tom jones' two cents
Tampa Bay Times staff writer Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.
ESPN's NBA Countdown announced a major shakeup last week. Former NBA star Jalen Rose and ESPN columnist Bill Simmons will join the show, replacing Jon Barry and Chris Broussard. Rose and Simmons will join Countdown regulars Magic Johnson and Michael Wilbon.
Simmons is an interesting addition. His Internet column for ESPN was wildly popular, and he has since started the sports-features website Grantland. He also wrote a bestselling book about basketball, The Book of Basketball.
He's not a typical sports writer, but he has a strong following. He comes off as smart and cool, but the knock is he is not really an NBA "insider" type, and he is an admitted Celtics fan.
Overall, however, it's good move by ESPN. Heck, it's a studio show. Why not think out of the box a little? Plus, Rose is superb.
The only downside is Barry moving off the show. Barry was the best part of that show. I'd rather have seen Magic pushed out. Barry will move to a new gig as a game analyst, and Broussard will become a sideline reporter at games.
NBC's Al Michaels remains the best play-by-play announcer in the country, but Fox's Joe Buck is the most prominent. Michaels mostly does one thing: Sunday Night Football. But Buck, left, has become not only the second-best NFL announcer, behind Michaels, but the best national play-by-play voice for baseball.
Here's how you know an announcer is at the top of his game: When you hear him, you immediately know you're watching a big event. When you hear Buck, you know that game is key, whether it's baseball or football.
Fox took criticism last week by giving Buck double duty on the same day. He called the Giants-49ers football game Sunday afternoon, then rushed across San Francisco to call the Cardinals-Giants National League Championship Series game that night. Sure, it was partly a publicity stunt, but that's fine. I wanted to hear Buck calling both games.
The cool thing is Buck was humble about it. "It's not like I was in the pentathlon," he told Sports Illustrated. "I just sat there and talked. It's cute for Fox, but beyond that, people just want to watch the game."
Well said — just like everything he says.
If you think this country has become too obsessed with sports, here are numbers that can restore your faith a little bit. Last Monday, the Tigers-Yankees American League Championship Series game on TBS had a 4.6 rating from 8 to 9 p.m., meaning 4.9 percent of U.S. households with TVs were tuned in. But from 9 to 10:30, when President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were engaged in the second presidential debate, ratings for the baseball game dipped to a 4.2. When the debate ended, ratings for the game jumped back up, to 5.8.
CBS's Gary Danielson called Saturday's SEC showdown between the Gators and South Carolina, and I'm more convinced than ever that he is the second-best college football analyst, behind ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit. Danielson was in top form Saturday, mixing hard-core football talk with humor.
He also has a great feel and sense of history when it comes to the SEC and proved so when he said, "This Gators team reminds of the 2006 (national championship team). Everyone kind of poo-pooed their schedule, and they went out and won a bunch of close games."
New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica had a good line about who should be the No. 1 college football team in the country right now.
"Do I think Florida could beat Alabama? No," Lupica said. Then he joked: "I actually think Alabama could win the AFC East. … But if you're being fair, I think the Gators should be No. 1."
Lupica is right. The Gators went on the road and beat Texas A&M, then had huge home wins against LSU and South Carolina, teams ranked in the Top 10 when they played Florida.
Who has Alabama beaten? No one, really. The Tide's best victory, on paper, was its opener against then-No. 8 Michigan, but it turns out Michigan isn't that good.
I'm like Lupica. Alabama is the best team in the country, but the Gators — and maybe even Kansas State, which has beaten Oklahoma and West Virginia on the road — deserve to be ranked No. 1.
Three things that popped into my head
1. This is for all the local fans who think the Rays should fire hitting coach Derek Shelton because the team struggled at the plate this year: Do you also think the Yankees should fire their hitting coach, Kevin Long, because the Yankees couldn't hit water if they fell out of a boat in the postseason?
2. Let's see if cycling great Lance Armstrong is now treated with the same disdain that sports fans have for Barry Bonds.
3. USF alumni and fans might be just like those at Indiana, Kansas and Kentucky. The football season is half over and you're already looking forward to basketball season. I was going to add Duke to that list, but the Blue Devils' football team is 6-2.
TBS's baseball coverage is over for the season, and that's good and bad. The announcing crew of Ernie Johnson, Ron Darling and John Smoltz are really good, as is the studio show featuring Cal Ripken and Dennis Eckersley. But the strike zone graphic in the bottom right corner for every pitch remains a major distraction. The graphic never covered up action, but you couldn't help but look at it after every pitch. Give TBS credit for trying something different, and ultimately, a better viewer than I can train himself not to look at the graphic all the time.
ESPN SportsCenter anchor Steve Berthiaume is leaving the network after 12 years to become the play-by-play announcer for the Diamondbacks. That means ESPN also is losing another anchor. Cindy Brunson is off to Arizona, too, because she is married to Berthiaume.
Speaking of SportsCenter, the website The Big Lead wrote there could be a major shakeup to SportsCenter in the near future.
Each week, ESPN's College GameDay brings in a celebrity to help make the game predictions. The segment, and show, concludes with Lee Corso putting on a mascot head from the game of the day.
This past weekend GameDay was in Gainesville for Gators-South Carolina, and the celebrity picker was former Gators swimmer and Olympian Ryan Lochte.
Now, I'm not saying Lochte, left, is the dullest knife in the drawer, but when asked to pick the winner of LSU-Texas A&M, Lochte picked … uh, Auburn. No kidding.
Come to think of it, even if Lochte was on the right game, who the heck is picking Auburn to beat anybody? Corso, by the way, was priceless when picking the Gators to win: "I know I went to Florida State, and I'm stupid, but I'm not that stupid. Give me that Gator head!"