Shooting from the lip
Looking back at a weekend of televised sports
The best sporting event on television in recent memory was NBC’s coverage Tuesday of the NHL Winter Classic, the outdoor hockey game between the Penguins and Sabres. NBC covered it as an event and not as a game, and that was exactly the way to do it. Every part of the coverage was masterful, including a feature on star Sidney Crosby and an intermission story about Slap Shot, the best movie ever made about hockey. Studio hosts Bob Costas and Mike Milbury told great hockey anecdotes. Announcers Mike Emrick, Ed Olczyk and Darren Pang talked as much about the conditions as the game, which is what they needed to do because this wasn't just another game in the middle of the season. Somehow NBC walked the fine line of making the game enjoyable to diehards as well as those nonfans tuning in just to check it out. By the way, the NHL couldn't have asked for a better scenario than Crosby winning the game in the shootout.
Speaking of the Winter Classic, the idea itself is brilliant and went over very well in NHL circles. But holding the game on Jan. 1 still seems like a bad idea because of all the college football bowl games. Here are two thoughts:
One, hold the game on Christmas Day. Other than an NBA game or two, the sports calendar is pretty much wide open on Christmas and the NHL could get exposure like it has never had.
Here's an even better idea: play the NHL All-Star Game outside. The All-Star Game has become boring because no one hits and it doesn't resemble a real game. Well, this would add some pizzazz to a game that needs it. Yes, it means that you couldn't hold the All-Star Game in southern locations, but so what? An outdoor NHL All-Star Game would be a blast and could become the league's signature event.
Mike Wallace's highly anticipated 60 Minutes interview with Roger Clemens on Sunday night did not disappoint. The bulldog Wallace hammered away at Clemens' claim that he did not use steroids. Clemens was emphatic he did not, though he was not necessarily convincing. Several times he insisted that steroids "break down'' an athlete and that those who use them are "in and out'' of the game when that is, obviously, not the case. Many of his other answers ranged from evasive to "that’s not true.''
Wallace did ask the one question that you just can't get away from in this controversy. Why would the trainer accusing Clemens of taking steroids tell the Mitchell report the truth about Clemens’ buddy, Andy Pettitte, but lie about Clemens? Clemens did not even offer an explanation, choosing to say he was unaware of anything Pettitte might have done.
The interview moved us no closer to knowing the truth, but Wallace asked all the right questions. It remains to be seen — and we might never see — if Clemens gave the right answers.
Craziest story with the best quote
So did you see where the Bucs contacted ESPN analyst and former receiver Keyshawn Johnson about dusting off his cleats and coming back for the playoff run? Johnson confirmed it to Times Bucs writer Rick Stroud on Sunday, as well as to the Sunday NFL Countdown audience.
"I always said that if they pick up the phone and want me to help them make that run into the playoffs that same year, I had no problems doing it,'' Johnson said. "I don’t have a problem with Jon Gruden. I think we both understand football, we're both competitors and, look at it, George Steinbrenner hired Billy Martin several times.''
Most troubling thought
Lightning center Vinny Lecavalier continues to be the best player in the NHL this season. The best. By far. Way better than Sidney Crosby, Jarome Iginla and anyone else you want to throw out there. But if the Lightning can't rally to make the playoffs — and nothing suggests it'll come close — you have to wonder if Lecavalier even has a shot at the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player.
There are plenty of voters out there who, understandably, hesitate to give an MVP award to a player on a team that can't even make the playoffs. After all, how valuable is a player who plays on a team that is only three points ahead of the worst record in the NHL?
Most honest assessment
Kudos to Lightning broadcasters Rick Peckham and Bobby "Chief'' Taylor. Neither is shying away from the Lightning's problems in this seven-game losing streak. Chief, who has never been afraid to point out a bad play, needed to be hard on the bad overtime goal given up by goalie Johan Holmqvist against Ottawa on Saturday, and he was. "That's a shot that has to be stopped,'' Taylor said.
Geez, what has happened to Kentucky basketball?
Rival Louisville embarrassed the Wildcats on Saturday, beating them by 14. Kentucky is 6-7 including losses to Gardner-Webb and San Diego at home and Houston on the road. It has played two ranked teams and has been blown out in both games. Next up is No. 15 Vanderbilt. "Making the NCAA Tournament could still happen,'' CBS' Billy Packer said. "But they've got a lot of work to do.''
Maybe Tubby Smith is better off these days. His University of Minnesota Gophers haven't played a tough schedule, but at least they're 10-3, and their lone game against a ranked team was at least close: They lost 65-59 at Michigan State on Saturday.
On ESPN's Sports Reporters, Mike Lupica let the Steelers have it. "The Steelers turned out to be a fraud team,'' he said. He might not be far off, but it must be noted that the Steelers did lose the NFL's leading rusher (Willie Parker) and an All-Pro defensive lineman (Aaron Smith) to injuries down the stretch. True, everyone has injuries and the Steelers aren't as good as the Patriots and Colts, even with those guys, but it does explain their late-season fade. And even still they lost on a last-minute field goal to a team (Jacksonville) everyone seems to be in love with these days.
Once again, basketball coach Bob Knight shows what a jerk he can be. His latest stunt was Saturday. After his 899th victory, the Texas Tech coach dragged his 21-month-old grandson into the postgame news conference to help ridicule and show his disdain for the media. Worse yet, when asked if the victory would give his team momentum, Knight, with his grandson on his lap, said, "Who knows? I don't know any of that stuff. You guys read fairy tales on all that (expletive).''
Isn't that classy, cursing with a 21-month-old on your lap? And all you Knight lovers, save the e-mails. There's no defense for this behavior. It doesn't matter that his kids graduate and that he runs a clean program and all that stuff. So does Joe Paterno. So does Mike Krzyzewski. So did John Wooden and Dean Smith. And you never saw them act like this. Knight is a bully and a baby and an attention hound. His act is old and tired. Dealing with the media, helping to sell and respect the game of basketball is a part of being a coach. If he hates it so much, he should quit.
Anyone notice Jaguars quarterback David Garrard being interviewed on the field by NBC after Saturday night's victory against the Steelers? If so, in the background, you saw Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben didn't get to Garrard before NBC did, so he stood patiently for several minutes until Garrard's interview was done so he could congratulate Garrard on the victory.
Three things that popped into my head over the weekend
1. The Steelers are fortunate to have lost to the Jags on Saturday night because the Patriots would've destroyed them.
2. Playoffs? Playoffs?! The Lightning should worry about getting to .500 before it starts talking about making the playoffs.
3. There still is a huge gap between the Patriots/Colts and the rest of the AFC.