By Frank Ahrens
Are you ready for some political football?
Rush Limbaugh says he has auditioned for the role of color commentator on ABC's "Monday Night Football."
Speaking by phone yesterday to Tim Brant and Andy Parks, who host WMAL's (630 AM) morning show, the conservative political radio host said he was "very serious" about the job and that there was "no question" he could do his live midday radio program every Monday and then, presumably, jet to the site of that night's TV football broadcast.
If ABC hires Limbaugh, it would unite the nation's most listened-to radio talk host and one of network television's top-rated, longest-running shows.
Limbaugh, 49, confirmed on the show that he auditioned with "Monday Night Football" play-by-play announcer Al Michaels in Los Angeles on an undisclosed date. The two watched a tape of an NFL game and called it as if it were life. ABC fired "Monday Night Football" commentator Boomer Esiason after last season. His replacement will be announced in mid-June, according to ABC Sports.
Limbaugh appeared yesterday on WMAL (which is owned by ABC/Disney) as a "lifeline" during the morning show's "Who Wants to Be a Thousandaire?" contest. He will be on again this morning. Yesterday he said he thought his audition went well.
"I surprised myself," he said. "It was even more fun than I thought it would be. This would really be a hoot."
ABC Sports would not comment on whether Limbaugh had auditioned, or say how many candidates there are for the commentator slot. The one certainty is that Michaels will stay, ABC said.
"We have been in the process for a while" of selecting Michaels's booth-mate, said ABC Sports spokesman Mark Mandel, "and obviously, we're toward the end."
The potential coupling of Limbaugh and "Monday Night Football" is an intriguing one. Limbaugh has an audience of about 14.5 million listeners a week, according to Talkers magazine, a trade publication that covers talk radio. He is heard locally on WMAL. He is strongest among male listeners ages 25-54 but has a sizable female audience as well. His show is live five days a week.
Last season, "Monday Night Football" weathered its lowest ratings since 1969, owing in part to a number of boring, blowout games and, according to TV critics, Esiason's pedantic, unexciting style. Nevertheless, "Monday Night Football" is frequently the week's top-rated show during the fall and winter. It is the No. 1 show among men, but, like Limbaugh, also enjoys a hefty female audience. And it is one of television's longest-running shows, entering its 31st season. Many consider the show's glory years to be from 1970 to '83 when Howard Cosell and Don Meredith were the color commentators.
The question is Limbaugh's politics. He has made his career as a conservative political commentator, rising to prominence by bashing the Clinton White House, Democrats in Congress, and liberals everywhere. He may have a high unlikability quotient among left-leaning football fans. But he is also an avowed NFL fanatic who has some sports experience: Before becoming a radio star, Limbaugh was in charge of group ticket sales and special events for baseball's Kansas City Royals in the early '80s.