'It was just too difficult'

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:27 AM ET

The clown prince of Fox NFL Sunday, for whom laughter comes easily and often, is understandably muted this week.

He has seen the devastation in his beloved home state of Louisiana, and it has almost been too much to bear. Even for a former quarterback who showed plenty of toughness during his days with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team he guided to four Super Bowl victories in the 1970s.

"Initially, I watched a great deal of it," Fox studio analyst Terry Bradshaw was saying Wednesday about the intense television coverage of the misery Hurricane Katrina has left behind in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast.

"Then I would catch it in the morning, and I'd have to turn it off, because it was just too difficult (to watch)."

Bradshaw was sharing his thoughts the day before he headed back down to Louisiana for a report that will appear during Fox NFL Sunday this weekend. The show on the NFL's opening Sunday is being expanded to 90 minutes (11:30 a.m.), to also tell the tale of Katrina's wrath, and to honour the four-year anniversary of another American tragedy -- the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.

"This is more than just an opening day for the NFL and an opening day for Fox," said Fox Sports president Ed Goren.

Not exactly the setting, either, for the usual hijinks on Fox's top-rated studio show, which is usually a rollicking affair featuring the wit of Bradshaw, fellow analysts Jimmy Johnson and Howie Long, and host James Brown.

"There's not going to be a lot of yucks here," said Bradshaw, 57. "I'm anxious for the football season to get going and I'm anxious to see some football. But to put it bluntly, it's difficult to have a smile on your face when so much is happening that's so devastating in our country."

The Saints, New Orleans' displaced NFL team, figure to be front and centre in Sunday's opening day coverage. Fox Sports reporter Pam Oliver has been with the team this week.

The network has also bumped up distribution for the Saints-Carolina Panthers game from 14% of the country to 36%.

PRE-GAME INTRODUCTION

Viewers everywhere will be taken live to Charlotte for the Saints' player introduction before the game at Bank of America Stadium.

It should be an emotional scene.

"There are a lot of great stories out there in Week 1," said CBS' Jim Nantz, who spent 31/2 years of his childhood in New Orleans and attended the Saints' first-ever game in 1968 with his father. "But there's nothing better than (watching) this football team, that's going to be playing for a lot of people who need some good news."

Said Goren: "With all due respect to (the Dallas Cowboys), I think for this day, at least, the Saints become America's Team."

Bradshaw isn't sure how much of an escape Saints football will be for the thousands who lost everything in the hurricane or the devastating floods that followed it.

"I don't honestly think football is something they can't wait to see on Sunday," said Bradshaw, an Oklahoma resident whose family in Shreveport and Baton Rouge were unaffected by Katrina. "They don't have homes, they're in shelters across America ... that's a pretty devastating situation these folks are in.

"I don't think any of us fully understand it. I won't until I get off the plane (yesterday) and get close to it."

Probably closer than he ever wants to get to a tragedy that cuts a little too close to home.


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