Thursday, November 23, 2017

Shooting from the lip


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

Saddest fact

Mike Ditka of ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown was trying to say the right thing, so I'm not jumping on him, exactly.

But in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Ditka said, "One great thing about sport in the history of our country: It's an outlet. … So for 2½, three hours today, it's going to be football as usual, life as usual. I wrote down one thing: Life doesn't stop after a disaster like this, but it sure slows down a lot."

As much as I'd like to think that sports is a great diversion from a disaster such as Hurricane Sandy, it really isn't. Ultimately, those most affected by disasters and tragedies can't find a diversion in anything, including sports.

Like I said, Ditka was trying to say the right thing, and sports ultimately do help us return to a sense of normalcy after something tragic. But to suggest that sports erase the awful things in life, even for a couple of hours, just isn't true.

Most brow-raising comment

The NFL Network's Sterling Sharpe spouted off about comparisons between Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (below left) and Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. "They are two totally different quarterbacks,'' Sharpe said. "After today, I want them to be compared to (players) they are actually playing like and not to each other just because of the color of their skin."

Wait a second. They are the past two Heisman Trophy winners. One was a first overall draft pick (Newton), the other was the second overall pick. Both are supposed to turn their franchises around. Coming into the weekend, they were the top two rushing quarterbacks in the league. That's why they are compared to one another, not because they are black. Speaking of RGIII, Fox NFL Sunday analyst Jimmy Johnson said the rookie has "already established himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the league. I didn't say 'running quarterback.' I said one of the top quarterbacks. Leadership, accuracy, he's got it all, and he's one of the best."

Most interesting ratings

Fox averaged 12.7 million viewers for the Giants' sweep of the Tigers in the World Series. It was the smallest audience for any World Series on record.

But this is interesting: The Series did fairly well in the Tampa-St. Petersburg market. The area had an 8.3 rating, meaning 8.3 percent of all households with televisions were tuned in. That's higher than the national average of 7.6 and put the Tampa Bay area 13th in the nation.

Worst scheduling

NBC mixed things up and put the Breeders' Cup on during prime time Saturday. Perhaps the audiences are different, but you would think most sports fans were tuned in to two of the most anticipated college football games of the season: Alabama against LSU and Oregon against Southern Cal.

Best show

The NFL Network's A Football Life has become a must-watch show. The show is just what the title says it is: It looks at the lives and careers of great NFL personalities. Shows this season have included Giants coach Tom Coughlin, late QB Steve McNair and former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo.

This week's episode is about former Cowboys coach and current Fox analyst Jimmy Johnson.

On the show, Miami Herald columnist Dan Le Batard said, "To see the juxtaposition between a man who was crazed and maniacal about coaching his team to Jimmy Johnson now, it's breathtaking. He hates the person that he had to be and that he was back then."

A Football Life airs at 8 p.m. Wednesday. Upcoming shows include John Riggins (Nov. 21), Barry Sanders (Dec. 5), Marcus Allen (Dec. 12) and the Immaculate Reception (Dec. 19).

Worst list

Though there is so much to like about the NFL Network, the Top 10 shows are somewhat annoying. The network puts together shows about the top 10 this and the top 10 that. They're annoying because it seems as if they purposefully make controversial selections just to be controversial.

Why do I say that? Because half the analysts commenting on the show complain about the order of the lists.

Friday I settled in to watch the top 10 quarterbacks of the 1970s. Incredibly, Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw was listed third. Apparently, four Super Bowl titles, eight postseason appearances, two Super Bowl MVP awards and a 14-4 playoff record in the 1970s (the last Super Bowl was for the 1979 season, played in January 1980) isn't good enough to get the top spot.

I can't tell you who the top two were because I turned the show off after I saw Bradshaw was ridiculously put at No. 3.

Best feature

CBS's 60 Minutes profiled Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Sunday. Reporter Scott Pelley did a nice job and even got Rodgers (left) to admit he thinks other teams try to take him out, including the Bounty-gate Saints.

"Every game I feel like they're trying to take me out,'' Rodgers said. "Now, I don't know about money. I've never felt there's been money on my head. The defense is trying to either knock you out of the game or knock you out of your rhythm. It's everything from trash talking to borderline late hit to a dirty play."

Rodgers, who went to Cal, still keeps rejection letters from some of the colleges that did not want him. I hate to hear that. Certainly Rodgers has used that as motivation, and it has worked well for him, but it seems petty. He has won a Super Bowl. He is a Super Bowl MVP. He might be the best QB in football. Let it go, man.

Best hire

Former Magic coach Stan Van Gundy has landed a job with NBC Sports. Starting in January, Van Gundy will be a regular contributor on NBC Sports Radio. And he also could end up doing college basketball analysis for NBC Sports Network.

Van Gundy will work the Florida-Georgetown game Friday from the USS Bataan in Jacksonville. Some are saying this game could be a tryout of sorts. If Van Gundy does a decent job, look for him to become a regular part of NBC Sports Network's college coverage.

Van Gundy seems made for television. Too bad he isn't doing NBA games. Rumor is ESPN was all set to hire him for NBA games, but commissioner David Stern put the kibosh on it.

Most credible

During Saturday's Nebraska-Michigan State game on ABC, Michigan State was penalized for roughing the passer, and the initial replay appeared to show the call was bad. Announcer Sean McDonough even said, "That's terrible.''

Moments later, however, ABC dialed up two other replays, which showed the quarterback was struck in the head and the referee made the correct call.

McDonough, to his credit, looked at the replays and said he was wrong and the referee was right.

That was a terrific job by ABC to find and show the additional replays, and a great job by McDonough to reverse himself. That's why he is among the most credible announcers in the business.

Three things that popped into my head

1. I don't care what the BCS standings say, Oregon, with that video-game offense, is the most formidable team in the country.

2. How shortsighted for the International Ski Federation to deny Lindsey Vonn's request to compete in a men's downhill race. What a perfect chance to get some publicity for a fringe sport.

3. The way I figure it, if the NHL lockout lasts another few weeks, people will stop caring if the NHL returns this season. Some already have.

tom jones' two cents

Irish, Gamecocks potentially await USF women this weekend

Irish, Gamecocks potentially await USF women this weekend

The extended Thanksgiving weekend is upon us, with Christmas on deck. A season of bountiful dining, though some are wondering if Jose Fernandez has bitten off a bit more than he can chew.One thing's certain: There's not a cream puff or cupcake to be ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Days after a high fever, Jon Mott wins his fifth Times Turkey Trot 10K

Days after a high fever, Jon Mott wins his fifth Times Turkey Trot 10K

CLEARWATER — On Tuesday, Jon Mott had a 103-degree fever. That was not enough to keep him from maintaining his dominance Thursday at the 39th Tampa Bay Times Turkey Trot.The former Northeast standout added to his record with his fifth title in the ev...
Updated: 2 hours ago
New Weeki Wachee basketball coach transitions from years on college sidelines

New Weeki Wachee basketball coach transitions from years on college sidelines

WEEKI WACHEE — Mark Lee was looking for an accomplished coach to take over Weeki Wachee High’s boys basketball team. Not only did he find what he was searching for, but he may have gone above and beyond with the hiring of Rick Scruggs.The 30-year vet...
Published: 11/23/17

Koetter says Bucs not distracted by Jameis Winston’s off-field issue

The Bucs are 1-0 since news broke last Friday of Jameis Winston being accused by an Uber driver of groping her during a ride in March of 2016.That's really all the evidence coach Dirk Koetter needs to say the issue has not been a distraction to the t...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Presenting the 2017 Sports Turkey of the Year

Presenting the 2017 Sports Turkey of the Year

Happy Turkey Day!Today is a day of tradition.The Macy’s parade. Turkey and stuffing. The Lions and Cowboys.And our annual "Turkey of the Year.’’It’s a tradition started by my former colleague at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the brilliant columnist P...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Nikita Kucherov really does admire Patrick Kane

Nikita Kucherov really does admire Patrick Kane

TAMPA — Lightning wing Nikita Kucherov has watched plenty of film on Blackhawks star Patrick Kane.Kucherov marveled how the 2015-16 league MVP uses deception to "hide" from defenders. He noticed how patient Kane was with the puck, how well he passed ...
Published: 11/22/17
Lightning beats Blackhawks in OT

Lightning beats Blackhawks in OT

TAMPA — The Lightning entered Wednesday’s game against the Blackhawks determined to avoid its first losing streak of the season. And it did in dramatic fashion, with Brayden Point’s power-play goal in overtime lifting it to a 3-2 victory. "A big boun...
Published: 11/22/17

Joe Smith’s takeaways from Wednesday’s Lightning-Blackhawks game

Every Lightning-Blackhawks game at Amalie Arena has a good representation of red in the stands. And Wednesday’s matchup was no exception, with a large contingent of transplants and travelers. "It feels like half the city of Chicago is traveling down ...
Published: 11/22/17

Thursday’s sports on TV/radio

TodayCollege footballMississippi at Mississippi State7:30 p.m.ESPNCollege basketballMissouri vs. Long Beach State11:30 a.m.ESPN2Tennessee vs. Villanova12:30 p.m.ESPNSt. John’s vs. Oregon State2 p.m.ESPNUPortland vs. North Carolina2:30 p.m.ESPNNorth C...
Published: 11/22/17
Niederreiter stays hot for Wild in win

Niederreiter stays hot for Wild in win

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund each scored two goals to lead the Wild to a 5-4 victory over the Sabres on Wednesday night. Tyler Ennis also scored, and Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter each had two assists as the Wild snapped a two-g...
Published: 11/22/17