Shooting from the lip/March 1 edition
Looking back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports ...
The USA-Canada hockey game Sunday was special; hockey at its absolute best and most thrilling. The game was well-played, and NBC's coverage, as expected with the masterful Mike Emrick on the microphone, was as good as the game. For hockey fans, it's the latest example of why we consider it the best sport in the world. It was a tournament and a gold-medal game that was more than anyone could've hoped for.
So, this isn't meant to rain on any parades. But …
Lets get over the notion that hockey games such as Sunday will be a major boost for the NHL in the United States and lead to a big blast in popularity. It's really too bad. But if the 1980 Miracle on Ice, which came at a time when the greatest player in the world (Wayne Gretzky) was starting his fabulous career, couldn't do it, nothing can. However, that doesn't mean the NHL should even consider dropping out of the Olympics. Any extra exposure is good exposure.
As ESPN Sports Reporters host John Saunders, a Canadian whose favorite sport is hockey, said: "Hockey will always be sports' ugly step-sister. Even those who don't really care seem to go out of their way to dislike the game. So if there's a chance to grab the spotlight every four years, hold on like Ryan Miller holds on to the puck. And maybe, just maybe, people will see the step-sister is something to see.''
The Olympics ended Sunday and, overall, NBC gets an A for its coverage. Many complained about so many events being shown on a delayed basis, but it seemed like the best strategy for NBC to edit long events and show them in prime time. That allowed NBC to offer a variety of sports in a neatly trimmed prime-time package. In today's Internet world, it was virtually impossible to avoid some results before watching, but it seemed a better alternative than sitting through dozens of figure skaters or skiers just to get to the six or seven that everyone wanted to see. Plus, you can't argue with the viewership numbers. Heading into Sunday's final day, 185 million Americans had watched the Games, which was only 2 million fewer than watched the Salt Lake City Games in 2002. When Sunday's numbers come in later Monday, these Games will challenge the 1994 Lillehammer Games, which was fueled by the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding soap opera and had 204 million viewers.
Well, the college hoops season starts smack-dab in the middle of college football, which seems to be growing in popularity each year. Meantime, the NFL has grown into a monster and now the Super Bowl has slid into February when it used to be played in mid January. This year, the Olympics have hogged the sports spotlight for the past two weeks and, through all of this, college basketball, despite ESPN's best efforts, has been lost in the shuffle.
But nothing has hurt college basketball more than the one-and-done rule, which allows players to leave for the NBA after one college season. These days, there are simply too many players we don't know because we haven't seen them long enough. By the time we become familiar with the college stars and their stories, they've already moved on to the NBA. Except for the diehards, fans now just wait until the conference tournaments and NCAA Tournament to start paying attention.
So now is when college basketball needs to pick up steam. The Olympics are over. Baseball's opening day and the NFL draft are still weeks away. The Masters isn't for another month. For the first time this season, college basketball will get some attention.
Best broadcasting team
The game of the day in college basketball Saturday was supposed to be Syracuse-Villanova, but the Orange crushed Villanova for an easy 95-77 victory before the largest on-campus crowd in NCAA regular-season history -- 34,616 at Syracuse’s Carrier Dome. But the game did offer what has become one of the better college hoops broadcast teams in the business — ESPN's Dan Shulman with Bob Knight and Jay Bilas. Knight and Bilas tend to think everything is "the greatest'' or "the best,'' but if you can get past all the superfluous praise, the analysis is solid. It's especially interesting to listen to Knight's take on a game. While he is one of the game's greatest coaches, Knight never really let anyone behind his coaching curtain when he was on the bench. Listening to him now lends some insight to what he was like as a coach.
Speaking of Knight, this was interesting. About Syracuse's ferocious zone defense, Knight said, "(It's) the best zone defense I’ve ever seen.''
Team of the day
ESPN's Baseball Tonight crew spent a portion of the show Sunday talking about the Rays, including an interview with third baseman Evan Longoria from Port Charlotte. Reporter Tim Kurkjian, in talking about Longoria's maturity and how to conduct oneself, said, "This guy gets it. He really understands it.''
The general consensus among the Baseball Tonight crew was that the Rays will challenge for the American League crown, specifically because the bullpen will be anchored by a reliable closer in Rafael Soriano. But the consensus also was this will be Carl Crawford's last season in Tampa Bay.
Three things that popped into my head
1. Aren't the Olympics' opening ceremonies always better than the closing ceremonies?
2. As great as the two hockey games between the USA and Canada were, how cool would it have been to see these teams play a best-of-seven series?
3. Athlete I've been impressed with over the past three weeks: race car driver Danica Patrick, who has shown a great sense of humility as she dips her toes into NASCAR.