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Miller hoping to lead MNF to higher ratings

Comedian makes much-anticipated debut tonight

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CANTON, Ohio — The most-watched rookie won't be on the field at Monday night's Pro Football Hall of Fame game.

Dennis Miller, whose schtick deals more with irony than interceptions, moves into the ABC Monday Night Football booth alongside analyst Dan Fouts and play-by-play man Al Michaels.

"You know I only have one monkey trick and that's being me," Miller said. "Over the years, any job I've had, I've been me. I do know football reasonably well. I know well enough that I didn't play the game. So therefore I would defer on most things to people who had the guts to play it.

"I watch it as much as anybody and I can bring a little humor, hopefully. I just want to make it entertainment to some extent."

MNF's Nielsen ratings have gone down each of the past five seasons. Like the coach of a team going nowhere, producer Don Ohlmeyer hired Miller to shake things up.

Many will tune in to see if he succeeded.

"We live in this age where everyone wants instant gratification and there will be a lot of attention focused on Monday night even in the preseason," Michaels said. "Everybody will make a certain judgment after 5 or 10 minutes of the game and that's going to be unfair. I think over the course of the season it will get better and better, it'll get smoother and smoother."

Miller's debut adds some spice to the kind of matchups that hurt the MNF ratings — the New England Patriots against the San Francisco 49ers, a pair of teams that finished fourth in their divisions and missed the playoffs last year.

The kickoff was moved up an hour to 5 p.m. so the game would not conflict with the network's coverage of the opening night of the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.

The game concludes a weekend of festivities. More than 100 members of the Hall were on hand for a reunion, and were joined by new inductees Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, Howie Long, Dan Rooney and Dave Wilcox on Saturday.

Patriots' quarterback Drew Bledsoe will start but is unlikely to play more than one series. New England coach Bill Belichick said he wanted to take a long look at young backups Tom Brady, a rookie out of Michigan, and second-year player Michael Bishop.

Bledsoe also won't play much in the Patriots' second exhibition game against Detroit. The Patriots plan to save him until veteran offensive linemen Bruce Armstrong and Max Lane fully recover from knee injuries and several prospects gain experience.

"I'd be happy with two preseason games. I'd be ready to go," Bledsoe said. "Five preseason games is a lot and I don't feel I need to play all those games to be ready for the season. So I'll see a little bit of time in the first two and then we'll pick it up for the last three."

The 49ers will also be sorting out their quarterback situation. Future Hall of Famer Steve Young, who missed most of last season because of concussions, retired after 13 superlative seasons with the team.

Jeff Garcia, who started 10 games filling in for Young last year, is expected to be the starter with Rick Mirer backing him up.