Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Tom Jones' shooting from the lip

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

Most enigmatic coverage

Fox had another UFC mixed-martial arts card in prime time on Saturday — the second ever and the first of four in 2012. So far, Fox has had some rotten luck. The first card back in November featured one fight that lasted less than one round. On Saturday, there were three fights and all went the distance, making for a boring night.

I still doubt that the UFC is going to make serious inroads on network television, simply because most casual viewers don't know the fighters and their backgrounds well enough to have a vested interest in the outcomes. It's the same problem boxing now has and, in some ways, it's the reason European soccer has never become hugely popular in this country. It's not that people don't like it. They just don't know enough about the people.

As far as the UFC, Fox needs to use these prime-time events to give us more of the up-close-and-personal stories that we used to see on old Olympic coverage. Back in the day, ABC was smart enough to realize that most viewers didn't know a thing about some skier from New Hampshire or gymnast from Arizona. So it taught us about them — not just their careers, but who they were as people — and made us care as we watched them compete.

Fox needs to do the same with these fighters that 99 percent of us don't know. Because if we don't know, we don't care.

Best announcer

ESPN's Chris Fowler, above, has to be included among the smoothest announcers in all of sports. His work on College GameDay is superb, especially when you consider he does it without the use of a Teleprompter or cue cards.

And Fowler was the shining star in ESPN's coverage of the Australian Open. The work of Fowler and analyst Patrick McEnroe during Sunday's instant classic men's final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal was every bit as good as the match. In fact, the broadcast made Sunday's incredible final even more enjoyable.

The key wasn't what Fowler and McEnroe said, but what they didn't say. Their willingness to let the tennis do the talking made the broadcast so good. After all, no words could trump that action on the court between two remarkable players at the top of their games. Announcers in every sport could take a cue from how Fowler and McEnroe called Sunday's final.

Meantime, I wish Fowler and Chris Evert had talked more during the women's final between Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova, if only to drown out the maddening shrieks, squeals and screams from Azarenka and Sharapova.

I don't know how tennis can legislate this, but it needs to do something because, honestly, the screaming made that match unwatchable.

Best documentary

Namath, the 90-minute HBO documentary about legendary NFL quarterback Joe Namath, is well worth your time. There aren't any real surprises, but it's a comprehensive look at Namath's life, from growing up in Beaver Falls, Pa., to playing at Alabama to playing and living in New York to his recent years. The film doesn't skip anything, including the cringe-worthy moment on Monday Night Football in 2003 when a drunk Namath told ESPN reporter Suzy Kolber that he wanted to kiss her.

Namath talks about the incident, as does Kolber, publicly for the first time. That's just a small portion of the documentary, but it shows how no stone is left unturned.

Best next analyst

If you're Peyton Manning, why would even think about playing again? You've won a Super Bowl, you have been a league MVP, you're a first-ballot Hall of Famer, you have plenty of money. Why risk not being able to walk or stand up straight when you're 50?

There seems to be little doubt that within 10 minutes of Manning's retirement, he will get calls from every network about coming to work as an analyst. Actually, he likely already has had such conversations.

Where would he be the best fit? He seems like a better studio analyst than a game analyst. He likely would get lost in the shuffle among ESPN's cast of thousands. Fox, CBS and the NFL Network could use him, but each would have to dump someone to make room.

That leaves NBC. He could join analysts Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison, or NBC could just swap Harrison out for Manning. Either way, NBC seems like the best fit.

But don't you get the impression Manning is going to play next season?

Best line

You gotta love Rangers coach John Tortorella. When interviewed during Sunday's NHL All-Star Game, Tortorella joked about fining a player $1,000. NBC analyst Pierre McGuire told Tortorella that the NHL Players Association might not like that.

Tortorella deadpanned, "They don't like anything.''

It was the best moment of, sadly, a boring game. That isn't mean to slam the NHL because there is no way, really, to spruce up the game's drama without risking injuries. All those zig-zag, no-look, dipsy-doodle moves that have become a staple of the All-Star Game are fun to watch until you realize that no one would even think about those moves in a real game for fear of getting pasted into the boards.

What makes the broadcast somewhat annoying is listening to the analysts rave about such moves as if this were a game with real checking and defense. Don't tell us about how "sick'' or "incredible'' a move was when the defensemen are putting up as much of a fight as an orange pylon.

Worst conflict

I'll keep banging this drum, apparently to no avail: It drives me crazy to watch ESPN personalities do commercials with the athletes they cover. On Sunday, I noticed an ad for ESPN's NBA coverage that featured announcer Mike Breen and analysts Jeff Van Gundy and Jon Barry alongside NBA stars Deron Williams of the Nets and Kyrie Irving of the Cavs. No one can convince me that it isn't a conflict of interest for ESPN personalties to do commercials, and presumably socialize, with the athletes they cover and critique.

Biggest switch

Golf fans likely were annoyed Sunday evening when CBS left its first tournament of the season, the Farmers Insurance Open, during a playoff at 7 p.m. to switch over to new episode of 60 Minutes. Viewers were directed to turn to the Golf Channel for the rest of the tournament.

As it turned out, the tournament lasted only another 10 minutes as Brandt Snedeker defeated Kyle Stanley on the second playoff hole, but there was no way CBS could know that the tournament would end there. It's hard to blame CBS because 60 Minutes is one of the network's staple shows and should get preference over what, ultimately, is not that significant of a tournament.

Three things that popped into my head

1. Three letters that came to mind while watching Sunday night's NFL Pro Bowl: zzz.

2. Did you see Novak Djokovic's speech after winning the Australian Open? Doesn't get much classier than that, folks.

3. In women's tennis, the last four majors have produced four first-time major winners. Some, such as ESPN's Chris Evert, say that's great. I disagree. Any sport is better when there is a dominant player or team or a great rivalry.

tom jones' two cents

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