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Pack-Bucs matchup makes Buck's job easier

The Packers-Bucs game Sunday needs no additional hype, and Fox play-by-play announcer Joe Buck knows it.

So when he does his first Bucs game, Buck plans to sit back and enjoy, knowing that characters such as Brett Favre, Warren Sapp and Keyshawn Johnson will give him and partners Troy Aikman and Cris Collinsworth plenty to work with.

"There are games where you go in and think, how in the world are we going to make this fun and make it interesting," Buck said. "This isn't one of those games.

"These are the kind of games that just kind of do themselves."

Fox's No. 1 announcing team has done two Bucs games: the loss Oct. 20 to Philadelphia and the Oct. 27 win at Carolina, two of the Bucs' worst performances this season. But Buck missed both as World Series duty called, and Dick Stockton filled in.

Buck, who has drawn rave reviews in his first season announcing football, didn't miss much. But since the Philly loss, the Bucs have been rolling and help give Fox what so far has to be considered the game of the season between 8-2 teams.

"I know I don't need anyone to tell me how big this is," Buck said. "If you know anything about the state of football right now, you realize how important this game is. Homefield advantage in the playoffs is on the line. I remember when the schedule came out. First, I hoped this game would mean something, and then I was thrilled that this game is when it is (and not during October), so I could be there to witness it."

BUCS RATINGS: The Bucs game will be shown to 87 percent of the country, and Fox spokesman Tim Buckman said that is probably the largest percentage of any game this season.

"That's very high; it's rare," Buckman said.

By contract, Fox has to broadcast games in their home markets, obligating it to show the Texans-Giants game to New York's massive market, which Buckman said is around 7 percent. Otherwise, Bucs football would wash over more than 90 percent of the country.

HOME (MARKET) COOKING: Sunday's game will draw a huge number in two of the top three home markets in the country: Tampa Bay and Milwaukee.

In Milwaukee, Packers games are averaging a 40.9 rating, by far the top home market in the country. New Orleans (36.3) is a surprising second, and Tampa Bay is third with an average rating of 33.3 on Bucs games done by Fox.

WARREN'S WORLD: Bucs lineman Warren Sapp will be the "five good minutes" guest on ESPN's Pardon the Interruption at 5:30 tonight.

DON'T MISS: It's hard to imagine the rematch being as good as the first meeting, but why take the chance Saturday night as Micky Ward and Arturo Gatti tangle at 9:45 on HBO.

Their first brutal fight, which Ward won by decision, made the beatings in Rocky and Raging Bull look tame. Each fighter pummeled the other, and it seemed the referee could have stopped it at any time during the last three rounds.

Some have called it the best fight of the century, of the past 50 years, of the past 20 years. Depends on whom you talk to. Me, I saw it as the kind of fight the less-refined fans of boxing love, where artistry and skill were replaced by, well, a Rocky-like beating. But there is no denying it was the most entertaining fight in years.

If both fighters are courageous enough to go toe-to-toe again and it is half as good as the original, it's worth watching.

It also will be the 500th fight televised by HBO. The first HBO fight featured current analyst George Foreman against Joe Frazier on Jan. 22, 1973.

BULLS BOWL: Those holding out for a USF football bowl bid might want to pretend Saturday's game at Houston is it. To be safe, let's call it the Big Conferences are Ruining Things for the Smaller Schools Bowl as Fox Sports Net televises the game at 3 p.m.

What Tampa Bay's watching

SATURDAY

Event, Network Nat'l Local

CFB: North Carolina-FSU, ABC 5.7 6.2

CFB: Georgia-Auburn, CBS 3.3 4.9

Busch series Ford 300, NBC 1.8 2.7

Gravity Games, NBC 1.6 1.7

CFB: CBS pregame show 1.0 1.5

NFL Backyard Basics, CBS 0.8 1.0

Hyundai Team Golf, ABC 0.9 0.4

SUNDAY

NFL: Tampa Bay-Carolina, Fox 12.6 34.7

NFL: Buffalo-K.C., CBS 7.5 13.0

NASCAR: Ford 400, NBC 5.2 8.7

NFL on Fox pregame 3.6 7.3

NASCAR: Ford 400, prerace, NBC 3.0 4.7

Bull riding, NBC 3.1 3.1

NFL Today pregame, CBS 2.7 2.6

Nations Cup figure skating, ABC 1.7 1.5

Hyundai Team Golf, ABC 1.2 0.1

_ Compiled by John C. Cotey. Each national rating point represents about 1.1-million homes, while a local point is about 16,200 homes.

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