Twice The Chairs, Half The Value

IRVING, Tex. - So the Cowboys will be represented on the ESPN set by Bill Parcells and Emmitt Smith, swapped in for the departing Michael Irvin?

Great. Twice the swivel chairs. Half the value.

I've got nothing against Emmitt. I'm got (almost) nothing against Parcells. But the network's direction here is quite clear: Irvin was a tightrope act, and the Bristol brass tired of watching nervously. Emmitt can dance, but there's no tightrope there; he will be quite grounded, very safe, dare I say boring. And Parcells? While he continues to be touted as a press-conference delight (the result, I think, of the New York media being happy all those years to be fed something to write about), his press conferences in Dallas were in fact generally humorless, insight-free exercises in narcissism.

Yes, I'm biased toward Irvin. Have been for 17 years. I'm biased toward his insight and his frankness and his work ethic and his humor and his uniqueness.

Emmitt, honestly, will need a lot of work before he comes across as a polished commentator. I believe he would have been better served to spend time in an internship of sorts, doing local TV in Dallas, co-hosting a radio show, learning his craft. (Irvin did that; so did Aikman, so did Johnston. And you see the results every Sunday.)

On camera, however, Emmitt is. ... well, cuddly. And that smile! But he has no history as a hard-working journalist. However, as a result of his "Dancing With The Stars'' appearance (and victory) on ABC in prime time, Emmitt has become a mainstream celebrity. Maybe women will watch ESPN's NFL coverage. (I'm sure some of them watched Irvin, too. ... but always with their husbands and always with the lights on.)

"'Dancing With The Stars' broadened my appeal to male and female audiences," said Smith, sounding very. ... corporate. ("Broadened my appeal''? Hey Emmitt, way to let your inner Tiki out!)

Meanwhile, Parcells will play the role of curmudgeon, I suppose -- an easy role to play for someone who actually IS a curmudgeon. And he'll spend a lot of time at the track and he'll go to St. Louis Cardinals baseball games and he'll pet his cat and he'll pacify his girlfriend and he'll order agent Jimmy Sexton to drop "un-retirement'' hints and, after an aide wakes him up and informs him that we're on the air in 30 seconds, he'll look very tall in his studio swivel chair because of the incredibly fat wallet upon which he's sitting.

"I have to bring my personality to it, and if that includes negativity once in a while, maybe it does," Bill said. "I don't think I'm a negative person, but I do think I can be as candid as possible. I certainly approach it with that idea, (but) I'm not looking to hang anybody at the gallows, either."

I don't think Bill is a negative personality, either -- at least not when he brings to ESPN his terrific insights into the memorable talents of Mark Bavaro, Jim Burt and Phil McConkey.

Yes, it's sort of a strange-bedfellows thing, Irvin and Emmitt and Parcells all wrapped up into the same telecasting tale. Irvin championed Terrell Owens' move to the Cowboys, which some might argue helped drive InfalliBill out of Valley Ranch. Then Parcells was invited to Bristol, which some might argue helped drive Irvin away from ESPN. And as the final nail in Irvin's Worldwide Leader coffin, his co-replacement turns out to be one of his best pals, the kid he mentored big-brother/little-brother-style, the guy who was almost as much of a "playa'' as Irvin was back in the day. ... only nobody knows it because Michael took so many falls for his friends.

"It is tough to replace a guy I am close to," said Smith, who talks with Michael frequently. "He was cool with everything."

No, they're not breaking up, Michael and Emmitt. It's just a made-for-TV divorce. In the settlement, Emmitt gets custody of the swivel chair. Michael gets visitation rights to his lime-green suits. And Bill Parcells gets to rely on chum Chris Mortensen to feed him inside scoop to make Bill appear informed.

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