NFL Network shakes up announcing team

NFL Network announcers Alex Flanagan, Mike Mayock and NFL Network announcers Alex Flanagan, Mike Mayock and Brad Nessler. Photo Credit: NFL Network

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.

The NFL Network remains a mystery to the majority of sports fans in these parts, what with Cablevision and Time Warner being the two most prominent cable companies that do not yet carry it.

Every once in a while, though, one of the local 11s appears on the network's Thursday night series, as the Jets will do in Denver this week, offering a glimpse behind the curtain. That is because the coverage will be simulcast on Channel 11, per an NFL rule that all games must be available on a broadcast channel in the markets of the teams involved.

It always is fun to see what NFLN has come up with for its booth, which has endured multiple comings and goings since 2006. Turns out that for its sixth season, it is starting from scratch, having jettisoned analysts Matt Millen and Joe Theismann in favor of Mike Mayock and play-by-play man Bob Papa for Brad Nessler.

The first decision was a no-brainer. Millen and Theismann have plenty of detractors individually, but together they generated a dangerous verbiage overload.

The second was a head-scratcher. Papa, the Giants' radio voice, gave the telecasts credibility after the failed Bryant Gumbel experiment, has worked well with Mayock and knows the NFL as well as any local play-by-play man in the league. None of that was enough; he was shown the TV booth door in May.

"They just felt they wanted to go in a different direction,'' Papa said. Was he surprised? "Yeah, you're always a little surprised. But I understand. It's kind of the way the business works.''

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Part of what Papa understood is that the man who made the decision, senior VP Mark Quenzel, knew and worked with Nessler at ESPN, whose alumni are in several key positions at NFLN.

Quenzel insisted the decision had nothing to do with Papa's performance and that he is "a big Bob Papa fan'' who continues to employ him, providing occasional reports on the Giants.

"It did not have to do with Bob versus Brad versus anybody else,'' Quenzel said. "It had to do with putting together a team I thought was going to be the most cohesive, effective, dynamic team I could come up with.

"I want to be clear: I thought Bob did a great job for us. There was never anybody I worked with who was more prepared, knew the game better, had insights, relationships.''

Nessler is a respected veteran, but the more intriguing addition is Mayock, a Giants defensive back in 1982 and '83, a coach's son and an unabashed X's-and-O's geek. Mayock rapidly has gone from a draft guru to an analyst on Notre Dame games on NBC to the NFL. Does he ever have trouble keeping it all straight?

"I tend to oversimplify things; to me, it's just football,'' he said. "People say, 'You're a college guy' or 'You're an NFL guy.' I say, 'Why?' I don't get that.''

What's his take on the Jets? On Nov. 1, even before Mark Sanchez's last two uneven games, Mayock said this

"About half the time I'm like, 'Man, this kid is really going to be a good player; you can win a Super Bowl with this kid.' And the other half is, 'What happened to Mark Sanchez? Where is he?' ''

The eight live games are the network's big chance to attract new fans, preferably ones willing to bug their local cable company to add the channel. It is in not quite 60 million homes, compared with ESPN's nearly 100 million.

"I think it is a shame,'' Quenzel said. "I think we have a great product, not just the games but 24/7.''

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A Cablevision spokesman said this about that:

"Cablevision carries all Jets and Giants games, all of the playoffs and the Super Bowl. NFL Network carries only a handful of out-of-town games at a high price. If the NFL really cared about cable customers being able to see their games, they would make 'Sunday Ticket' available to cable customers, which they have refused to do."

UFC packs ratings punch

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The actual fighting between Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez lasted barely a minute, but the UFC was a ratings hit in its Fox debut Saturday, averaging 3.1 percent of homes and 5.7 million viewers. That made it the most-watched UFC event ever and most-watched pro fight since 7.0 million saw a Lennox Lewis-Vitali Klitschko bout on HBO in 2003.

Among men ages 18-34, the fight outrated every college football game this season other than LSU-Alabama on Nov. 5.

The Dolan family owns controlling interests in Cablevision.

Cablevision owns Newsday.

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