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Top sports TV stories of 2013

If you're reading this, you likely watch sports. And 99 percent of what you watch is on a television screen in your home.

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Which means you have a strong opinion on what you like and what you don't like. We all have our likes and dislikes, our favorites and things we can't stand.

Every Monday in the Tampa Bay Times sports section, I offer "Shooting from the lip,'' my best and worst of the weekend in televised sports. So as 2013 draws to a close, we look back at the best and worst of the past year.

Best studio analyst

Plenty of good ones are out there, including Charles Barkley, Tony Dungy and Tom Jackson, but this is a no-brainer. ESPN College GameDay's Kirk Herbstreit (right) is so knowledgeable about football and so confident and unemotional about analysis that you know you're getting the straight dope. And he delivers it in the chaotic atmosphere of GameDay while helping out his good buddy Lee Corso.

Best network

Each year I try to make a case for how Fox does this thing well and NBC does that well and CBS is good for this and HBO is good for that. And it's true. All those networks are outstanding with their sports coverage, as is MLB Network and NFL Network.

But let's be honest. ESPN remains the dominant sports network, and for good reason. It does sports better than any other network. It takes a lot of criticism from fans and media critics such as myself, and it's true that ESPN has issues from time to time. But whether it's live events, pregame shows, breaking news, highlights, panel shows or just a regular old SportsCenter, ESPN remains the gold standard of sports coverage.

Best announcing team

You can't go wrong in any year with NBC's Sunday Night Football crew of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth. Same with NBC's hockey team of Doc Emrick, Ed Olczyk and Pierre McGuire or ABC's NBA team of Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy, Gundy being my favorite analyst. But this was a terrific year in college football, and two announcing teams stood out: ABC/ESPN's Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit and CBS's Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson. I thought Lundquist had a terrific bounce-back season, and Danielson is always good. It helped that they had some great games — Auburn vs. Alabama tops that list — but Lundquist and Danielson get my vote.

Best documentary

HBO's Legendary Nights: The Tale of Gatti-Ward looked at the brutal trilogy of fights between Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward, the latter best known for being the basis of the 2010 Mark Wahlberg movie The Fighter. Ten years ago, Gatti and Ward fought three times over 13 months, fights that included some of the most vicious, yet beautifully fought rounds in boxing history. HBO Boxing, to no surprise, told the story in chilling, emotional fashion. This documentary nips ESPN's This Is What They Want, which made me interested in a tennis player I never really liked: Jimmy Connors.

Best daily show

Can we just make this a Hall of Fame category and make ESPN's Pardon the Interruption a first-ballot inductee? I often feel like I don't know about the sports topics of the day unless I hear Tony Kornheiser (top left) and Michael Wilbon talk about them. Note: The show is so much better when both are in the studio together.

Best step forward

A special shout-out to ESPN's Around the Horn. For years I have railed against this show. I think I even once called it the worst show on television. I've changed my mind, because I believe Around the Horn has changed its tune. No longer do we see four folks yelling and screaming and spouting off memorized numbers. These days the show is more intelligent, with humor and good opinions instead of rehearsed facts. Host Tony Reali, by the way, is very good. How 'bout this: I like, really like, Around the Horn!

Worst step back

What in the world has happened to Fox NFL Sunday? This used to be the best NFL pregame show. Now, other than Jimmy Johnson, I can barely stand it.

Best event coverage

A tie: NBC's NHL coverage and HBO's boxing coverage. Both are practically perfect. Not just now and then. All the time.

Worst event coverage

I love watching golf on television. Who doesn't? Is anything better than lying on a couch on a lazy Sunday afternoon in the summer and watching golf? But I cannot stand watching golf on CBS. I think a large part of that is the announcing team, but I can barely get through even the Masters without feeling queasy because of all the sugary coverage. Worst event coverage runnerup: CBS for not reacting well to the half-hour power outage at the Superdome during the Super Bowl.

Best sideline reporter

Many sideline reporters don't do much for me, but three stand out: ESPN's Doris Burke (top), NBC's Michele Tafoya and CBS's Tracy Wolfson. All are good and offer solid, interesting information that adds to their broadcast. Each is a worthy winner, but Burke is a personal favorite.

Best NFL pregame

I disqualify NBC's Football Night in America before the Sunday night game, though it is the best of the so-called pregame shows. I don't consider it a true pregame show because it has the advantage of showing a day's worth of highlights. So of the traditional shows, I'll go with ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown. It had slipped in recent years, but it bounced back in 2013. The panel seemed to mesh, and it attacked controversial issues, most notably the Dolphins' bullying story, with intelligence, passion and courage.

Worst loss

Fox baseball analyst Tim McCarver retired after a record 24 World Series. McCarver is a polarizing figure — not quite like Howard Cosell was but he has plenty of haters. I'm not among them. I enjoyed McCarver, and I think you — yes, I'm talking to the haters — are going to miss not having him to kick around anymore. Runnerup: CBS NFL analyst Dan Dierdorf, who is also retiring.

Best addition

Curt Schilling is going to replace Orel Hershiser on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball. Good move. Schilling will be terrific.

Three thing that popped into my head about sports on television

1. Fox Sports 1 started with a mild bang in August and has fizzled out already. That's too bad, because the network has talent and watchable programming. But no one, it seems, can slay the beast that is ESPN.

2. Does Tampa Bay realize how fortunate it is to have first-class television broadcasters such as Brian Anderson, Bobby "The Chief'' Taylor, Rick Peckham and Dewayne Staats, as well as hosts Todd Kalas and Paul Kennedy?

3. Announcers I want more of in 2013: Fox's Randy Moss, ESPN's Carolyn Peck and ESPN's Jon Gruden, who, I hope, will not return to coaching. Announcers I could use less of in 2014: Fox's Tony Siragusa, CBS's Jim Nantz and ESPN's John Kruk.

Sports Media Personality of the Year

Dan Patrick

His daily radio show is televised nationally on NBC Sports Network, and he is co-host of NBC's Football Night in America, reading highlights like he did in the old days when he helped make SportsCenter famous. There might not be a more measured, intelligent voice in sports. He rarely flies off the handle but always has a quick, strong opinion. He challenges his guests and is terrific, whether he is talking about the silly, mundane shenanigans of sports or serious matters. If I'm starting a network, Patrick is my first hire. To do what? Whatever he wants.

. Tuesday: National stories of 2013

. Wednesday: Local stories of 2013

. Thursday: Sports person of 2013

. Today: Sports TV

stories of 2013

. Saturday: Strange sports stories of 2013

. Sunday: Athletes to watch in 2014

Top sports TV stories of 2013 12/26/13 [Last modified: Thursday, December 26, 2013 9:58pm]
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