For a guy who doesn’t travel on airplanes, John Madden sure gets around.

Earlier this week, Madden signed on with NBC to be its lead analyst on Sunday night football games when the network takes over that package in 2006. When he moves over, he will have worked at all four over-the-air networks that televise the NFL.

Madden, dubbed an “American icon” by NBC chairman Dick Ebersol when he announced the hiring, spent 13 seasons as the top analyst at CBS, then moved along with Pat Summerall to Fox to do NFC games in 1994.

In 2002, Madden headed to “Monday Night Football” on ABC to team with Al Michaels. He’ll remain there for the final season of NFL games on that network before joining the NBC booth.

In recent years, Madden has shown some slippage in his broadcasts, misidentifying players and often repeating himself. Still, he’s considered the best at what he does for his witty delivery and obvious love of the game – especially the dirty work in the trenches.

“When I first got in the business with CBS, that was exciting,” he said. “Then moving to Fox was a lot of fun, and being the first one there and starting something and being part of that. And then going to “Monday Night Football’ and enjoying every moment of that, and then having the opportunity to do this is really something special. It’s something new and different and fresh.”

It would be nice if NBC came up with a fresh voice to team with Madden and give the new telecasts some juice. The network has a stable of announcers who have worked on Arena Football, and some of them (Bob Papa, Allen Bestwick) would seem a good fit with the boisterous Madden.

But Ebersol indicated NBC will pursue Michaels, the top play-by-play announcer at ABC.

UGLY SEASONS, UGLY OFFSEASONS: While the 2004 season was not kind to the Browns, who lost 12 of 16 games and their coach, or to the 49ers, who lost 14 of 16 and their coach, 2005 hasn’t been much better.

Outside of getting help in the draft, the main headlines surrounding both storied franchises have been, well, ugly. That’s a shame, because both of the new coaches – Romeo Crennel in Cleveland and Mike Nolan in San Francisco – deserve better.

Crennel was met almost immediately with prized tight end Kellen Winslow’s serious accident while riding a motorcycle – apparently violating his contract. Nolan has had to deal with the fallout from the insensitive video prepared by then-public relations director Kirk Reynolds and shown to the team last year.

Neither team figures to contend for anything but the top choice in the 2006 draft. Expect both of their defenses to be improved, though. After all, Crennel helped Bill Belichick (and before that, Bill Parcells) design and maintain some stingy units. And Nolan has been a top defensive assistant for years.

Crennel already has pulled out the motivational tools – five Super Bowl rings he owns.

“I might wear it from time to time,” he said. “Special occasions.

“You know in this business what happens. Last year is last year, it’s what have you done for me lately? We’re trying to do something here and develop an attitude and a winning team. The rings are nice because you’re able to accomplish it and feel good about that, but now there’s a new challenge.”

A very big challenge.

PAYTON’S LONG HAUL: Jet lag started hitting running back Jarrett Payton after he rejoined the Tennessee Titans fresh off a flight from Europe.

He and safety Norman LeJeune helped the Amsterdam Admirals win their first title last Saturday with a 27-21 victory over Berlin in the World Bowl. Payton returned to Nashville on Monday night, then reported Tuesday to start learning new offensive coordinator Norm Chow’s offense.

Exhaustion aside, Payton couldn’t be happier to be back with the Titans.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been this relaxed in my entire life. I feel so relaxed now that I’ve had a year under my belt. I got to go overseas. I see what football’s all about. Now I’m not as nervous coming back in here with these guys,” Payton said.

“When you first come in here, your eyes get big. You’re looking at Steve McNair, and now I walk in, Steve’s coming and giving me a hug, saying, Hey, you played good.’ That makes you feel good. But it also makes the nerves go down a little bit.”

Payton was one of seven players allocated by the Titans to NFL Europe. Running back Joe Smith led the league with 1,026 yards rushing, while Payton led with seven touchdowns rushing. The son of Walter Payton averaged 5.6 yards per carry with 578 yards rushing.

The Titans are looking for a backup to Chris Brown, but they won’t allow their NFL Europe players back on the field until training camp begins July 29.

“We’re going to actively rest them, if there’s such a thing. We’ll get them on the bike,” coach Jeff Fisher said.

Fisher said Payton has a chance to make the jump onto the roster. Payton, who went undrafted coming out of Miami, spent last season on the Titans’ practice squad.

“I love being here,” Payton said. “This is an opportunity. I just want to make it right now, just come in here, be a leader, help these guys to help this team win.”

JONES HONORED: Eddie Jones, the retiring president of the Miami Dolphins, received the team’s first “Winning Edge” award at the annual kickoff banquet earlier this month.

The award, presented by Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga, recognizes Jones’ contributions to the Dolphins and the NFL. Jones was part of the NFL for 37 seasons, the last 17 with the Dolphins.

“He is truly a class act, a guy that you can count on being steady, being professional, being someone that you can go and talk to no matter what the situation was,” former Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino said. “And he had such a passion for the Miami Dolphins.”

Jones plans to move his family back to Louisiana; he is an alum of LSU, the school that he and Huizenga lured new Dolphins coach Nick Saban away from. Joe Bailey is the new chief executive officer of Dolphins Enterprises, which oversees Huizenga’s sports and entertainment interests.

Sports writers Teresa Walker in Nashville and Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this story.

AP-ES-06-16-05 1235EDT

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