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Highs, lows of weekend sports TV

tom jones' two cents

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

Best breakout

Well, hello, Jon Gruden.

Turns out the guy they call Chucky can be as scary as that little doll. Often criticized for being too nice and loving everything and everyone in football, Gruden was the star of the NFL draft on ESPN.

He was still his usual entertaining self, but he added quite a bit of bite to his bark, criticizing picks and players. He didn't go overboard, as if he had a mandate. But he was honest when he didn't like a particular player being picked in a particular spot.

For example, when the Dolphins traded up to get the No. 3 pick in the first round and selected Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan, Gruden didn't hold back.

"When I watched Dion Jordan play, I just don't see him play,'' Gruden said.

That's what we've been waiting for from Gruden. He knows football as well as any broadcaster on television, and he delivers his commentary in the quick bursts and energetic fashion television requires. If he can add even more criticism to his analysis next season on Monday Night Football, look out. He could then be on the fast track to being one of the best sports analysts we have seen.

Best host

If you flipped between the NFL Network's coverage of the draft and ESPN's, you probably would agree that the NFL Network's Rich Eisen, bottom below, was head and shoulders better than ESPN's Chris Berman.

Picking on Berman, top right, is a popular sport. He has become a punching bag for media critics and fans. Though I think he's better than most people do, Berman did struggle Thursday night during the first round.

The big problem was he had to stretch his segment on occasion until commissioner Roger Goodell was ready to announce the next selection, and often he didn't know if he needed to fill for 10 seconds or one minute. So, in that no-man's land, he had no definitive plan and often just rambled. You could see that on-air partners Jon Gruden and Mel Kiper Jr. didn't know when to jump in because Berman didn't cue them up.

Berman's best plan should have been to plow ahead and not to act as if he was under a time constraint. Just talk. Just allow the analysts to talk. And if Goodell came out to make an announcement, Berman could have just stopped talking or interrupted his partners. Viewers would have understood.

It's better to stop talking in the middle of a thought than to have no real thought at all.

Best location

For the last couple of Lightning road games, the Sun Sports studio show with host Paul Kennedy and either analyst Chris Dingman or Dave Andreychuk took place from the arena where the Lightning was playing, as opposed to the studio in South Florida. The show was much better from the arena. There is no reasonable explanation for this, but it felt like Kennedy and his analysts were so much more informed just because they were there. When they are in the studio, it feels like they are watching the game on TV, just like we are, with no special insight or access.

Unfortunately, the Rays' studio show for road games still takes place in the studio in South Florida and feels very far removed from the story.

Best pregame shows

If you're like me, you have little use for pregame shows, regardless of the sport. We watch them, of course. But often they aren't that interesting.

I do, however, have an exception. The NBA pregame shows are outstanding. I'm talking about both ESPN and TNT.

The ESPN crew of Michael Wilbon, Jalen Rose, Magic Johnson and Bill Simmons (right) has become mesmerizing. They just sit and talk, and I can't get enough because the insight and conversation are so accessible.

The TNT crew of Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O'Neal is a blast. They really are like a bunch of guys sitting at a bar.

Saturday, Barkley went off on Brooklyn's Gerald Wallace, who said he "didn't have a clue'' as to what his role is on the Nets.

"It amazes me,'' Barkley said, "that in the fourth game of the playoffs, a guy is saying, 'I don't know what my role is.' ''

Smith piggybacked on Barkley's comments and said if a player has a problem, he should walk "four steps'' over to the coach's office instead of waiting for a camera to register his complaint. Good stuff.

Worst comment

I've always liked outrageous Hockey Night in Canada analyst Don Cherry despite him often brushing up against the line of good taste. But Saturday night he crossed that line, saying, "I don't believe — and I really believe this — I don't believe women should be allowed in the male dressing room."

As soon as he said it, you could see his on-air partner, classy Ron MacLean, grimace, as if he knew the firestorm Cherry had started. I'm all for analysts having strong opinions. That's what makes them great analysts. But this is a case in which Cherry suggested female media members should not have an equal right to do their jobs. That's just wrong, and that kind of thinking should not be tolerated.

Oh, and before anyone out there says, "Well, then, men should be allowed in women's locker rooms,'' they are. The WNBA, for example, allows men and women in the locker rooms.

Best hustle

Good to see the crew covering the Rays on Sun Sports doesn't take a break even when the game does.

During a commercial break Sunday, Sun Sports kept its cameras fixed on Rays starting pitcher David Price, above, as he walked off the field and had a dustup with home plate umpire Tom Hallion. It appeared as if Price was upset about the strike zone on what could have been a pivotal pitch.

Sun Sports showed several replays of the exchange, the pitch in question and Hallion ejecting someone from the game. It wasn't clear who was ejected until reporter Todd Kalas, in another hustle move, found out it was Rays pitcher Jeremy Hellickson. The solid work continued as cameras hung with Price, who continued to be visibly annoyed several minutes after the incident.

Excellent direction and great work all around by Sun Sports.

Funniest line

New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica in Sunday's editions: "Has Darrelle Revis asked to re-do his contract yet?''

Biggest jerks

I often hear from Maple Leafs fans wondering why those outside of Toronto dislike that organization so much. Here's why:

The Leafs raised playoff tickets prices 75 percent over the price of regular-season tickets. (New York Daily News media critic Bob Raissman gets credit for pointing this out.) This is a team that hasn't been to the playoffs since 2004 and hasn't won a Stanley Cup since 1967. How arrogant to be so bad for so long and then stick it to your fans when you have the slightest measure of success. Jerks.

By the way, Tim Leiweke, brother of Lightning president Tod, takes over as president and CEO of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment in June. We hope he'll straighten out junk like this.

Three things that popped into my head

1. As the Heat's LeBron James was pouring in 30 points in Miami's sweep victory against the Bucks on Sunday, ABC's Mike Tirico said something nonchalantly about James that needs to absorbed: "We are watching one of the premier careers in the NBA really at its apex.'' He's right. This is like watching Michael Jordan, Jim Brown and Joe DiMaggio in their primes. Enjoy it.

2. Can we just put an end to NFL mock drafts? For the past two months we were swamped by mock drafts, and most didn't even get the first pick right.

3. On one hand, Lightning fans can be proud that Marty St. Louis and Steven Stamkos finished 1-2 in the NHL scoring race this season. On the other hand, how do you have the top two scorers in hockey and not make the playoffs?

Highs, lows of weekend sports TV 04/28/13 [Last modified: Sunday, April 28, 2013 10:34pm]
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