Media World: 'Inside the NFL,' with clock ticking, still seeks its quarterback

NFL Films head Steve Sabol does not mind cutting things close. With less than a month before the start of the regular season of the National Football League, Sabol is turning his attention to finding a replacement for Harry Kalas as the voice heard on the highlights of Showtime's Inside the NFL.

Sabol, the son of NFL Films founder Ed Sabol, has been busy with a plethora of projects lately, including Hard Knocks, an HBO documentary series on life insisde the training camp of the Cincinnati Bengals.
"I'm not in a panic room yet," Sabol says, jokingly, from his office in Philadelphia suburb Mt. Laurel, New Jersey. (The NFL is not concerned about the tight deadline, either, says a spokesman.)

Kalas, who died suddenly in April, succeeded another legendary announcer, John Facenda ("the voice of God"), in 1984. Kalas was a down-to-earth Midwestern announcer whom Sabol described as having the voice of the people. Kalas beat out longtime Tonight Show second-banana Ed McMahon and actor Robert Stack for the job.

For today's opening, some 46 hopefuls have submitted audition tapes, of whom Sabol estimates about 10 could do the job. Many top sportscasters tried out, says Sabol, who confirms that Merrill Reese, the booming-voiced play-by-play man of the Philadelphia Eagles, has been under consideration.

"We are not looking for someone who sounds the same" as Kalas, Sobol says. "The narrator has to be chosen as a team player. This is a very unique kind of profession."

The narrator of the NFL highlights works from a script which must be read with the proper sports cadences -- a difficult skill for play-by-play announcers who are used to ad-libbing. Most actors probably lack that ability as well, Sabol says.

And expertise is a plus, but not a prerequisite. "Facenda was not a football expert" when he was hired, Sabol says. And Kalas was best known as a baseball announcer; in 2002, he was inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame for announcing the Philadelphia Phillies.

Sabol is one of a handful of NFL Fils executives who will choose the new voice; his 93-year-old father will chime in, too. Inside the NFL begins taping September 9, and the first game is a day later. Sabol seems ready to prove he can tackle a deadline the way a linebacker tackles a running back.

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