It's time for football, talk and lots of alarm clocks


Growing up, I thought Sundays were simple -- church in the morning, Packers in the early afternoon, then outside to play real football.

I was, of course, young and foolish; also, I didn't have cable. Now football is a daylong event; here's the story I sent to papers about Steve Mariucci, part of the NFL Network's marathon effort:

By Mike Hughes

In olden days, there
were large holes in autumn Sundays.

These were
football-free moments. People filled them by going to church, having
family dinners, doing chores and, perhaps, playing croquet. It was a
long time ago.

Now? TV has
double-headers in the afternoon and NBC games at night, plus pre-game
marathons. Back in 1994, Fox dared to have a one-hour pre-game show,
instead of the usual half-hour; these days, cable's NFL Network goes
far beyond that.

“I think it
started as two (hours),” recalled Steve Mariucci. “Then it was,
'We want to go to three, go to to three' .... Our people wanted to be
on first and hold the audience.”

So things start very
early. The NFL Network has a pre-pregame show at 7 a.m. ET from New
Jersey, then the main one at 9; ESPN starts at 10, Fox at 11 and CBS
at noon.

And that's 9 a.m.
Eastern Time -- for a show that's done in California. So “NFL
GameDay Morning” starts at 6 a.m. PT ... producers are there by
4:30 ... and Mariucci sets his hotel alarms for 3:30.

“I can't sleep at
night anyway,” he said. “I've always been like that .... And
there's college football the night before. I have three alarm clocks
and I request a wake-up call.”

After lots of
coffee, he's ready for the show, alongside Rich Eisen, Marshall
Faulk, Kurt Warner and Michael Irvin. “It's kind of a variety
show,” Mariucci, 61, said. “We do some X's-and-O's, but we also
do game shows and anything else.”

They talk to Cynthia
Frelund (analytics) and Ian Rapaport (the “NFL Media insider”)
and even to Hollywood people. He particularly enjoyed Denzel
Washington and Bryan Cranston. Afterward, there are more reports
throughout the day, plus the pre-game shows (6 p.m. ET) on
Thursdays..

Football has always
been part of Mariucci's Sundays. That started when he was growing up
in Iron Mountain, a Michigan town at the edge of Wisconsin. He was 3
when Vince Lombardi took over the Green Bay Packers, 11 and 12 when
they won the first Super Bowls.

“I was definitely
a Packer fan,” he recalled. “Bart Starr was my hero. On my 60th
birthday, I was able to have dinner with him; it was a great honor.”

Like Starr, he was a
quarterback. That was in high school and at Northern Michigan
University, where he was three-time Division II All-American. As an
assistant coach – ranging from NMU to the Packers -- he often
focused on quarterbacks or receivers.

Eventually, he
became known as a proponent of the “West Coast offense” developed
by Bill Walsh at Stanford and with the San Francisco 49ers, with its
emphasis on lots of movement, quick slants and screens and
high-percentage passes. Mariucci used that approach as head coach of
the 49ers (1997 to 2002) and the Detroit Lions (2003-5).

Today, about half
the NFL coaches use variations on that, he said, and others are
influenced. Completion percentages have gone up, especially with
rules changes involving screens.

Other trends have
come and gone, including the brief return of the running quarterback.
“RG3 (Robert Griffin III) got hurt; he was a terrific quarterback.
(Colin) Kaepernick is a better running quarterback than a passer, but
we remember his 186 years rushing against the Packers.”

Others – Russell
Wilson, Cam Newton, more – have had their moments as runners ...
something that coaches rarely encourage. “Steve Young could have
been a running quarterback,” Mariucci said. “Randall Cunningham
could have.”

But top quarterbacks
are rare and coaches prefer to keep them healthy. “There are 7.3
billion people on this planet and maybe a dozen or so are great
quarterbacks,” Mariucci said.

The others are part
of a constant scramble, as teams re-think and re-assemble. That gives
Mariucci a lot to talk about; he has plenty of time to do it, every
Sunday.