Shooting from the lip/Jan. 3rd edition
Looking back at a weekend of televised sports ...
Once again, the best broadcast of New Year's Day was NBC's coverage of the NHL Winter Classic outdoor hockey game, which is becoming the premier sporting event of Jan. 1. NBC had to change on the fly with the game being switched from 1 to 8 p.m. because of rain, but it handled the switch smoothly. The show's opening -- featuring shots of kids playing on outdoor rinks and childhood photos and stories of such stars as Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin -- set the right tone. Host Bob Costas, not known for his hockey knowledge, proved there is no event that he cannot handle in superior fashion. Game announcers Mike Emrick, Ed Olczyk, Pierre McGuire and Darren Pang brought their usual A-game, which is always stunning considering you have four broadcasters calling such a fast-paced sport. Even the offbeat camera angles were welcome for a game that is more about the overall event than the actual contest. Yet, when the game got down to the nitty-gritty, the outcome became the focus. A near-perfect night for NBC.
ABC gets a thumbs-up for its coverage of the Outback Bowl and, in particular, the fact that it was Urban Meyer's final game as the Gators coach. Of course, the story angle was an easy one, especially because the game itself was hardly noteworthy with a pair of underachieving, mediocre 7-5 teams. Yet ABC struck the right balance between acknowledging that it was Meyer's final game and not going overboard. The network used nice hustle to show live shots and replays of Meyer on the sideline with his family in the game's final moments, as well as his postgame meeting with Penn State's Joe Paterno. Sideline reporters rarely bring anything to a game, but ABC/ESPN's Suzy Kolber is an exception. She showed why she is so valuable with an insightful postgame interview with Meyer.
Fox's Brian Billick, certainly among the top five of NFL analysts, had a great line when the Saints' Tracy Porter was called for offsides on a Bucs field-goal attempt, giving the Bucs a first down at the Saints 14.
"You could choke him to death and not a jury in the world would convict you,'' Billick said.
Here's hoping Jon Gruden doesn't get an NFL coaching job because he would be missed in the broadcast booth. Gruden did a superb job calling the Outback Bowl with Monday Night Football partner Mike Tirico. His highlight moment came when he noticed that the Gators had suffered an injury to a defensive back and said Penn State should immediately attack the Gators with a long pass. One play later, Penn State completed a 44-yard bomb to the Gators 1-yard line.
Most interesting feature
ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown did an excellent piece on NFL players trying to attain incentive bonuses in their contracts in the last game of the season. It's easy to criticize players for putting individual performances ahead of the team, but, geez, there's a lot of money involved. Analyst Keyshawn Johnson said he once went into the final game needing 57 receiving yards to reach a $500,000 bonus. That's not loose change. That's a half-a-million dollars.
Johnson said, "I'm going to play to win the game. But I am mindful that I had these (incentives) in my contract. Who wouldn't be?''
But leave it to analyst Tom Jackson to put it all in perspective: "I am not arguing with the fact that anybody would take the money if it is offered. I am wondering why it is offered. Julius Peppers, if I signed a $90 million contract, why would you give me $100,000 to go to the Pro Bowl? With $90 million, I expect you to go to the Pro Bowl.''
Near the end of TCU's victory against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit wondered aloud if the Horned Frogs victory was the type of win that could ultimately influence the BCS to change how it determines a national champion. It's an interesting point, but we've seen such victories in the past with Boise State beating Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl and Utah beating Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl, and nothing has really changed. Instead of waiting for the BCS to change, TCU did the smart thing and took action itself by jumping to the Big East.
Predictions of the day
Okay, get out your scorecard and let's see how Fox NFL analyst Jay Glazer does with his coaching predictions. Glazer predicts that the 49ers will make a run at Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh and that if Harbaugh isn't interested, they'll turn to either John Fox, who is out in Carolina; Brian Billick, formerly of the Ravens; or Jon Gruden. He predicts that Tom Coughlin will survive with the Giants but that Eric Mangini is out in Cleveland and could be replaced by Fox unless team president Mike Holmgren decides to go back to the sideline.
Fox NFL Today analyst Terry Bradshaw handed out his "Terry Awards'' on Sunday. (Gee, how much time went into thinking up an inventive name for those awards?) Anyway, the awards were so predicable that you have to wonder what the point was. Bradshaw picked Michael Vick (NFC player of the year), Tom Brady (AFC player of the year), Mike Smith (NFC coach), Bill Belichick (AFC coach) and Albert Haynesworth (most disappointing). Ho hum. But a couple of Bucs did make Bradshaw's list. Quarterback Josh Freeman was picked as "sophomore of the year'' and the Bucs cheerleaders were picked as "under-appreciated cheerleaders.'' Actually, I'm not quite sure what that last one means.
Now that the 2011 Winter Classic has continued the NHL's successful streak of outdoor games, it's time to start thinking about next season's game. There have been outdoor games in Buffalo, Chicago, Boston and Pittsburgh, and it only makes sense to get the game to New York City, which, you would think, would give the league the most media coverage. There's a groundswell to play a game in Central Park between the Rangers and their archrivals, the Islanders. But the Islanders are so pathetic that they don't make much sense for such a high-profile game. So far, the game has featured teams from traditional hockey markets, and it might be time to include a team from the Sun Belt or out west. How about Kings-Rangers in Central Park? Or, here's a wild suggestion, how about if the Rangers host one of the most exciting players in the world -- the Lightning's Steven Stamkos? Then again, I still think playing the All-Star Game outdoors is the way to go.
Three things that popped into my head
1. Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman was correct in thinking that the team needed a goaltender and made a smart move by picking up Dwayne Roloson from the Islanders. Roloson might not steal a ton of games, but he isn't going to lose any by giving up soft goals.
2. Aren't the BCS bowl games so much more enjoyable with ESPN carrying them instead of Fox?
3. How can the Bucs' Raheem Morris not be NFL coach of the year?