Shooting from the lip/Jan. 25 edition
Looking back at a weekend of televised sports ...
Here's what we knew going into Sunday's AFC Championship: Peyton Manning was trying to get to his second Super Bowl by beating the upstart New York Jets. Here's what we knew going into Sunday's NFC Championship: 40-year-old Brett Favre was going against a Saints team that never had been to the Super Bowl. Both CBS and Fox could’ve beaten those stories to death. Neither did, and that's what made Sunday's broadcasts so enjoyable.
Both took the simple approach. The networks let the teams be the stars and let the games carry the broadcasts. Just because they were huge games with the winners going to the Super Bowl didn't mean they were more than just, well, a couple of football games. Despite covering important games, the networks didn't overdo it. CBS's Jim Nantz and Phil Simms were steady and professional as always. Fox's Joe Buck and Troy Aikman were steady and entertaining as always. And this will seem like a back-handed compliment, but it's a sincere one: Both broadcast teams never get in the way of the game. They know that people aren't there to watch or listen to them. People tune in for the game, and all four realize that the stars are on the field and not in the broadcast booth. They realize their job to enhance the experience, not overwhelm it. The best broadcasters in the game know that less is better -- a lesson Nantz, Simms, Buck and Aikman proved Sunday that they learned long ago.
Interesting that CBS and Fox took different approaches with their NFL pregame shows Sunday. Fox's crew went on the road to New Orleans, while CBS produced its show from its regular New York studios. In the end, there was no difference. In fact, if anything, the crowd at the Superdome was a bit of a distraction, but not so much that it affected Fox's show. It was also refreshing that both studio shows decided to ditch their cornball jokes and immature trash talk and stick to football. That made for much better shows.
Who knows what to make of this whole Urban Meyer thing? The Florida coach retired. Then unretired. Then he said he is taking a leave of absence that, when it's all said and done, won't look like a leave at all. He's still recruiting. He still plans on coaching in the spring. What has changed other than Meyer making a few announcements that turned out to be much ado about nothing?
What Meyer does is his business, but does anyone remember his daughter, Nikki, reportedly saying "I finally get my dad back'' when Meyer originally announced he was stepping down? Miami Herald columnist Israel Gutierrez remembered. On Sunday's Sports Reporters on ESPN, Gutierrez said, "Urban Meyer now says he won't miss next season. He won't even miss spring practice. Apparently, Nikki Meyer will never get her dad back.''
First, let me say I'm a big fan of Sun Sports' Paul Kennedy. Between working as a pregame/intermission host and sideline reporter for both the Lightning and Magic, Kennedy is working and/or traveling pretty much every day from October through April. It's a wonder the guy can even keep his eyes open let alone do the fabulous work that he does -- and it is fabulous and professional at the highest level.
But having said all that, Kennedy might owe former Lightning defenseman Pavel Kubina an apology. During an intermission spot Saturday night, Kennedy asked partner Chris Dingman if Kubina, now with the Thrashers, "broke the code'' by leveling Lightning star Marty St. Louis with a check. The implication was Kubina went after a smaller star from another team. Kennedy compounded the implication by asking Dingman if the Lightning needed to go after Kubina.
The problem was the hit was simply an accidental collision. The official called a penalty on Kubina for interference, but Kubina wasn't "targeting'' St. Louis. Even St. Louis agreed it was an accident and went as far as to say, perhaps, he should've been penalized for interference. Regardless, those who have followed Kubina's career -- and certainly Kennedy has seen him as much as anyone -- know that Kubina is a physical player, but he's not a dirty one without honor. To ask if Kubina broke a code was unfair to Kubina. It was also a little disappointing that Dingman seemed to follow Kennedy's lead instead of recognizing the hit wasn't intentional or that Kubina is not the type of player to go head-hunting, especially one he was teammates with for six years.
But to reiterate, if I started my own sports network, one of my first moves would be to hire Paul Kennedy.
Best radio color man
Man, I could listen to Phil Esposito all day and night. The Lightning's radio color man isn't polished, occasionally talks when he shouldn't be talking, yells out words that aren't even words and you get the feeling that he starts preparing for the game a minute before he goes on air. But he's outspoken and honest. He doesn't seem to have a filter between his head and mouth -- and I mean that in a good way. And because we're so used to him in these parts it's easy to forget that he is one of the greatest players to ever play the game. So when he talks, he's credible.
Most compelling line
You have to wonder if former baseball slugger Mark McGwire did more harm than good with his admission that he took steroids. Sure, he admitted it, though all he did was tell us something we already knew. But his insistence that it had nothing to do with his ability to hit homers comes off as absurd. Curtis Wenzlaff, a trainer who supplied steroids to McGwire, gave an exclusive interview Sunday to ESPN's Outside the Lines and when asked how McGwire might have benefitted from the specific doses he was taking, he had a chilling answer:
"If Paris Hilton were to take that array, she could run over Dick Butkus.''
Plenty have taken shots at Mark McGwire for his I-did-steroids-but-they-didn't-help-me-hit-homers mea culpa, but no one took a sledgehammer to him quite like Bryant Gumbel in the latest HBO's Real Sports episode. Gumbel offers the most fearless sports commentary on television, and his latest rant had more bite than normal. Gumbel had a message for others who are thinking about admitting steroid use and used McGwire's disclosure as how not to do it.
"If and when you're ready to come clean, don't insult us with talk of how much of what you did was God-given and how much was chemically induced. Let us figure that out, okay?'' Gumble said. "And don't play us for idiots. Spare us the lies about talking 'roids for health reasons. We're all grown-ups. You took stuff for the same reason most of us break or bend rules. You thought you could get away with it. And you did.''
Warren Sapp is really, really good as an analyst on NFL Network. And he had one of the best lines of the weekend when talking about what it takes to win in the NFL.
"Defense doesn't win championships,'' Sapp said. "It just gives you a chance. Offense has to win it for you.''