Shooting from the lip/May 23rd edition
Looking back at a weekend of televised sports ...
Broadcasting two hours of pregame seems a bit much for a two-minute horse race, unless you're talking about NBC's coverage of Saturday's Preakness. The network has this horse racing thing down pat, as we saw just two weeks ago with the Kentucky Derby. Hosted by the incomparable Bob Costas, who is every bit as good on horse racing as he is on baseball and football, the show is fast-paced, whirling from analyst to analyst and feature to feature and news story to news story. Updated odds are dropped in throughout the broadcast. The two hours fly by, and the coverage is so good that it's almost disappointing that it has to end when the race arrives.
NBC loads up on expert analysts with Gary Stevens and Donna Brothers leading the way. The storytelling was compelling, even to those who aren't horse fans. It's even more impressive when you realize the show was put together in the past two weeks since most of the story lines came out of the Kentucky Derby. Saturday's top features:
• The story of Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom.
• The story of jockey Robby Albarado, whose checkered life (including a no-contact order from his wife) seemed to be turning for the better until he was removed from riding Animal Kingdom the day before the Kentucky Derby because he was kicked in the face by a horse.
• The story of Noah Grove, son of trainer Chris Grove. Noah, 12, lost his leg because of cancer but continues to lead an extraordinary life.
All in all, it was an outstanding two hours of coverage. And this praise comes from someone who is not even a horse racing fan. But good television is good television, and NBC's coverage of horse racing is the definition of good television.
During NBC's Preakness Stakes coverage, host Bob Costas had all the right questions for Animal Kingdom owner Bill Irwin. He asked about changing jockeys the day before the Kentucky Derby, he got Irwin to admit that most trainers lie to their owners about the condition of the horses and revealed Irwin's insistence that his horses are never given drugs. Costas even reported that Irwin beefed up security for Animal Kingdom for fear that someone would tamper with his horse.
"I am outspoken,'' Irwin said. "I'm like a perfect target. I am sure some people would like to see some of my horses come up with a positive (drug test) and say, 'See, he’s just like all these other guys.' ''
Interviews like this remind us why Costas is so well-respected in the business.
Most intriguing perceptions
During Saturday's Lightning-Bruins game, the Lightning's Steve Downie was called for diving -- essentially faking or embellishing -- by referee Tim Peel after being knocked headfirst into the boards by Nathan Horton of the Bruins. Horton was penalized, but so was Downie. Turns out, Downie apparently suffered a head injury, did not return and might not play in tonight's Game 5.
Immediately after the call and before Downie went to the locker room, NBC's Joe Micheletti said, "I think the second part of this is embellishment.'' But then Micheletti quickly backed off those comments and offered a good explanation for what Peel was thinking by noticing how quickly Downie got back on his skates.
On Canada's TSN, Pierre McGuire was more blunt: "That's bad refereeing!''
While discussing the Lightning-Bruins series during Sunday's coverage of the Canucks-Sharks Western Conference final, NBC's Pierre McGuire said the most interesting matchup in Game 5 will be between Tampa Bay’' Vinny Lecavalier and Boston's Zdeno Chara. Broadcast partner Mike Milbury said, "The most interesting matchup is (Lightning goalie ) Dwayne Roloson vs. himself. He has got to get himself together.''
Over the past couple of weeks, I've received a few e-mails from fans who questioned whether Rays announcers Dwayne Staats and Brian Anderson were too laid-back and, occasionally, too silly during the Sun Sports broadcasts. One reader wrote that they were "a little too loose.'' Another wrote, "They never stop talking and often about off-topic, inane things.''
It's a fair question, especially if that's how someone perceives it.
It's true that the two are much less stiff than when Staats was paired with Kevin Kennedy last season and Joe Magrane before that. Magrane's sense of humor was much drier than Anderson's. Personally, I think Staats and Anderson have a good balance of analyzing the game and seeing the lighter side of things, but it does appear that some viewers want more meat and potatoes than grins and giggles.
Great job by Sun Sports on Sunday to show a replay of the mother of Rays infielder Sean Rodriguez immediately after Rodriguez was hit by a pitch. She looked like she was ready to charge the mound.
ESPN's Outside the Lines offered up two excellent pieces Sunday. The first was T.J. Quinn reporting on the latest allegations that Lance Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs during his cycling career. (CBS's 60 Minutes interviewed on Sunday night former Armstrong teammate Tyler Hamilton, who accused Armstrong of doping. If you’re keeping score at home, that's reportedly four former teammates who claim Armstrong was doping.)
The second OTL feature was Shelley Smith catching up with former professional golfer Casey Martin, who 10 years ago sued the PGA Tour so he could ride a cart because of a debilitating leg injury. The piece included the taped depositions of Arnie Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, who testified for the tour and against Casey. Palmer came off looking like a putz by saying: "I think we may not have a tour. It may disappear.''
That could be one of the dumbest things anyone has ever said. Everyone loves Arnie and Jack, but the two testifying to keep Martin from using a cart for legitimate health reasons will forever paint them as bad guys in my book. Put PGA Tour president Tim Finchem in that group, as well. Forget about the golf and the integrity of the game and all that baloney. There are some things in life more important than that.
Martin ended up winning his case and, lo and behold, the tour didn't turn to ashes as Palmer predicted and didn't give Martin any advantages as Nicklaus said it would. By the way, Martin is now a successful golf coach at the University of Oregon.
Does any team want to be the subject of HBO's Hard Knocks, which gives viewers an inside look at an NFL team during training camp? Reportedly, the Lions are the latest team to turn down HBO, following the Bucs and Broncos. Next in line could be the Falcons, who reportedly are open to letting HBO cameras inside of their camp.
Three things that popped into my head
1. Isn't it practically impossible to take ESPN hockey analyst Barry Melrose seriously knowing what a mess he was as coach of the Lightning?
2. A year ago, how many Rays fans would've cared if the team traded pitcher James Shields? … And now?
3. Next month's Belmont became a lot less exciting at about 6:15 Saturday evening. Hard to believe that it's now 33 years and counting since the last Triple Crown winner.