Shooting from the lip
Looking back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports ...
Best and worst event
The NHL All-Star Game on Sunday was fun to watch, though Versus fell a little too much in love with talking to players during the game. The NHL YoungStars Game and SuperSkills competition, meantime, were pure torture. Despite the NHL's best efforts to keep the skills moving along, it just comes off as flat, slow and boring. And didn't it seem like not all the lights were turned on inside Philips Arena during the skills? The hardest shot used to be mildly entertaining, but now everyone shoots about the same speed. Same with the fastest skater. Is it really entertaining to watch two guys race from the goal line to the other blue line? The whole race lasts five seconds. Breakaways are fun, but we see so much of that now anyway with shootouts to decide games. The target shooting is okay.
What does it all mean? Time to revamp the whole thing. Come up with new skills or games. Add some events that take longer than a few seconds or one shot.
Biggest waste of time
If Versus is going insist on talking to players so much during the NHL All-Star Game, don't ask them about the game, which is an exhibition not to be taken all that seriously anyway. Ask about their personal lives, ask about their teams, ask about their seasons. Ask which players they hung out with over the weekend. That's where the personality comes out. Asking about the score or the last play or "how does it feel to play in a game like this'' or some dumb question that is supposed to be an attempt at humor seems like a waste of time.
Most disappointing event
Despite a little prime-time coverage, the U.S. Figure Skating Championships came off as less than spectacular and it seemed more of a problem of the sport itself than NBC's coverage. (Though the once-charming Dick Button, more than he used to, sometimes doesn't know when to just shut up.)
Nope, something is missing and fans are noticing. Ratings continue to fall year after year and the USA Today's Christine Brennan, as much of an authority as anyone on figure skating, points out that the decline started at the exact moment of the judging scandal at the 2002 Olympics.
While Saturday night's women’s championship offered some drama, it was really a bad night for figure skating. The most recognizable name, defending champion Kimmie Meissner, finished seventh. Mirai Nagasu, just 14, was a breath of fresh air and won the championship, but she's too young to compete at the world championships. So is 15-year-old American Rachael Flatt, who finished second. So now the top two Americans can't compete in the worlds — another reason for American audiences to ignore the sport.
By now, you've heard that ESPN personality Dana Jacobson was suspended for a week by the Worldwide Leader because of her drunken rant at a roast for Mike & Mike (radio hosts Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic). Know what I find to be the craziest part of this story? That there was a roast for Mike & Mike. Seriously, what's next, a roast for John Clayton? Now that Dean Martin is gone, there should be no more roasts anyway.
ESPN's Outside the Lines pointed out this interesting fact: David Stern has been NBA commissioner longer than LeBron James has been alive. Stern has been the commish since February 1984. LeBron was born at the end of 1984.
Best announcing team
HBO's Boxing After Dark team of Bob Papa, Max Kellerman and Lennox Lewis was flawless covering the Eddie Chambers-Alexander Povetkin heavyweight fight Saturday night. Other announcing teams in all sports could learn a lesson from these three — just because it's a three-man booth, it doesn't mean someone has to be talking at all times. Sometimes silence is fine, and if you don't have anything to say, don't say it. And anytime one of these three did say something, it was worth listening to.
By the way, Povetkin outpointed Chambers in one of the more entertaining fights in the past few months.
It was a joy to listen again to Bud Collins, who showed he still has it while offering commentary during ESPN's coverage of the Australian Open. Why NBC would cut this guy out of its Wimbledon coverage remains a mystery … and a mistake.
Collins' best line of the weekend was criticizing all the players who yell "Come on!'' during a match: "That's Lleyton Hewitt's call,'' Collins said disgustedly during the women's final. "Now all the other players have picked up on it. Get your own expressions, kids!''
Most revealing game
It says something that a mediocre team from the Big East missing two players (UConn) went on the road and beat what might be the best team in the Big Ten (Indiana) on Saturday. Maybe it was just one game, but it lent some credence to a popular belief in college basketball circles that the Big East is grittier, more resilient and tougher, in general, than teams from the Big Ten. The ACC might be tougher, too. Something to keep an eye on during March Madness.
Most disturbing comment
Shame on ESPN's John Saunders, the normally outstanding host of the Sports Reporters who made a comment that makes everyone in the media look bad. His panel Sunday included the Boston Globe's Bob Ryan, Mike Lupica from the New York Daily News and Mitch Albom from the Detroit Free-Press. When kicking off the topic of the Super Bowl, Saunders started with Albom because, he said, "Mitch, you're the only impartial observer on this panel.''
Saunders should know better than to even hint that Lupica, Ryan or any member of the media is rooting for teams they cover. Most fans think that the media does root for teams and nothing could be further from the truth. Any media member worth anything never cares who wins or loses any game and Saunders should know that, and how frustrating it is for the media to hear such misguided beliefs from fans. His comment Sunday only added weight to the fans who think the media isn't objective.
Best new show
If you get a chance, try to catch one of the episodes of Framed on the Independent Film Channel. It's one of the more entertaining half-hours on TV these days as a celebrity gets together with an athlete for two days and the result is a short documentary directed by the celebrity. And the combinations of athletes and celebrities are inspired: actor Regina King with NFL star Vince Young, for example. Or Entourage star Emmanuelle Chriqui and the NBA's Baron Davis. Allen Iverson is directed by Nelly. So far, the best pairing has been Spanish actor Paz Vega and soccer's Thierry Henry. It's usually on Friday nights at 11. Check it out.
Biggest NHL news
Versus has exercised an option to remain the league's exclusive cable home through 2011. However, the NHL and ESPN could possibly still work a deal in which Versus would give up exclusive rights. Whatever that deal requires, the league needs to make that happen. Ratings for games are up on Versus to about 261,700 viewers per game from 195,666 a year ago, but the NHL needs to be on ESPN in some form.
I must admit, I was a little surprised that Colts coach Tony Dungy decided to return for another season. He has already won a Super Bowl and I assumed he would want to move on to another phase in his life. But on ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown, Tom Jackson offered up a pretty good theory on why Dungy is coming back.
"Coach Dungy is coming back for one reason,'' Jackson said. "He really likes the football team that he has and he feels that when they are healthy they are going to be able to do great things. I think the organization — and give them kudos — they understand clearly that it's appropriate that he be around for the opening of that new stadium after what he and general manager Bill Polian have been able to accomplish and put together one of the great organizations in sports.''