP) — The San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots are intent on better seasons. So is ABC's ``Monday Night Football.''

Like the coach of a team going nowhere, producer Don Ohlmeyer hired standup comic Dennis Miller to shake up the booth. Miller, play-by-play man Al Michaels and new analyst Dan Fouts make their debut Monday night in the Hall of Fame game between the 49ers and Patriots.

Miller, known for his long ``rants'' on his weekly HBO comedy show, doesn't plan on dominating the broadcast.

``I do know football reasonably well. I know well enough that I didn't play the game,'' Miller said. ``So therefore I would defer on most things to people who had the guts to play it. I watch it as much as anybody and I can bring a little humor, hopefully. I just want to make it entertainment to some extent.''

That in itself would be a change for MNF, whose Nielsen ratings have gone down each of the past five seasons.

Michaels said the MNF crew, like any young team, will need time to grow.

``Everybody will make a certain judgment after five or 10 minutes of the game and that's going to be unfair,'' Michaels said. ``I think over the course of the season it will get better and better, it'll get smoother and smoother.''

The kickoff was moved up an hour to 7 p.m. so the game would not conflict with the network's coverage of the opening night of the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.

The game concludes a weekend of festivities. More than 100 members of the Hall were on hand for a reunion. They were joined by Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, Howie Long, Dan Rooney and Dave Wilcox, all inducted into the Hall on Saturday.

Miller's debut adds some spice to a game pitting a pair of teams that missed the playoffs last year.

San Francisco went 4-12 and finished a distant fourth in the NFC West behind Super Bowl champion St. Louis. New England was 8-8 and tied the New York Jets for fourth place in the AFC East.

Patriots' quarterback Drew Bledsoe will start but is unlikely to play more than one series. New England coach Bill Belichick said he wanted to take a long look at young backups Tom Brady, a rookie out of Michigan, and second-year player Michael Bishop.

Bledsoe also won't play much in the Patriots' second exhibition game against Detroit. The Patriots plan to save him until veteran offensive linemen Bruce Armstrong and Max Lane fully recover from knee injuries and several young prospects gain experience.

``I'd be happy with two preseason games. I'd be ready to go,'' Bledsoe said. ``Five preseason games is a lot and I don't feel I need to play all those games to be ready for the season. So I'll see a little bit of time in the first two and then we'll pick it up for the last three.''

The 49ers will also be sorting out their quarterback situation, because Steve Young retired.

Jeff Garcia, who started 10 games filling in for Young last year, is expected to be the starter, with Rick Mirer backing him up. Rookies Tim Rattay of Louisiana Tech and Giovanni Carmazzi of Hofstra may also see action.

Young's 37-year-old batterymate, Jerry Rice, returns for another season.

The 49ers face bigger questions on defense, where they ranked last in the NFL a year ago.

Belichick, who replaced Pete Carroll in the offseason, will be coaching his first game with the Patriots — and is expected to get a strong reaction from partisan Ohio fans. Belichick coached the Cleveland Browns from 1991 to 1995 and was there when owner Art Modell moved the franchise to Baltimore after the '95 season.