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New team at ‘The NFL Today’ on CBS off to fun start

From left,

From left, "The NFL Today" team of Phil Simms, James Brown, Bill Cowher, Nate Burleson and Boomer Esiason during a promotional photo shoot in Manhattan on July 26, 2017. Photo Credit: CBS / John Paul Filo

Times Square is known more for its Naked Cowboy than its dancing Giant, but there was Phil Simms on Wednesday, showing off his moves while carrying a vintage boom box as perplexed tourists looked on from the TKTS line.

Only in New York!

Same goes for what happened a few minutes earlier, when a woman told Boomer Esiason she had managed to pinch his behind on the field after being part of the pregame show before Super Bowl XXIII in 1989.

“That was a big story in her life,” said Esiason, who played in that game for the Bengals. “So I said, ‘Would you like to do it again? It might not feel the same.’ ” She took him up on it. “She said it was really good. I said, ‘I appreciate it.’ ”

So it went for the new-look crew of CBS’ “The NFL Today,” which spent the day shooting promotional video around Manhattan, from Times Square to Wall Street to Chelsea Piers.

The locales made sense, given that all four analysts live in or near the city, and the show is based there.

But the larger goal was to introduce the revised cast, show them interacting with people and – always a high priority for NFL pregame shows – appear to be having a good time.

So far, so good. Like a team reporting for training camp, all involved lamented offseason departures of friends and colleagues and expressed optimism about a successful season ahead.

Simms and Nate Burleson will replace Tony Gonzalez (who left of his own accord) and Bart Scott (who did not) with returning host James Brown and fellow analysts Esiason and Bill Cowher for the show’s 50th season.

The addition of Simms followed his replacement in CBS’ No. 1 game booth by Tony Romo, a move Simms admitted in April initially hurt his pride but one that he then embraced. He said he has not looked back.

“I don’t even think about it; it’s like I never did games,” he said. “I’m not mad. I’m happy. I’ve probably had my most energetic, constructive, productive offseason of my life since I’ve been out of football.”

The best part is not having to travel for work, something about which Simms was reminded when he took a flight recently. “I said, oh, my gosh, how I hated it so much,” he said. “I hated it.”

Instead he plans to pursue other interests, such as attending New Jersey high school football games on Friday nights. But it is not as if his preparation work has lessened. Now he must be up to speed on every team every week.

“I’m going, oh, wow, there’s 32 of these teams!” he said. “It’s a lot of names. My wife said something to me about [less] work and I said, ‘Oh, no, dear, the workload for this might be worse.’”

Simms said he is unconcerned about transitioning to the brevity studio analysis requires. He wonders only about how to translate the loose vibe of Showtime’s “Inside the NFL,” on which he is a regular, to a broadcast network studio.

“The only thing I worry about is the interaction,” he said. “Can we really, truly educate and entertain? I think that’s the whole thing.”

That it is, and the hope is Simms’ familiarity with Esiason, Cowher and Brown will ease the process.

“To have the Phil-Boomer dynamic, it’s going to be awesome,” producer Drew Kaliski said of a pair with a long history of kibitzing on radio, in TV commercials and in real life.

The wild card is Burleson, an NFL receiver for 11 seasons who at 35 is more than 20 years younger than anyone else in the cast.

“I feel like a man among giants, first and foremost,” said Burleson, an alumnus of the NFL’s Broadcast Boot Camp for players and a regular on the NFL Network’s morning show.

He takes his role as a representative of current and recent players seriously. Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston drove home that point for him during a conversation before Super Bowl 50 early last year.

“He said, ‘Nate, I appreciate what you do. I have to let you know: You’re our voice. You’re the voice of the guys who are still in it,’ ” Burleson recalled. “On the outside I have a face of steel. I shake his hand and say, ‘I appreciate it.’

“On the inside, I’m like, ‘Wow. That is a strong responsibility to have.’ It blew me away, for a guy who didn’t win a Super Bowl, was not going to go to the Hall of Fame, a guy that played a little bit above average for 11 years.”

And that was before Burleson had the platform he will now.

“I want people to know that, yeah, I’m young, I’m African-American, I’m hip, I love hip hop, I love pop culture, I love movies,” he said. “All these things you expect when you see me on the outside and the assumptions and stereotypes, I am all that.

“But my foundation is that I’m a football player and I love the sport more than anything. So being able to bring all that to the stage and deliver that in a very passionate way, that’s what makes me who I am.”

Brown called Burleson “out-of-the-box ready” for the job.

“He’s hip, and can talk football all day long,” Brown said. “But he can present it in a package where he sugarcoats the education deal and makes it palatable and makes it fun.”

Cowher will start his 11th season with the show, Brown his 12th and Esiason his 16th, so all have seen co-workers come and go.

“It’s hard, it’s really hard,” Esiason said. “It’s like teammates that you grow with and you bond with. I had a great bond with Shannon [Sharpe] and Dan [Marino]. They were like my best buddies. Then Bart comes and Tony comes in, and they are right off the field, and they’re great guys, too.

“It’s not going to be hard working with these [new] guys,” Esiason said. “I just always feel bad for the other guys who end up leaving for whatever reason. It’s just a part of the business.”

Said Cowher, “Listen, the only constant in life is change. You always hate to see friends and co-workers move on, but I’m excited about working with Nate and Phil both. I think it will be a different dynamic, but I’m looking forward to it.”

Cowher was sitting on a picnic bench at Pier 40 as he spoke, the Statue of Liberty in the background, a clear sky overhead and 32 undefeated teams for his own new team to talk about. Good times!

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