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ESPN's Sports Reporters airs appropriate tribute to classy John Saunders

Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.

Best tribute

ESPN's Sports Reporters did a wonderful tribute Sunday to longtime host John Saunders, who passed away suddenly last week at age 61. The show featured four of the most prominent panelists in the show's history: Mike Lupica (New York Daily News), Bob Ryan (Boston Globe), Mitch Albom (Detroit Free-Press) and Bill Rhoden (New York Times). Lupica sat in Saunders' chair.

The first segment of the show was all about Saunders and each panelist used the "Parting Shots'' segment to remember Saunders. The four should be proud of the heartfelt, yet just-the-right-tone tribute to their colleague.

When news broke that Saunders had passed, my first instinct was that ESPN should consider ending Sports Reporters. It just wouldn't feel the same with him. But then I realized that Saunders was not the original host. Dick Schaap was. That just goes to show you how good Saunders was in that role because Schaap was fabulous and replacing him seemed impossible.

So Sports Reporters should carry on, and ESPN should offer the job of host to Dick's son Jeremy. He would be perfect. Either that or put Lupica there.

Worst tribute

Still hard to believe that the Yankees made such a big fuss Friday night over Alex Rodriguez's last game. Thankfully, the baseball gods did the right thing and arranged for a wicked thunderstorm to cut the pregame tribute short. He cheated the game and lied about it, but just because he wore pinstripes, Yankees fans cheered him like he was Mickey Mantle or Derek Jeter. Unbelievable.

Fox went right along, choosing to air the game nationally. I understand that the network is all about ratings and that there likely was interest in A-Rod's final chapter, assuming it is his final chapter in baseball.

Fox had a difficult time putting A-Rod's career in perspective and it made for an awkward broadcast. Thankfully, Ken Rosenthal's taped retrospective did a good job hammering home the fact that this guy was a first-ballot, Hall-of-Fame louse.

Biggest overreaction

USA women's soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo is getting crushed by seemingly everyone because, after her American team was upset by Sweden in the Olympic quarterfinals, she called the Swedes "cowards.'' She was called a sore loser and a poor sport and even worse.

Gimme a break. What's the big deal? So she took a swipe at the Swedes' tactics and, besides, she even added that the strategy worked because her team was going home.

I'm hardly the biggest Solo fan in the world, but this is much ado about nothing. We criticize our athletes for being boring and never saying anything interesting and giving us a bunch of cliches. And then when an athlete speaks her mind, we tell her to shut up?

I've got no problem anytime an athlete gives us an honest assessment of what he or she thinks.

Then again, I also think it's fine that former Solo teammate Julie Foudy went on ESPN and responded to Solo's comments by saying, "I shook my head. I thought why is that necessary. There's a long history and tradition with our national team of respecting others when you lose, so I don't agree with it at all.''

Everyone has a right to their opinion. Even Solo.

Best analyst

The stars in the Olympic pool were Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky and Simone Manuel. But the star immediately outside the pool was NBC analyst Rowdy Gaines. This guy is fantastic.

Does he get excited? Yeah, sure, maybe he has a little Dick Vitale in him. But that's a good thing. Like Vitale, Gaines gives you plenty of steak with the sizzle. His analysis was easily digestible for the viewer who only watches swimming once every four years, yet his enthusiasm was infectious. And, it's my guess that most of the folks watching the Olympics want that kind of excitement in their Olympics commentators.

The Winter Haven native has been one of NBC's MVPs of these Rio Games.

Oh, speaking of Olympic swimming coverage, poolside reporter Michele Tafoya, as you would expect, has been great. She got USA swimmer Lilly King to call Russia's Yulia Efimova "a drug cheat,'' while drawing out fantastic reactions from gold medalists Phelps, Ledecky and Manuel. She got Ledecky to say that she almost threw up in the pool and Manuel's emotional reaction to becoming the first African-American woman to win an individual gold in swimming has been one of the highlights of the coverage.

Biggest complaint

Overall, NBC's coverage of the Olympics has been solid. The only issue is just how late the marquee events are. Some of the Games' most electrifying moments have been well after 10 p.m. Mostly, that's a scheduling thing and there isn't much NBC can do about that. However, some events, such as gymnastics, have been on a taped-delayed basis and have run way too late at night.

Strongest debut

You might think that HBO's Hard Knocks eventually will get old, but the show that takes viewers inside the training camp of NFL team never fails to entertain because of the rare access HBO gets.

The opening show of this year's camp with the Los Angeles Rams had it all. There was serious moments, such as when coach Jeff Fisher released QB Nick Foles over the phone then cut a player for having a woman in his dorm room. There were light moments, such as when rookie QB Jared Goff didn't seem to know in which directions the sun rose and set. And most of all, there were honest moments, which is everything on this show.

It's a program you just can't stop watching, even after 11 seasons.

Best parting shot

I tried getting into Olympic golf, but I had a hard time doing so. I felt that if I was going to watch the Olympics then I should watch something I never watch, like water polo or volleyball or weightlifting, instead of golf, which I watch almost every week. As much as NBC tried to sell me that it was a really big tournament, it just didn't feel like it.

NBC golf analyst Johnny Miller said the winning the Olympic tournament was "almost like winning a major, and one day will be like winning a major."

Maybe that's true, but it just didn't feel like that.

Part of that might have to do with the fact that some of the world's top golfers didn't go to Rio out of fear of the Zika virus. That led Miller to take a shot at those golfers who skipped the tournament.

"By the way,'' Miller said, "no mosquitoes that I saw.''

Three things that popped into my head

1 Now that A-Rod has stepped away (for now), who is the biggest villain in sports? Here's a vote for Floyd Mayweather Jr.

2 In an interview with Tampa Bay Times baseball writer Marc Topkin, Rays owner Stu Sternberg said manager Kevin Cash has been doing a "tremendous'' job and that he was "ecstatic'' with the work of Matt Silverman, the head of baseball operations. My reaction to Stu? Easy, big fella.

3 We're going to miss Mike Tirico on Monday Night Football, but after listening to Sean McDonough work alongside Jon Gruden during Saturday night's preseason game from Los Angeles, the Monday Night Football franchise is in good hands.

tom jones' two cents

ESPN's Sports Reporters airs appropriate tribute to classy John Saunders 08/14/16 [Last modified: Sunday, August 14, 2016 10:39pm]
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