Shooting from the lip/Dec. 20th edition
Looking back at a weekend of televised sports ...
Anniversary of the day, Part I
Legendary announcer Howard Cosell officially retired as a broadcaster from ABC 25 years ago today -- Dec. 20, 1985. He died in 1995 at the age of 77. Cosell was one of the most polarizing figures in sports history. You either loved him or hated him. There was no in between. Count me as someone who loved him. Whether it was a Monday Night Football game, a World Series game or a championship boxing match, if Cosell was behind the microphone, it was a big event. Cosell's dramatic style only enhanced the caliber of the game.
Whether you liked him or not, there's no question that there has never been anyone like him before or since. Think about it. Has there been an announcer since Cosell retired who has reached Cosell’s stature? John Madden was unique and ushered in a new style of broadcasting, but he called only football. There are plenty of big-game voices who have made an impact -- Bob Costas, Jim Nantz, Brent Musburger, Dick Enberg, Curt Gowdy, Pat Summerall, Al Michaels -- but they are either hosts or play-by-play guys. Cosell did it all, and he did it better than anyone. It hasn't been the same in the past 25 years.
Anniversary of the day, Part II
Those of you in your mid 30s or younger might not know that NBC once broadcast an NFL game with no announcers. In fact, it was 30 years ago today -- Dec. 20, 1980 -- when NBC decided to go without announcers for what was a meaningless game as the Jets, 3-12, took on the Dolphins, 8-7 with no shot at the postseason, in the season finale for both . For a nothing game, it was worth trying and, according to a recent ESPN story, NBC registered 1,349 phone calls that day with 831 in favor of the experiment. But those who remember watching the game will tell you it was a startling experience and the announcers were missed. (Although, some viewers today probably wouldn't mind not hearing certain announcers. Joe Theismann, anyone?)
NBC used many more graphics than were typically used at the time to keep viewers up to speed on the game. But the most interesting thing is NBC had the capability of putting a box in the corner of the screen with the time and score. The little box didn't become used until Fox did it in 1994. When Fox added the scoreboard box, many viewers vehemently complained about the intrusion, but can you imagine watching any sporting event now without it? And to think, it could have been introduced 14 years earlier.
No one is suggesting that Donovan McNabb has had a good season with the Redskins or that he didn't deserve to lose his starting job. But everyone seems to be in agreement that coach Mike Shanahan completely butchered the situation. The Sunday pregame shows killed Shanahan.
ESPN's Keyshawn Johnson ripped into Shanahan, pointing out that Shanahan has never done anything in the NFL without John Elway. Johnson's partner, Cris Carter, said no elite player has had to go through what McNabb has gone through in Washington. Even old-school type Mike Ditka, of ESPN, said: "You have humiliated a kid who has played in the league at a very high level for a long time now.''
Fox's Howie Long said Shanahan and the Redskins have handled the situation "without class.''
Finally, ESPN's Tom Jackson, one of the most level-headed voices on television, said, "He hasn't played well, but he doesn't deserve this. It's been one of the strangest careers in the history of football with what he's accomplished and what he's gotten in return.''
When Jackson talks, it's worth listening … and believing.
I am one of the few people left on earth who likes the bowl system as opposed to a college football playoff because it improves the quality and importance of the regular season. However, I was midway through the very first bowl game -- the New Mexico Bowl or some such thing -- when I was already tired of the bowl season, at least until New Year's Day.
Some won't be happy until there is a playoff, but the current system is made worse by the current bowl format. There are 34 bowl games -- about a dozen too many -- before the national championship game. There are six bowl games, not counting the title game, after Jan. 1, including bowls such as BBVA Compass, the GoDaddy.com and Kraft Fight Hunger.
Here's how to fix this, short of going to a playoff: Cut the bowl season down to 25 games. I have no problem with 50 teams going to a bowl. Limit the New Year's Day bowl games to four, the way it used to be -- Cotton, Rose, Orange and Sugar. All other bowls have to be played before then. Play the national championship on Jan. 2. And that's it. Season over. No, it won't placate those who want a playoff, but it will be better than the way things are set up now.
Thrashers forward Eric Boulton has never been a clean player. Several times in his career, he has delivered cheap shots, and his knee-to-knee hit on the Lightning's Nate Thompson last week was flat-out dirty. Boulton defended himself, saying the hit was not intentional. That's fine, he has that right. But he also said, "Who’s Nate Thompson?''
This, coming from a guy with 25 goals in 508 career NHL games. The only reason anyone knows his name is because it comes up every so often after one of his dirty hits. It would have been a bush-league thing to say even if a star such as Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin had said that. But Boulton? Who's Eric Boulton?
The best televised sporting event of the weekend -- by far -- was NBC's taped coverage of the Ironman Triathlon from Hawaii on Saturday. NBC neatly wraps up the long day's event into a tight two-hour production with highlights, flashbacks, interviews and compelling back stories. The writing was exceptional, the direction and production were first-rate. The only bad thing that can be said about the broadcast is that it's impossible to get through without shedding a tear or two from all the stories -- some inspirational and some heartbreaking. This was among the best televised sports events -- no, change that to the one of the best things on all of television -- this year.
Three things that popped into my head
1. All the Magic trades do not make Orlando better than the Heat, but the Magic is better built for the playoffs than it was a week ago.
2. Hockey fans might be in a panic that former Major League Baseball union head Don Fehr has taken over the NHL players' association, but Fehr correctly points out that baseball hasn't had any labor unrest since the 1994 strike. That's not to say Fehr is perfect. After all, he is as responsible as MLB commissioner Bud Selig for allowing steroid use to get out of control during the 1990s.
3. Favorite point of the weekend came from Mitch Albom on ESPN's Sports Reporters: Let's stop praising athletes for turning down more money somewhere else when they sign $100 million contracts (see: LeBron James, Cliff Lee). Settling for $100 million is not really a hardship.