Shooting from the lip/Nov. 8th edition
Looking back at a weekend of televised sports ...
ESPN did a splendid job covering Penn State's Joe Paterno becoming the first major college football coach to reach 400 victories. Cameras were in perfect position to catch Paterno, 83, being carried on the shoulders of his players and for the emotional greeting with his wife, Sue, who is nearly as much of a legend in Pennsylvania as JoePa. Sideline reporter Heather Cox also gets points for her postgame interview with not only Paterno, but Sue, too.
ESPN, of course, pulled out the usual cliches of what the world was like when Paterno became the Nittany Lions coach in 1966. It listed how much gas was, how much homes were, who was president and so forth. But it listed one item that really drove home just how long Paterno has been at Penn State: The Gators' Steve Spurrier won the Heisman Trophy in Paterno's first year as head coach. Think about this. Spurrier went on to play nine seasons with the 49ers and was a member of the Bucs' inaugural 1976 team. He then served as an assistant at Florida, Georgia Tech and Duke. He became coach of the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL for three seasons. He moved on to Duke as coach for three more, then returned to his alma mater to coach the Gators for 12 seasons. He then jumped to the Redskins for two years. Now Spurrier, who is 65, is in his sixth season at South Carolina. And in all that time, Paterno has been at one place: Penn State.
Let's put aside talk about a playoff in college football for the moment. Like it or not, there isn't one in place and that's not going to change for the time being. So with the system we have, I just can't get on board with Boise State being included in the national championship, even if it is the only team that goes undefeated. It has played one decent team (Virginia Tech) in an otherwise cupcake schedule of Wyoming, Oregon State, New Mexico State, Toledo, San Jose State, Louisiana Tech, Hawaii, Idaho, Fresno State, Nevada and Utah State. Compare that to the schedules that the major conferences such as the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-10 play.
In the Western Athletic Conference, there are no surprising land mines in the schedule, there are no "trap games.'' But every week in the SEC offers the chance at an upset. Just ask Alabama, which has now lost twice as it has tried to navigate through a schedule that has already had Penn State, Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina and LSU and still has Mississippi State, Auburn and, potentially, an SEC Championship Game. It's much harder to get up week after week than it is to get up for one or two games a year, which is all Boise has to do. Is there anything else Boise can do? No. The Broncos can only play whom they play. But, sorry, that just isn't good enough.
Most annoying interruption
Maybe it's because its pregame show is an hour longer than those on Fox and CBS, but ESPN's Sunday Morning Countdown consistently delivers more interesting debates and conversation than its counterparts. It also helps that the four analysts -- Mike Ditka, Keyshawn Johnson, Cris Carter and Tom Jackson -- are more opinionated than any other pregame analysts and are less afraid of disagreeing with one another, even to the point where there appear to be genuine arguments. As a viewer, you can't help but get emotionally involved in the debates as you watch.
Sunday was a perfect example as the crew sifted through the Randy Moss soap opera. Ditka took a coach's perspective, backing Minnesota's Brad Childress for waiving a disruptive player. Johnson seemed anti-Childress, and Jackson pointed out how much of a problem Moss has been with every team he has played for. I should say that Jackson tried to do that. Johnson wouldn't let him. After asking Jackson to let him finish his point, Johnson talked about Moss but then would not let Jackson have his turn. Johnson kept interrupting and shouting over Jackson. Eventually, Jackson, realizing that two people talking at one time wasn't going to work, gave up. The whole scene was awkward, Johnson needed to show Jackson respect by shutting up, but in the end, you couldn't take your eyes off the screen.
Most interesting debate
On Dan Patrick's radio show, former Bucs coach Tony Dungy agreed with Titans coach Jeff Fisher, who said he thought the University of Oregon could score a touchdown against an NFL team. "They would give NFL defenses a lot of problems,'' Dungy said. Dungy, of course, knows more about that stuff than I do, but I believe this: If Oregon played the worst team in the NFL, say the Bills, I would give anyone out there the Ducks plus-40 points and not worry about losing that bet.
Troy Aikman is the analyst on Fox's No. 1 broadcasting team, and he's very good. But Brian Billick, who called the Bucs for the second straight week, might be Fox's best. Last week, I wrote how strong and quick his opinions were, as well as his dry sense of humor that never makes you groan or roll your eyes. Well, Sunday, he was even better than he was last week. He makes viewers feel as if they are sitting next to a guy at the bar -- a guy who knows a ton about football.
It was too bad that the biggest college football game this weekend -- No. 3 TCU vs. No. 5 Utah -- was on CBS College Sports Network, which owns the rights to the Mountain West Conference. ESPN used to have the rights but was beaten out by CBS College Sports when the last TV contract came up. According to the New York Times, the network has 38 million cable, satellite and telephone company subscribers, far fewer than, say, ESPN or the major networks. Hey, good for CBS College Sports and good for the Mountain West that they are getting paid $12 million a year for the TV rights. But too bad for many college fans and, really, it's no wonder that teams from smaller conferences such as the Mountain West don't get respect nationally when, arguably, the biggest football game in the conference's history couldn't be seen by much of the country.
Miami Herald columnist Israel Gutierrez on ESPN's Sports Reporters: "What in the world is going on in Texas? The Longhorns were a top five team and now they're 4-5 and dead last in the Big 12 South. Is Wade Phillips coaching them, too?''
How bad are things with the Cowboys? As New York Daily News columnist Bob Raissman points outs, boxer Manny Pacquiao, who fights in Cowboys Stadium for the second time this year on Saturday, might end up with more victories there than the 2010 Cowboys.
Three things that popped into my head
1. Gee, you think FIU was thrilled to hear that its basketball coach, Isiah Thomas, says he dreams every day of returning to the Knicks?
2. Maybe all the politicians in Utah can shut up about a college playoff system and start worrying about health care and the economy now that their precious Utes were blown out by TCU and can start making plans for the Maaco Bowl.
3. Most classless: Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes giving Detroit fans the "shhh'' sign after New York needed overtime to beat a team that has won five of its past 48 games.