Shooting from the lip/Feb. 22nd edition
Looking back at a weekend of televised sports ...
Best and worst coverage
Is the Daytona 500 over yet?
By far, the most common phrase used over the weekend on television was "We're under caution at Daytona.'' The Great American Race had a record 16 cautions, turning what should have been an exciting and entertaining broadcast into an assignment in endurance. The broadcast, including pre- and postrace shows, pushed six hours, adding fuel to the recent comments by Fox Sports chair David Hill, who said NASCAR races are too long.
Watching Fox's coverage was both interesting and infuriating. The prerace show was predictable and boring with the usual analysis and music from Brad Paisley, who seemed to be on for two hours playing the same song. As far as the race, Fox's broadcast managed to be among television's best and worst sports coverage all at the same time.
The production and direction, as always, were among the best you are going to find on sports television. The camera work, the nuts-and-bolts talk and the reports from the pit reporters leave the viewer wanting for nothing. All the crashes were fully dissected with revealing replays from every conceivable angle, breathtaking audio and interviews with the drivers. The pit reporters are the most useful sideline reporters in all of televised sports, always chock-full of useful information. The in-car communication between the drivers is remarkably compelling. And the announcers are incredibly knowledgeable about the sport and are outstanding at answering the questions that invariably are springing up in the minds of viewers.
But, and this is a big "but,'' race announcer Mike Joy and analysts Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds are so loathe to criticize anything that it often feels like an infomercial for NASCAR. Everyone is great. Everything is great.
There were 16 cautions and numerous crashes Sunday and, by listening to Fox's announcers, no one was blame. Even driver Jeff Gordon, during an in-race interview, criticized his fellow drivers for not showing enough patience and causing crashes. Funny, but that's the only time Waltrip had an opinion, and it was to offer up an excuse for all the drivers.
Waltrip and McReynolds seem like good guys. They obviously love NASCAR and know their stuff. They are down-to-earth, funny and can be entertaining and informative. Perhaps they are instructed by Fox to be positive. (Although, McReynolds last week even went as far as to encourage reporters to be more positive about NASCAR.) And, just maybe, NASCAR fans want their coverage to have a smiley face on it. But their lack of criticism makes you wonder if they aren't too close to the sport, the owners and the drivers to effectively do their jobs. Don't viewers want analysts to point out the bad and ugly along with the good?
If Joy, Waltrip and McReynolds could just be stronger with opinions, Fox's NASCAR coverage might be the best sports broadcast on television. Until then, it remains a glaring weakness in the coverage.
With the new pavement at Daytona, NASCAR drivers were scrambling to find partners to help draft Sunday. During one caution, apparently drivers were searching for new partners, leading Fox's Mike Joy to say, "It's looking more like a middle school dance all the time.''
Most surprising coverage
Give TNT high marks for an entertaining broadcast of what had become a rather stale made-for-television event: the NBA's Saturday night all-star show with the slam dunk, 3-point and skills contests. The show was watched by 8.1 million viewers, making it the most watched in its 26-year history. TNT reported that the previous record was 6.5 million in 2009. TNT and the NBA seemed to move the events along quicker, trimming a lot of the dead time that plagued this event in the past. The highlight was Clippers rookie sensation Blake Griffin jumping over a car to win the dunk contest. Although, am I crazy to point out that most of the dunkers Saturday night would have cleared a car on their dunks? Griffin was clever enough to bring out a car, but the dunk of the night was the Wizards' JaVale McGee dunking three basketballs at the same time. But, come on, no way a Wizard was going to beat Griffin in L.A. in a dunk contest.
Hockey Day in America
Taking a cue from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's "Hockey Day in Canada,'' NBC unveiled the inaugural "Hockey Day in America'' on Sunday with a doubleheader and grass-roots hockey features. (It was followed by Versus' coverage of the outdoor game between the Flames and Canadiens in Calgary.)
NBC did a solid job with the features, although it was a predictable paint-by-number series of stories to ensure diversity. There was a story on female players, African-American kids and military hockey players. The CBC has had a good head start, having produced 11 "Hockey Day in Canada'' broadcasts and its coverage includes more time for features. Still, the CBC features have been generally more poignant and tear-inducing than what NBC offered up Sunday. But if you're a hockey fan, you can only be encouraged by NBC's commitment to hockey, and Sunday's event certainly was a filling meal for diehards.
With NBC trying to beef up Versus' hockey coverage, why did it have its top broadcasting team of Mike Emrick, Ed Olczyk and Pierre McGuire call the Penguins-Blackhawks game instead of the Versus coverage of the outdoor game between the Canadiens and Flames?
I mention this every year, it seems. NASCAR is hugely popular in these parts, so how come not one of the three local all-sports radio stations pick up the radio broadcast of the Daytona 500?
Maybe it’s time for Jim Gray to sit out a few plays. Working for the Golf Channel, Gray broke a cardinal rule by speaking to a golfer during play. During Thursday's opening round of the Northern Trust Open, Gray asked Dustin Johnson about being penalized two strokes for being late for his tee time. Why Gray thought he could do that when every other golf reporter would never break such etiquette shows Gray's arrogance. Obviously, the Golf Channel thought it was serious because they yanked Gray off for the rest of the tournament.
A longtime sideline reporter, Gray is now known for four things, and none of them are good. He ambushed Pete Rose with gambling questions during an MLB All-Star Game. He got into a public shouting match with Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin. And he was an accomplice in the LeBron James' Decision show. Now this. There's a difference between being a hard-nosed reporter and an egomaniac who makes news as often as he covers it.
NBC hockey analyst Mike Milbury, after the rumors that Blackhawks star Patrick Kane enjoys the nightlife a little too much:
"You got to grow up, if you believe just half the stories you hear about Patrick Kane, he still has some growing up to do. Listen, nobody wants to take away his fun. He's a millionaire in a great city like Chicago. (He's) already reached the pinnacle of success in his profession (with a Stanley Cup), but if you're going to build a legacy over a decade or more, he's going to have to get a little bit more serious about how he approaches his profession.''
Three things that popped into my head
1. Maybe I'm wrong, but do fans really care about the ins and outs of the NFL labor situation? Fans, I'm guessing, want to know one thing: Just tell us when the next game is going to be played.
2. The fear early in the Lightning season was coach Guy Boucher's up-tempo style could lead to the team wearing down as the season progressed. Anyone getting a tad nervous that the team is running out of a gas?
3. Just asking: Would anyone be upset if sports leagues decided to cancel All-Star games?