Shooting from the lip/May 7th edition
Looking back at a weekend of televised sports ...
Here's how you know something on television is really, really good: When you don't care all that much about the subject matter, yet you can't change the channel. That's how I feel about NBC's horse racing coverage, and in particular, the Kentucky Derby. Horse racing? I can take it or leave it. NBC's coverage of horse racing? I can't miss it.
Saturday's coverage of the Kentucky Derby will end up on the short list of the best sports television of the year. NBC expertly walks the fine line between making the show informative to avid horse racing fans, yet fun for the large majority who won't watch another horse race the rest of the year. And it did that for a pregame show that was more than three hours long. It's hard to make anything interesting for three hours, but NBC, led by incomparable host Bob Costas, did that by keeping the pace quick and offering fun and unexpected features.
For horse racing fans, NBC consistently updated the latest odds and had compelling pieces on the horses, owners, trainers and jockeys. The best owner feature was on Phyllis Wyeth, owner of Union Rags. She is confined to a wheelchair because of a car crash, but it was her love for Union Rags that was the central part of her story. She once sold the horse for $145,000 but missed him so much that she bought him back for $390,000.
Meantime, the rest of us who are not necessarily horse racing fans still enjoyed other features, such as the Today show’s Jenna Wolf hosting a superb piece on thoroughbred breeding. She went to a horse farm and reported on all stages of the process, including the birth of a foal and watching him take his first steps 45 minutes after he was born. Six hours later, he was running. The piece was a simple idea that was splendidly executed. It was funny and poignant and just one of the highlights of an outstanding afternoon of coverage.
The show was so good that this non-horse racing fan can't wait until NBC’s coverage of the Preakness on May 19.
Each game, it seems, NBC NHL analyst Pierre McGuire shows why he is so valuable stationed between the benches. The latest example was Saturday.
With the Rangers and Capitals tied at 2 in the third period, Rangers star Marian Gaborik passed during an odd-man break instead of taking a shot, and the rush ended without a decent scoring opportunity. Analyst Eddie Olczyk immediately said, "Gaborik has got to shoot the puck there.''
McGuire responded: "Absolutely.''
McGuire then smartly followed Gaborik with eyes and ears back to the bench and told fans that Gaborik was swearing in his native Slovak. McGuire, a former NHL coach, then continued to show his coaching and reporting instincts and watched the bench as Rangers coach John Tortorella, upset the Gaborik didn't shoot the puck, walked behind Gaborik and yelled, "Make a difference! Make a difference!''
Best of all, NBC’s crew was paying attention, too. A camera stayed with Gaborik, and viewers were able to watch a replay of Tortorella yelling at Gaborik. That's first-rate TV.
Biggest pet peeve
CBS loves to turn its on-course microphones up so loud during its golf coverage that announcers are often difficult to hear if there is even mild applause from the gallery. And if there is a loud roar from the crowd, forget it. You have no chance to hear anything the announcers are saying.
I could be a wiseguy and say the CBS announcers, save for Nick Faldo, don't say much that's all that interesting or informative anyway.
Fox's pregame of the baseball Game of the Week has been outstanding this season, mostly thanks to analysts Harold Reynolds and Kevin Millar. Reynolds had a great point Saturday about why so many of baseball’s closers are having injury issues.
"I think the big thing we have with all the closers (is) they don't work enough in spring training,'' Reynolds said. "I don’t think guys are in shape, and it's no surprise that they are falling by the wayside.''
Many lament that there seems to be a real void in the next generation of top-flight announcers, those who someday will take over for Bob Costas, Al Michaels and so forth. But here's someone who’s young and impressive and well on his way to being a fixture for years to come: Liam McHugh.
A former sports writer for New York's Newsday, McHugh, 34, serves as the weekend host for NBC Sports and has been the lead host on NBC's and NBC Sports Network's hockey coverage. He is calm and controlled, yet enthusiastic and engaging. He is especially quick and skilled managing NBC's large hockey personalities, such as Mike Milbury, Keith Jones and Jeremy Roenick.
Costas is so good that it's unfair to call McHugh (or anyone, for that matter) the "next Costas,''but McHugh has a chance to be a future great.
For the second week in a row, Fox's baseball Game of the Week had a great in-game interview, weeks after I wrote that networks should scrap such interviews because nothing is ever said in them. Saturday, Fox interviewed Tigers ace Justin Verlander, who showed a great sense of humor while also educating viewers by answering questions about pitchers' mechanics.
Look, I know Albert Pujols isn't happy about his slow start with the Angels, but don't be a jerk to the media and force your manager to answer for your problems. After starting the season with a .194 average, no homers and five RBIs, Pujols was told by manager Mike Scioscia that he was going to be given a day off Saturday. When asked to discuss it with writers, Pujols snapped: "Go ask the manager. I don't make the lineup.''
Really? You barely do a thing at the plate all season and now you're going to cop an attitude and force Scioscia to answer questions about your pouting? Why not just man up and say: "Hey, I'm struggling. A day off would probably help, and I'll try anything that Mike suggests.''
Turns out Scioscia made the smart move. Pujols returned to the lineup Sunday and hit his first homer of the season.
Giants QB Eli Manning hosted Saturday Night Live, and though he wasn't quite as good as his brother Peyton was when he hosted, Eli did a solid job. Better than Joe Montana, anyway.
Three things that popped into my head
1. So if the NFL players union is going to fight the Saints players' bounty scandal suspensions, who is defending all the players targeted for injury by the Saints?
2. Cliche I'm tired of hearing in the NHL and NBA playoffs: "We need to play our best game of the series.'' Isn't that the goal every game in a seven-game series?
3. To me, the first two rounds of the NHL playoffs are better than the last two rounds. But the last two rounds of the NBA playoffs are better than the first two rounds.