There are days, of course, when it’s possible to write the praises of TV sports on the back of a matchbook - those mysteriously coincide with the days NBC is televising golf or Fox is televising anything - but for those other days when you can get through an entire afternoon without the urge to launch a missile at your TV screen, we pay tribute.
And we present what’s good about TV sports:
Remember when ESPN started and significant numbers of people claimed a 24-hour all-sports network was as necessary as The Clapper? Ha. Double Ha. Those people are now, I guarantee, like the rest of us: hooked. We can remember ESPN’s channel number faster than we can remember the names of our children. It’s programmed into our fingertips.
Simply because of ESPN we now know New Mexico State has a basketball team, and usually a pretty good one, Cal-State Fullerton has a baseball team, water-skiing is a competitive sport, golf tournaments really do have first and second rounds and it is possible to take sports seriously without taking yourself too seriously.
Robin Roberts gets promoted.
ESPN’s most polished and professional SportsCenter anchor recently earned herself a new, bigger contract with ESPN and ABC that keeps her presence on SportsCenter and makes her the new host of Wide World of Sports.
As a black female, Roberts has certainly run into her share of barriers in the white male world of sports television, but she cleared them because she’s terrific. She’s smart and poised with a sense of humor to match.
Marv Albert never gets a better haircut.
If Albert, the everyman of the TV sports announcing scene, ever came on air with some sublime, Paul Mitchell ‘do, we’d hate him instantly.
Albert represents the little guy, the TV underdog. He’s surrounded by slick, handsome guys who keep the hair gel industry solvent, but he’s the one we want around. His trademark “Yesssss” is an unofficial slogan of the NBA and broadcasts wouldn’t be one-tenth as entertaining without him.
The Triplecast is dead.
At times TV seems to run in its own parallel universe, but on the matter of the Olympics it was brought into line by the Great American Consumer.
The goofy idea of offering part of the Olympics on a pay-per-view basis in 1992 was an unmitigated disaster, restoring faith in the principles of the American public. Isn’t it bad enough we have to sit through 400,000 Kodak commercials, at least 10 between every event, and absorb ads for the official dental adhesive of the Olympic Games? And they expect us to pay extra for some sports?
Americans, bless them, killed that idea with enthusiastic apathy. ABC will televise Atlanta’s Olympics next summer without ever the red, white and blue channels.
The NHL playoffs are a great show.
Hockey used to be a Canadian sport, but somewhere some smart people figured that if Americans got that fired up about the 1980 U.S. victory over the Soviet Union, there was money to be made here too.
So, while minor-league teams became big hits in cities as far south as Memphis and Charlotte, and the NHL moved to South Florida and Southern California, TV figured out it might be worth televising the NHL more.
Boy, were they right. The Stanley Cup playoffs is a free-for-all, and sudden-death overtime is the greatest invention since cheese. And Fox thought they needed to jazz it up with those ridiculous robots. They look low-tech compared to Scott Niedermayer.
Bill Parcells and Bill Walsh aren’t on it anymore.
Maybe, just maybe, TV folks have learned that just because someone was a good coach or athlete, it doesn’t automatically follow that he or she will be a good commentator.
The football Bills were the worst. They make Al Gore look telegenic by comparison. I don’t care if they can diagram every play in every NFL playbook; if they can’t explain it without looking like they’re eyeing the nearest exit, get them off the screen.
On the bad news front, we still are forced to endure Frank Gifford, Brent Musburger, Hannah Storm and Mike Lupica on the Sports Reporters.
We never claimed it was all good.