Shooting from the lip/June 13th edition
Looking back at a weekend of televised sports ...
One of the best things about watching sports on television is when you get that peerless alliance between a network and a specific sport. It's really quite rare, but there are certain networks that simply know how to cover a specific sport better than other networks. There's ESPN and college football. There's HBO and boxing. There's Fox and NASCAR.
And there's NBC and horse racing.
Once again, the best television event coverage of the weekend goes to NBC, this time for its sensational broadcast of Saturday's Belmont Stakes. It really is stunning just how good NBC's horse racing coverage is. Think about it. We're talking about a two-hour broadcast that is centered on a two-minute race in which the key athletes cannot speak. Yet the two hours fly by and leave you craving more.
Host Bob Costas and every analyst -- and there are slew of them -- are thoroughly knowledgeable and prepared. The production and planning are first-rate, leaving no downtime during what you would think would be a way-too-long "pregame'' show. The features are topical, not too long yet moving.
There were two highlights in Saturday's coverage. First was analyst Donna Brothers showing how jockeys deal with dirt and mud being kicked into their face by wearing several pairs of goggles and removing the outer one every so often. To demonstrate, Brothers sat on a fake horse while several people literally threw dirt into her face. Simple but innovative. And fun.
The other was a feature on the relationship between Animal Kingdom jockey John Velazquez and retired jockey legend Angel Cordero. Cordero has remained involved in horse racing, especially since his wife was killed in a hit-and-run accident in 2001. Cordero fell into a deep depression but has found a new purpose in mentoring Velazquez.
"I would say that he saved my life,'' Cordero said.
The worst part about Saturday’s race is it was the final Triple Crown race of the year.
Fans who watched the Rays-Orioles series over the weekend on Sun Sports noticed Todd Kalas, normally the sideline reporter, filled in for analyst Brian Anderson, who had the weekend off. Rays fans like Kalas, and it's easy to understand why. He's a good guy whose relaxed personality comes through the screen.
Kalas had a solid weekend working with Dewayne Staats. He didn't talk too much, which is actually a compliment. Too many substitute announcers insist on filling every second of dead air. But Kalas is sharp enough to know a good baseball broadcast is often about what is not said instead of just blabbing away for the sake of talking. Kalas also deserves credit for sticking to what he knows and avoiding what he doesn't know. In other words, he's not a former player with first-hand knowledge of what it's like to be a player in a certain situation. You could tell he spent the weekend doing homework and reporting and most of his analysis was based on those two things. He still occasionally refers to players by their first names or nicknames too often, but I think I have more of a problem with that than most viewers.
So in the end, Kalas and Staats made the weekend Rays games as enjoyable and professional as always. However, it will be nice to have Anderson back this week because Anderson played the game and can deftly apply those experiences to his role as analyst. Nothing can replace that.
Just last week in this space, I praised NBC hockey analyst Mike Milbury for his outrageous and brutally honest commentary. But there are serious side effects to having an analyst that candid. When your role is to brush up against the line of good taste, you run the risk of occasionally crossing that line. That's what happened last week when Milbury referred to Vancouver's Sedin twins (Daniel and Henrik) as "Thelma and Louise.''
Nothing wrong with criticizing the Sedins, who have not played well in the Stanley Cup final. But by calling them "Thelma and Louise,'' Milbury was inferring they were playing like less than men. Not only is that an undeserved insult to two players who have shown grit, courage and toughness throughout their careers, it was, when you think about it, an insult to women, too. It was Milbury trying to be controversial, outrageous and funny, but it came off as unfair, sexist and in very poor taste.
This sounds like a tired record: HBO Sports produced another documentary, and it's magnificent. The network seems incapable of putting out even a mediocre documentary, and the latest is among the best it has ever done. McEnroe/Borg: Fire & Ice made its debut Saturday night and explored the rivalry and friendship between tennis legends John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg.
The first 45 minutes of the hourlong film didn't reveal much that wasn't known before -- except I never knew the stoic Borg had a serious temper (like McEnroe) when he was a young player. Most who are old enough to have seen their classic 1980 Wimbledon final remember just how much of an impact that match had and how great this rivalry was. Those not old enough are in for a special treat.
But the last 15 minutes, which show Borg's abrupt retirement and the special bond between he and McEnroe, is captivating television. I wish I had more than two thumbs so I could give this doc more than two thumbs up.
Three media thoughts
1. Shaquille O'Neal's name has surfaced as a possible NBA analyst since he announced his retirement last week. But the biggest fish out there for a network might be Phil Jackson, the legendary coach who is taking at least a season off and maybe more. He's really smart, articulate and has a sense of humor. He seems perfect for an NBA job, especially as a game analyst.
2. The Warriors' gain is our loss. Golden State hired ABC/ESPN analyst Mark Jackson as coach, and now viewers have one fewer really good television analyst.
3. With so much of the Boston-Vancouver Stanley Cup final centering on the goaltending, NBC should have been using top-notch analyst and former goaltender Darren Pang more. He's involved in Versus’ pregame and postgame shows but should have more of an intermission presence on the NBC games.
Three things that popped into my head
1. Time never moves more slowly than when I'm watching a college baseball game. Yeesh.
2. Just fewer than 28,000 showed up to watch the U.S. national soccer team play at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday night in a meaningful match. Isn't that slightly disappointing?
3. Know what the Miami Heat needs to acquire in the offseason besides a little more depth? A little class.