Shooting from the lip/Nov. 14th edition
Looking back at a weekend of televised sports ...
Best weekend coverage
After a week in which it did not offer the best Penn State scandal coverage, ESPN rebounded with excellent work Saturday.
It started on College GameDay, which normally shies away from off-the-field controversies. Saturday's show addressed the Penn State situation in a respectful way, but with journalistic integrity. The analysts talked about the tarnish on coach Joe Paterno's legacy, and analyst Desmond Howard, in perhaps his finest on-air moment, was the strongest critic, saying Paterno owes everyone an explanation for what has happened. The somber show also included excellent commentary from ESPN analysts and former Penn State stars Todd Blackledge and Matt Millen. GameDay then wisely ended 15 minutes early so ESPN could go to pregame coverage of the Penn State-Nebraska game, which included Penn State players taking the field and a prayer at midfield involving both teams.
As far as the game, it was a delicate balance of covering an actual football game and what it all meant in the grand scheme of things, and ESPN handled it deftly. The most powerful moment came after the game when reporter Tom Rinaldi interviewed Paterno's son Jay, who broke down when talking about his parents.
ESPN continues to take criticism (and deservedly so) for shoddy coverage during the week, but it did well Saturday. And that sort of defines what ESPN is all about: It handles event coverage extremely well, but struggles occasionally on hard news.
Fox had a decent night Saturday with its first prime-time broadcast of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. It seemed like a risk to have only one fight, and as it turned out, the heavyweight title bout lasted less than one round. But at least the fight ended in a knockout, which is better than watching two guys exchange boring holds for a half-hour. Surely, UFC lost money by not having the fight on pay-per-view, but it hopes the hour's worth of coverage on a major network in prime time will help make it more mainstream.
Approximately 5.7 million viewers tuned in, making it the most-watched UFC event ever. Those aren't tremendous numbers compared to major sports, but the fight did well among key male demographics and it wasn't bad considering the fight went up against college football, including a marquee matchup between Stanford and Oregon. In addition, many fans of fighting might have bought the pay-per-view package for the Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez fight. In the end, however, I still think UFC is going to have a difficult time going mainstream, simply because too many folks think it’s just too violent.
Worst game of catch
I told myself that I was going to lay off criticizing Fox NFL Sunday for a few weeks because several times already this season I've jumped on them for clowning around on set. But they make it impossible to ignore.
Sunday offered another example. The entire on-air crew was standing up while analysts Michael Strahan and Howie Long were demonstrating the Bears' pass protection. Strahan was making interesting points, but those points were lost when analysts Terry Bradshaw and Jimmy Johnson started tossing around a football, pointing at each other and yucking it up in the background. If Bradshaw and Johnson aren’t paying attention to what their partners are saying, why should the viewers? In fact, it was impossible for the viewers to ignore what Bradshaw and Johnson were doing.
This might seem like a really minor thing, but it's these little things that can sabotage a segment.
Last week's Lightning-Flyers game continues to be a hot-button topic around the NHL. The Lighting played its 1-3-1 defense, and the Flyers, in protest, refused to attack, so both teams ended up standing still. Analysts seem split on which team was to blame.
Mike Milbury, who heavily criticized the Lightning during Versus' coverage of the game, continued his attack Saturday night on Hockey Night in Canada. I don't doubt that Milbury believes in what he's saying, but I'm also now convinced that Milbury acts outrageously (he walked off the Versus set the other night) because he's auditioning to eventually replace 77-year-old Don Cherry as HNiC's No. 1 studio analyst.
Meantime, HNiC reporter Elliotte Friedman, who is one of the sharpest media guys in hockey, suggested that part of the Flyers' strategy was a personal, jealous attack on Lightning coach Guy Boucher because Boucher was the darling of the NHL a season ago. Hmm, interesting.
ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown did a feature on Jets coach Rex Ryan playing a Patriots fan in an upcoming Adam Sandler movie. When asked if he would ever wear the clothing of the rival Packers, former Bears coach Mike Ditka said: "Are you kidding? (George) Halas would roll over in his grave.''
Fox analyst (and former Bucs star) John Lynch showed Sunday that doing your homework pays off. Before Sunday's Eagles-Cardinals game, Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson was deactivated because he missed a team meeting. However, Lynch offered excellent perspective.
Scheduled to call the Eagles-Cards game, Lynch studied video during the week and noticed Jackson loafing on plays when he was not the targeted receiver and throwing up his hands on plays he thought he was open but not thrown the ball.
So not only did Lynch notice these transgressions, but he had the guts to go on the air and question whether missing a meeting was the only reason Jackson was deactivated. Superb work.
It's rare to see broadcasters from one network take shots at a broadcaster at another network, but that's what happened Saturday night. It was even more surprising to hear it from two of television’s nice guys -- ABC college football announcers Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit, who called the Stanford-Oregon game.
ABC posted a graphic that showed a quote from CBS NFL analyst Phil Simms, who questioned Stanford QB Andrew Luck by saying, "I just don't see big-time NFL throws.''
Musburger said: "I respectfully disagree. I've seen Andrew Luck now for several years and he can flat-out throw with those guys who play Sunday football.''
Herbstreit added, "How do you evaluate whether or not he's an NFL quarterback or make a statement like that when he's dealing with possession receivers?''
This actually happened
During Sunday NFL Countdown on ESPN, analysts Herm Edwards and Cris Carter were handing out midseason awards. My wife, who couldn't care less about the NFL and wasn't even paying attention to the TV, suddenly said, "Why are they yelling?''
You know, she had a point.
Three things that popped into my head
1. With each passing week, it's hard not to think that the 2010 Bucs season was a total fluke.
2. Saturday's Florida State-Miami game makes you wonder if college football would just be better off without instant replay. Yeesh.
3. If I had said before the NFL season that between the Eagles and 49ers, one team would be 8-1 at this point and the other would be 3-6, which team would you have picked to be 8-1?