Shooting from the lip/Feb. 22
Looking back at a weekend of televised sports ...
Today is the 30th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice, and the story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team beating the then-Soviet Union on its way to a gold medal never ever gets old. We've heard all the stories and seen all the images a thousand times -- coach Herb Brooks’ speeches, goalie Jim Craig draped in an American flag looking for his father in the stands, the victory against Russia, then against Finland, the players standing as one on the medal podium. And the stories never grow tiresome; they still raise goose bumps.
During Sunday's Olympics coverage on NBC, Al Michaels -- who called the 1980 tournament for ABC, highlighted by his famous "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!'' -- hosted a stirring taped piece about the event. On the ice at the hockey arena (now known as the Herb Brooks Arena) in Lake Placid, N.Y., Michaels had a conversation with Craig, captain Mike Eruzione and scoring star Mark Johnson in between highlights. Other than the revelation that Johnson played much of the tournament with a separated shoulder, there was nothing new in the piece. But retelling the story with four men who had such an impact -- and, yes, Michaels is among those four -- was more than enough to make the piece special.
Why does it still resonate so strongly? Eruzione has a theory as good as any. Depending on one's age, people remember exactly where they were on D-Day, or 9-11 or when John F. Kennedy was shot. And they remember where they were when the United States beat Russia.
"Of all those events, that one is a good memory,'' Eruzione said. "That day was a good thing.''
ESPN's Outside the Lines also looked back Sunday at the Miracle on Ice and actually had a few new nuggets in its piece. The show talked to former M*A*S*H star Jamie Farr, who (and it's verified with archive footage) scored a ticket for the game and chanted "U-S-A! U-S-A!'' in the middle of a group of Russian officials and fans. The piece also revealed that goalie Jim Craig was briefly knocked out during a goalmouth scrum in the second period and, for the first time I've ever seen, had an interview with the Finnish referee who called the game.
So why was the U.S-Canada hockey game on MSNBC Sunday night instead of NBC? Simple: NBC was going to get better ratings showing figure skating on NBC than had it showed hockey. Also, there's this: NBC's prime-time show is designed to move from event to event and offer a smorgasbord of events. It doesn't want to have a whole three-hour block tied up by one sport.
Best of the Olympics
Headed into Sunday, more than half of all Americans (162 million) have watched the Vancouver Olympics on NBC and its sister stations. That's 5 million more than watched the first nine days of the 2006 Winter Games. While there have been complaints about what NBC is showing live and what it is showing on tape, the network's coverage has been outstanding. Here's the best of what I've liked so far:
Best play-by-play announcers: Mike Emrick (hockey) is not only the best play-by-play announcer in these Olympics, but is the best pound-for-pound play-by-play announcer in all of sports. Other Olympic favorites: Tim Ryan (alpine skiing), Ted Robinson (short-track speed skating) and Al Trautwig (cross country and biathlon).
Best analysts: What's most impressive about NBC's coverage is just how good all the analysts have been. All have been very viewer-friendly, which is remarkable because they are talking about sports most of us watch only once every four years. No one has been better at explaining his sport, and predicting strategy and technique than curling analyst Don Duguid. He has been my No. 1 star among broadcasters in these Olympics. The best of the rest include Scott Hamilton (figure skating), Ed Olczyk (hockey) and Christin Cooper (Alpine skiing).
Best studio team: Watching hockey's Mike Milbury and Jeremy Roenick needle one another has been a blast. Roenick started off slow, but once Milbury started to engage him in playful teasing, the two have become can't-miss TV.
Most weepy reaction
Is there crying in broadcasting? Apparently so. Golf Channel analyst Charlie Rymer was brought to tears on camera as he talked about Tiger Woods' mea culpa Friday. Personally, I find it hard to be broken up by listening to a guy apologize for the things Woods has done, but Rymer has a right to react however he wants, just as critics should be allowed to yell and wag a finger as they question Tiger's sincerity. But Rymer's blubbering only adds to the popular belief that the Golf Channel is a shill for Woods.
Speaking of Woods, my take is no matter what he said, he was going to be criticized by some that he didn't say enough or didn't seem sincere enough. When you think about it, what more could he have really said?
However, my beef was with the two times he showed real emotion and anger. One was when he criticized those who suggested his wife, Elin, had attacked him. The other was when he scolded photographers for trying to take photos of his family. First, if you're going to wait three months to say anything -- remember, his car "accident'' happened on Thanksgiving night -- you can't be upset when people speculate what might have happened. Secondly, Woods is to be blamed for those following him and his family. If he had acted like a decent father and husband, Woods would've have been playing golf Friday instead of making apologies. All of this -- every single bit -- is Woods' fault.
Smart decision by ESPN's Sports Reporters to include a female voice -- in this case, ESPN's Hannah Storm -- on its panel as it discussed the Tiger Woods scandal. Storm offered the perspective of not only a female, but a mother. However, New York Times columnist Bill Rhoden offered up the most interesting thoughts as he said: "(Woods) was apologizing to his sponsors. And to that extent, the troublesome thing is he still seems to be addicted to his image -- and that's problematic.”
Best special guest
Not only did Wayne Gretzky attend Saturday's late-night curling match between Canadian men and Great Britain, but he offered a pleasant surprise by joining CNBC's broadcast for a few minutes. At one point, curling analyst Colleen Jones asked Gretzky what shot the Brits should make, and Gretzky responded by saying he was a curling novice.
"You're the Great One, for crying out loud,'' Jones said.
Gretzky deadpanned: "I used to be.''
Three things that popped into my head
1. Prediction: Jaromir Jagr will play in the NHL next season, and he will still be a major force.
2. Prediction: Getting Antawn Jamison makes the Cavs the team to beat in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, but the Lakers remain the team to beat in all of the NBA.
3. It's great that IOC president Jacques Rogge promises to take all the steps necessary to make luge safe. But his vigilance is coming about two weeks too late.