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Tom Jones' Two Cents: Shooting from the lip

tom jones' two cents

Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones offers up the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.

Worst coverage

Sunday's Daytona 500 had it all: drama, thrills, interesting story lines and a good finish. Too bad you could not say the same thing about Fox's broadcast.

Normally, Fox's NASCAR coverage is among the best in sports on television, but Sunday's broadcast was a major disappointment. It was uneven and incomplete. I don't know which was worse, that it lacked entertainment or information.

The troubles started with the prerace show. Just seconds in, Fox addressed the accident in Saturday's Nationwide race that sent dozens of fans to the hospital after they were hit by car debris from a huge pileup. But Fox spent, maybe, 30 seconds on the topic. That's it. And that's embarrassing.

Where was the interview with NASCAR chairman Brian France or president Mike Helton or Daytona International Speedway president Joie Chitwood? Analyst Darrell Waltrip made a brief mention of the wreck a short time later, as did his brother, Michael, although Michael's point was to let everyone know he doesn't think about that sort of thing once the racing starts.

For Fox to have its hour prerace show spend more time airing the Zac Brown Band singing songs instead of analysts discussing the consequences of Saturday's accident was either incompetent or intentional in order to not make NASCAR look bad. Either way: not good. There were car pieces flying into the stands causing serious injuries. Someone could have died. That's not worth a few minutes of discussion?

The prerace show did have a solid feature on Danica Patrick, and Erin Andrews did a decent interview with defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, but the start of the race introduced more problems.

Maybe it was me, but it seemed like the race was flooded with commercials and that broke up the rhythm of the broadcast. I understand that Fox has to pay the bills, and I even don't mind a few more commercials early if it means no commercials near the end.

Fox will tell you that it started going to side-by-side coverage (that's when the screen is cut in half to show a commercial on one side and the race on the other) in the final hour, but the side-by-side format really doesn't help that much. In fact, Fox went to a side-by-side break with only 16 laps left and it wasn't until full-screen action returned that viewers knew there was a lead change. Geez, a break with only 16 laps left?

Throughout the day, announcers talked about how difficult it was to pass with the new Gen-6 cars, but no one ever said why. Was it because of the restrictor plates or the design or the style of racing the new cars produced? No one ever really said.

Sunday's broadcast was heavy on Patrick coverage, and I had no problem with that. She did make it an historic day and, let's face it, most viewers tuned in to watch her.

But on a day when Fox could have made huge strides attracting new viewers, Sunday was not a good day.

Worst-kept secret

Last week, ESPN confirmed to Sports Illustrated that recently retired Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis is joining the network as an analyst. Look for an official announcement within a week or two.

Lewis has had off-field controversies, including pleading guilty to an obstruction of justice charge in connection with two murders outside an Atlanta nightclub in 2000. But ESPN president John Skipper told SI that he was not worried that Lewis would turn off viewers.

"Obviously, we decided we were comfortable with it," Skipper said. "I will tell you we did remind ourselves of some of the issues. We sort of decided that the NFL welcomed him back into the fold and the fans welcomed him back into the fold. I think we are fine with second chances, and we think he will make great television."

Lewis is expected to have a major role on Monday Night Countdown and will occasionally appear on Sunday NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He likely will start working at ESPN at the start of next season.

Best analysis

Sun Sports hockey analyst Bobby "The Chief" Taylor had an especially strong night calling Saturday's Lightning-Hurricanes game. He had the type of game that defines a good analyst. He broke down key parts of the game and described why things happened the way they did while giving the viewers trends to look for as the game progressed.

Here's when he was at his best:

Midway through the third period, the Hurricanes had a tired group on the ice. Lightning defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron took a shot from the blue line that goalie Dan Ellis gloved and held. On the surface, shooting the puck never seems like a bad decision. But Taylor pointed out that Bergeron made a mistake. He would have been better off passing than taking what was a relatively easy shot for Ellis to save, which allowed Carolina to get its tired players off the ice. Taylor said Bergeron really didn't have a good scoring chance and that passing the puck would've forced the tired Carolina players to stay on the ice, perhaps leading to a better scoring chance.

It would have been easy for Taylor to let that go, especially because he criticized a Lightning player who had played a good game. But Taylor noticed something and passed it along to the viewers. And he made the viewers smarter in the process.

Most boring

ESPN said no decision has been made, but is reporting that college basketball analyst Bob Knight will not be retained when his contract ends after this season.

Knight has had good and not-so-good moments in his five-year tenure as an analyst for ESPN, but these days, he's mostly just bland.

What made him so polarizing as a coach — his strong opinions, his willingness to share them and his unapologetic attitude to not give a darn what anyone thought of him — could have translated so well to his work as an analyst. But he was never that same larger-than-life figure behind the microphone that he used to be on the sideline.

I liked Knight when he first became an announcer, but these days, it's not that I don't like him, I just don't think about him. For an announcer, that's worse than not being liked.

Best retirement

I have to be honest, I didn't even realize that the announcer Joe Garagiola was still calling games. He was, at one time, baseball's most famous announcer, calling games on NBC for 30 years. Many remember his work with on-air partner Tony Kubek, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s, on NBC's Saturday afternoon Game of the Week.

A former big-league catcher, Garagiola is one of the pioneers making the transition from player to broadcaster.

For the past 15 years, Garagiola has been calling select Diamondback games, but he formally announced his retirement last week. All totaled, Garagiola, who turned 87 this month, was a broadcaster for 58 years.

Three things that popped into my head

1. Watching Kobe Bryant score 38 Sunday against the Mavs made me think two things. First, even at age 34, Bryant remains one of the top five players in the game and, two, I think the Lakers just might sneak into the last playoff spot in the Western Conference.

2. It seems weird that Lindy Ruff, after 16 seasons, is no longer the coach of the Sabres. Prediction: Someone will hire him before this season is over.

3. Don't you get the feeling that the Lightning will make the NHL playoffs only if it wins the Southeast Division? The good news is the Southeast is ripe for the taking.

Tom Jones' Two Cents: Shooting from the lip 02/24/13 [Last modified: Sunday, February 24, 2013 10:20pm]
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