ESPN's Chris Berman adjusting to reduced role on Sundays

Don't ask Chris Berman how it felt to experience the opening weekend of the NFL season as a regular viewer watching games on the sofa. He doesn't know.

After stepping down from his 31-year run as ESPN's primary NFL studio host last winter, and 38 years overall covering the league for the network, Berman spent his first free regular-season Sunday playing golf with friends in Ireland.

"I'll be in the gorse somewhere," Berman said prior to leaving for Dublin last Friday. "I'm not going to be thinking about what I'm going to say about Aaron Rodgers. I'm going to be thinking about what club to use."

Berman insists he didn't leave the country as a diversion to avoid being around for the NFL's opening Sunday. This is an annual trip taken by his friends, planned well in advance last December. When they heard of his intentions to scale back, they invited Berman to make the trek for golf in Ireland.

"They said, 'Are you interested?'" Berman said. "I said, 'I can't even compute the question. I worked 40 Septembers in a row. I don't even know what you're asking.' It's really not about me dealing with withdrawal. It's just a coincidence that it was the first Sunday of the season."

Instead, Berman will get his first taste of a NFL Sunday at home this week. He purchased NFL Sunday Ticket from DirecTV, and plans to give his remote a workout.

"I'm a consumer again," Berman said. "As this all progresses, it's going to be really different."

Indeed, it has been a period of intense transition for the 62-year-old Berman, and his reduced duties at ESPN are the least of it. In May, Berman's wife, Kathy, died in a car accident on a rural road in Connecticut.

Berman has been trying to recover emotionally from the loss of his wife of 38 years. He has taken great comfort in the outpouring of support from people he knows, and just as important, people he doesn't.

"It's been four months now, and perfect strangers still come up to me and say, 'I'm praying for your family,'" Berman said. "At times, maybe you question the human spirit. But when the chips are down, people are great. I've been able to see the human touch, human compassion is alive and well. I'm almost overwhelmed by it."

The start of the football season also has brought some sense of normalcy to Berman. He is quick to point out that he hasn't retired.

Indeed, during a piece that aired on Monday Night Countdown this week, there was Berman telling viewers, "See, you're not done with me yet."

Berman will be featured each week on the Monday pregame show with flashback stories from "Boomer's Vault" on great games in Monday Night Football history. Monday, he will recall Joe Washington's huge game on Sept. 18, 1978, which included a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the driving rain to give Baltimore a 34-27 victory over New England. He remains the only NFL player to ever throw a touchdown, catch a touchdown and return a kickoff for a touchdown in a single game.

Berman also is going to do periodic interviews. He had a sit-down with Seattle safety Earl Thomas that aired on last week's Sunday NFL Countdown. He will be part of ESPN's NFL coverage during the playoffs and Super Bowl.

"I'm still staff at ESPN," Berman said. "I'm around."

But not nearly as much as when he was a prime figure in ESPN's NFL coverage. In addition to viewing games at home, he also plans to watch the new version of Sunday NFL Countdown this week. Sam Ponder replaces him as the host.

"I'm like a father here," Berman said. "I want my kids to do really well."

Berman says he is comfortable with his decision to having a reduced role. He is looking forward to becoming "a fan" again in watching games every Sunday.

Berman, though, still isn't sure how he is going to feel once everything settles in this fall. He insists he is "curious, not apprehensive."

Berman heeds the words of his long-time partner Tom Jackson, who retired prior to the 2016 season. "Tom told me, 'Each month, you'll like it more,'" Berman said. "He said, 'Boom, it's even better in November than it was in September.' Tom hasn't lied to me yet."

A Football Life: A new season of A Football Life debuts with a look at Dan Marino Friday at 9 p.m. ET on NFL Network. The one-hour show produced by NFL Films features interviews with Marino, Brett Favre, John Elway, Jim Kelly and Troy Aikman, Peyton Manning, Don Shula and more.

"Who is your favorite quarterback? It's Dan Marino and it's always been Dan Marino," Aikman said. Upcoming A Football Life films feature Emmitt Smith on Sept. 22 and John Madden on Sept. 29.

Thursday Night: The NFL's Thursday Night slate kicks off with Houston at Cincinnati on Thursday exclusively on NFL Network. Mike Tirico and Cris Collinsworth will be on the call.

Next Thursday's Rams-San Francisco also will air exclusively on NFL Network. Then CBS picks up coverage with five consecutive Thursday night games beginning with Chicago-Green Bay on Sept. 28. The NBC portion of the package begins with Seattle at Arizona on Nov. 9.

All Thursday night games can be seen either by simulcast or exclusively on NFL Network. Amazon also will stream 11 Thursday games, beginning with Bears-Packers.

Extra points: Tony Romo and Jim Nantz will be on the call for CBS' coverage of the New England-New Orleans game. Interesting to note that Romo, at 37, is younger than the starting quarterbacks he will be analyzing: Tom Brady is 40 and Drew Brees is 38.

On NFL GameDay Morning (NFL Network, 7 a.m. ET), Andrea Kremer will have a piece on how the Atlanta Falcons have been training with retired Navy Seals. She spoke with Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, running back Devonta Freeman, linebacker Vic Beasley and coach Dan Quinn.

A new season of Tackle My Ride, focusing on football and cars, opens with back-to-back episodes at 8:00 and 8:30 p.m. ET on NFL Network. This series will air Fridays at 8:00 p.m.

Week 2 announcer lineup

Thursday

NFL Network, 8:25 p.m. ET

Houston at Cincinnati: Mike Tirico, Cris Collinsworth

Sunday

CBS 1:00 p.m. ET

New England Patriots at New Orleans Saints: Jim Nantz, Tony Romo

Buffalo Bills at Carolina Panthers: Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon

Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars: Spero Dedes, Adam Archuleta

Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens: Andrew Catalon, James Lofton, Steve Tasker

CBS 4:05 p.m. ET

New York Jets at Oakland Raiders: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts

Miami Dolphins at Los Angeles Chargers: Greg Gumbel, Trent Green

FOX 1:00 p.m ET

Philadelphia Eagles at Kansas City Chiefs: Kevin Burkhardt, Charles Davis

Minnesota Vikings at Pittsburgh Steelers: Kenny Albert, Ronde Barber

Arizona Cardinals at Indianapolis Colts: Chris Myers, Daryl Johnston

Chicago Bears at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Dick Stockton, Mark Schlereth

FOX 4:25 p.m. ET

Dallas Cowboys at Denver Broncos: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman

Washington Redskins at Los Angeles Rams: Thom Brennaman, Chris Spielman

San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks: Sam Rosen, David Diehl

NBC 8:30 p.m. ET

Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth

Monday

ESPN 8:30 p.m. ET

Detroit Lions at New York Giants: Sean McDonough, Jon Gruden

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