Shooting from the lip/Sept. 4th edition
Looking back at a weekend of televised sports ...
For all the criticism -- some of it fair, some of it not -- ESPN takes for being a self-promoting network more interested in the bottom line than doing a proper job, there are times the network's work is so solid that it deserves the highest of praise. There are times when ESPN truly is TV’s "World Wide Leader of Sports,'' a self-proclaimed title that the rest of us must acknowledge as true.
Such a time came this weekend.
After doing mediocre work when the Penn State child sex-abuse scandal broke in November, ESPN has since set out to own the story, and it did so as the Nittany Lions returned to the field Saturday. Reporter Tom Rinaldi showed that substance really does mean more than style. He proved that he has put in long hours gaining the trust of not only Penn State's new football leaders, such as coach Bill O'Brien, but Penn State's old leaders, such as Joe Paterno's son, Jay, an assistant on his late father's staff.
Rinaldi was able to get riveting on-air interviews with O'Brien and several players, but he did his finest work by spending time with the Paterno family during halftime of the Penn State-Ohio game. Although Jay Paterno was not interviewed on the air, Rinaldi relayed some of the things Paterno told Rinaldi on a day unlike any other in Penn State or college football history.
In the end, ESPN -- starting early last week on SportsCenter to Saturday morning's College GameDay to Saturday afternoon's game coverage to the evening's postgame -- fully captured the emotional, controversial and incredibly captivating day, and it did so with respect, humanity and, most of all, professionalism.
Fox's big college football package kicked off Saturday night, and I have one question: Did anyone see it? Fox's national game featured the No. 1 team in the country, Southern Cal. But the Trojans' ho-hum game against Hawaii started a half-hour before the biggest game of the weekend, No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 8 Michigan on ABC.
And this is the problem Fox is going to run into most Saturdays: The game it shows is not going to be as intriguing as ABC's Saturday night game. Fox's best hope is that the ABC game turns into a blowout early and folks flip over to a much closer game on Fox.
Meantime, you have to wonder if Erin Andrews, the host of Fox's studio show, made the right call to leave ESPN. Surely a lot of factors were involved in her decision to leave ESPN, but if her goal was to get more exposure on Fox, I don't see that happening, particularly if she is banking on Fox's college football programming to provide it.
The problem with Fox's pregame show is that it airs in the early evening when a slew of games are being televised. For example, when Fox's studio show went on the air around 7:15 p.m. Saturday, more than a half-dozen games were on. Why watch a pregame show about a game that hasn't started when you can watch an actual game?
The top feature of the weekend goes to ESPN's Gene Wojciechowski for his profile of new Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer. Wojciechowski had insightful interviews with Meyer and his family, including his wife and daughter.
Wojciechowski did a splendid job telling the story of Meyer's decision to quit as coach of the Gators and an emotional family dinner during which his daughter confronted him for being disconnected from them. We also learned how Meyer to this day regrets leaving Florida and how he returned to Ohio State only after signing a contract with his family about being a better husband and father while coaching.
Nice work by Sun Sports' Todd Kalas for his short in-game piece Sunday on Montreal baseball fans who travelled to Toronto to watch the Rays take on the Blue Jays. The fans still honor the old Montreal Expos, who moved to Washington to become the Nationals in 2005. What made the feature so good was that Sun Sports aired taped interviews with Rays coaches Tom Foley and Dave Martinez, both of whom played for the Expos. The piece made you wish the Expos still existed.
CBS's Sunday coverage of the U.S. Open mostly featured Andy Roddick and his victory over Fabio Fognini. But it emphasized what a weird spot CBS is in with Roddick announcing last week that he is planning to retire after the Open. Roddick is one of the game’s most popular players over the past 15 years, and CBS has to find the balance of covering his matches but somehow giving viewers a retrospective of his career.
It's highly unlikely Roddick will win the tournament. In fact, every victory from here on out is an accomplishment for Roddick. Any match could be his last, but sometimes the outcome won't be known until minutes before it's over.
CBS was thrown a curve because Roddick's announcement was so sudden and unexpected, but he has stuck around the Open long enough now that CBS should have a proper goodbye when he is eliminated.
Everyone knew Penn State was going to have an emotional day Saturday, but few knew how the emotions would affect the players in their game against Ohio. Count ESPN College GameDay analyst Lee Corso as one of those who had a pretty good clue.
"I think that strain will make Ohio University look like Ohio State,'' Corso said.
Corso was right. Ohio beat Penn State 24-14.
Three things that popped into my head
1. Can someone explain to me why Southern Cal quarterback Matt Barkley was still in the game with a 32-point lead in the fourth quarter against Hawaii and why the Trojans went for it on fourth-and-3 and threw a touchdown pass on the play? Oh, wait, never mind. I have the explanation, and it has nothing to do with Barkley's Heisman hopes or national title plans. Coach Lane Kiffin never has had, and never will have, any class.
2. The real reason Urban Meyer wanted to leave Florida? Maybe it has something to do with coach Nick Saban and Alabama. That program is so good that anybody would run as far away from that guy as they could.
3. Saddest news of the weekend: The passing of lyricist Hal David, who co-wrote dozens of classic hits, including Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, I Say A Little Prayer, Walk On By and a song called What's New Pussycat made famous by the other Tom Jones.