ESPN takes a lot of criticism from sports fans for a variety of reasons, but there's no doubt that it is the destination station whenever there is breaking sports news. Case in point: ESPN's Sunday coverage of the death of Penn State coaching legend Joe Paterno. ESPN's coverage was comprehensive and compelling, informative and engrossing. For several hours Sunday morning, SportsCenter ignored all other stories in sports and concentrated solely on the Paterno story. And yet the broadcast never grew boring or monotonous. The network reeled in one guest after another, from former Penn State players to coaches to analysts, all offering unique perspectives on Paterno's life and career. Anchors Bob Ley, Rece Davis and Lindsay Czarniak were impeccable in shaping the story with their interviews, which were powerful and emotional. ESPN walked the fine line of celebrating Paterno's storied career while not ignoring the controversial final chapter of his life. In the end, folks likely fall into one of three groups when it comes to Paterno. There are those who have nothing but the utmost respect for Paterno's impact on and off the football field. There are those who will only remember Paterno for the scandal that cost him his job and tarnished his reputation. And then there are the rest, which fall somewhere in the middle. No matter which group you're in, if you watched ESPN's coverage, you really had no right to complain. ESPN practiced fair journalism and told the whole story. As a television viewer, what more could you want?
Here's a great story from Bob Raissman of New York's Daily News. A listener called into Bruce Murray's radio on Sirius XM Radio last week and tried to argue that Trent Dilfer, top, was a better quarterback than Dan Marino, bottom, because Dilfer won a Super Bowl and Marino did not.
Later, Dilfer was a guest on Murray's show. When told that a caller claimed Dilfer was better than Marino, Dilfer said, "That caller is an idiot."
No. Please tell me I didn't see CBS NFL Today pregame host James Brown "interviewing" the E-Trade talking baby Sunday.
Shame on you, CBS! All season, I've been heaping praise on the NFL Today. I've bragged about how the show cut out all the horseplay and silliness. I've passed along kudos for dumping the juvenile behavior, unnecessary laughter and annoying horseplay in favor of good, solid football talk. And then you go out and interview a fake person? Really? A season's worth of smart decisions and commendable television nearly ruined for the sake of a 30-second bit that wasn't only not funny, but felt like a shameless plug. Ugh!
It feels like ESPN basketball analyst Doris Burke calls two games a night and about 20 games a week. You can hear her calling men's and women's college basketball, as well as NBA games.
Sure, she knows the game of basketball, but her analysis goes way beyond describing pick-and-rolls and zone defenses. She talks expertly about the players and teams of the games she calls; clear evidence that the amount of homework she puts in must be enormous. Proof of that was listening to her call Saturday's Syracuse-Notre Dame game. There were times when it felt like she was so knowledgeable that she was the hometown analyst — for both teams.
If I was named president of my own sports network, Burke would be one of my first hires.
I don't like it when those who help call the games are the ones to present trophies to the winners of the NFL's conference championship games. It just seems like a line is being crossed because the announcers tend to get a little too chummy with the players, coaches and owners. That's not a criticism, necessarily, of the broadcasters. They are thrown into the middle of a celebration, and it's almost impossible for them to look objective.
Last week, Rangers and former Lightning coach John Tortorella, left, took some heat for acting a bit rude to NBC's Brian Engblom during an in-game interview from the bench. Which leads to this point: Let's end this in-game interview junk. If these interviews ever offered any insight at all, I'd be all for them. But the coaches rarely say anything of interest. In the end, it feels like the only reason the networks interview the coaches during the game is just to prove they can. And that's not a good enough reason to distract a coach.
Three things that popped into my head
1. As if this NFL season could get any worse for the good folks of Indianapolis. Not only did their beloved Colts nearly go winless and have the worst record in the league, now they have to suffer the indignity of the Patriots coming to town for the Super Bowl.
2. After watching Steven Tyler screech his way through the Star-Spangled Banner before Sunday's AFC Championship Game, I'd be ticked off if I auditioned for American Idol and didn't make it to Hollywood because Tyler didn't think I was good enough.
3. USF is now 5-2 in the Big East, which is tied for third and ahead of UConn, Notre Dame, Louisville and Pitt. It also means the Bulls should be getting way more than 3,000 people for home games.
True, Syracuse was undefeated and No. 1 in the country, but isn't Notre Dame basketball a little too established for its fans to rush the court as they did Saturday when the Irish beat a Syracuse team missing one of its better players? You're bigger than that, aren't you, Notre Dame? After all, this is the same program that snapped UCLA's 88-game win streak in 1974. You got to rush the court that day. Rushing the court for any other game feels pointless. Actually, the most impressive victory of the weekend wasn't Notre Dame beating Syracuse, but Florida State going on the road and beating Duke.
Three things I liked on television this weekend
1. Nice job by Tampa Bay's own Shaun King on NBC Sports Network's coverage of Saturday night's NFLPA Collegiate All-Star Game. The 1010-AM radio host and former Bucs quarterback shows great poise on TV. It would be wise for NBC Sports Network to give him regular work.
2. The Big Ten Network's coverage Saturday night of the Joe Paterno situation was unexpectedly impressive. This was early in the story when there weren't many details other than Paterno being in "serious" condition. Still, the Big Ten Network shined.
3. Sunday's Manchester United-Arsenal game on Fox, believed to be the first English Premier League match on U.S. major network television, was good, although I wasn't crazy that CNN host and Arsenal fan Piers Morgan was involved. It made it feel a bit gimmicky, but it didn't ruin the broadcast.
tom jones' two cents
Tampa Bay Times staff writer Tom Jones offers up the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.