Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.
The best football broadcast I’ve ever seen was Super Bowl XLIII. That was NBC’s coverage of the Steelers’ last-minute victory over the Cardinals at Raymond James Stadium in 2009.
It was John Madden’s final game as a broadcaster, and the job he and partner Al Michaels, who was at the very top of his game, did was close to perfect in a game that produced one incredible play after another.
Sunday gave me a pretty good contender for the best game of this season: Sunday’s AFC Championship Game between the Patriots and Jaguars.
It didn’t have the bevy of eye-popping plays that most really good broadcasts usually need, but the work of play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz and analyst Tony Romo equalled the drama and emotion of the game.
Romo is by far the best analyst to come along since Madden, and it feels as if his presence has reinvigorated Nantz, who called as good of a game as I can remember. He was excited and emotional, and his calls on each play equalled the level of each one’s importance. Romo has the ability to tell you things only someone who played the game could tell you, and yet he also understands that he is talking to fans who are simply looking to have a good time.
The two were helped by amazing camera work by CBS, particularly on a did-he-or-didn’t-he New England fumble in the fourth quarter and the helmet-to-helmet hit that knocked Pats tight end Rob Gronkowski out of the game.
All in all, a terrific job by CBS, and you can’t help but think the arrival of Romo has made all the difference.
The only complaint about CBS’s AFC Championship Game coverage is when sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson, in a postgame interview with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, did not ask Brady the specifics of his hand injury. She alluded to the injury ever so briefly, and Brady at one point even said it was a "crazy injury’’ and he was worried midweek. That’s when Wolfson absolutely, positively had to ask what happened.
How did he get hurt? Did he get stitches? Did he have surgery of any kind?
Even if Brady had refused to answer, those are questions that had to be asked.
If you’re going to be a really good sports analyst on television, there’s one thing you absolutely have to be: honest, no matter whom you might offend. That’s why ESPN NBA analyst Jalen Rose is one of the best in the business. His takes are entertaining, informative and smart, but above all, honest.
Case in point: He called out someone who needed to be called out for being a complete baby. Just because that someone was a colleague sitting right next to him didn’t matter one bit.
In case you missed it, the Celtics have set aside a game next month to honor former great Paul Pierce, a good analyst in his own right at ESPN. His number will be retired in a ceremony after the game. But Pierce whined when the Celtics announced they were going have a short video tribute to former Celtic Isaiah Thomas on the same night during the game. (Thomas’ new team, the Cavs, is visiting that night.) Pierce’s bellyaching became a big deal, to the point that Thomas thanked the Celtics but asked they run their video tribute another night.
That’s when Rose let Pierce have it — on the air, with Pierce sitting at the same desk!
"I think it was petty on Paul Pierce’s part, because to me there’s going to be all types of announcements that happen during the 48 minutes of that game, all types," Rose said. "Celebrating Isaiah Thomas could be one of them. It does not take away from your situation … but they’re doing yours postgame."
Pierce seemed slightly embarrassed but said he still believed his night shouldn’t be shared with anyone.
That’s when Rose came up with this killer analogy: "Can I tell you something about your birthday? It ain’t only your birthday."
The best feature of the weekend was an ESPN NFL Playoff Countdown looking back at goats of past playoff games. It came in the wake of New Orleans safety Marcus Williams whiffing on a tackle that allowed the Vikings to beat the Saints on the last play of their division playoff game a week ago.
The piece caught up with other players who messed up in the playoffs:
e_SBlt Giants long snapper Trey Junkin, whose bad snap cost New York a playoff victory against the 49ers in 2003.
• The 49ers’ Kyle Williams, who fumbled a punt in overtime of the NFC Championship Game in 2012.
• Lee Evans, the Ravens receiver who dropped a touchdown pass in the 2012 AFC Championship Game.
Great hustle by ESPN to get the feature up and ready within a week. It had inspirational stuff that showed people can come back from awful moments. And it produced a tear-jerking moment as ESPN reminded viewers that Williams was encouraged by a 7-year-old boy who said Williams still had a great season and was still the little boy’s favorite player.
One of the all-time great sportswriters has passed away. Red Fisher, who covered the Montreal Canadiens from 1955-2012, mostly for the Montreal Gazette, died Friday at the age of 91. Because of my time as an NHL beat writer, I was fortunate to know Red, who was always helpful with advice and always entertaining with his stories from his seven decades of covering the league. As I searched for a proper way to put Red’s writing into focus, I realized I could not do better than what his good friend and longtime hockey writer Michael Farber wrote in the Gazette:
"He was a distinctive writer, often bypassing the who-what-where-why journalism conventions for something as informative but more stylish, punctuated with tics and flourishes that hardened into an inimitable style. Among his catchphrases: ‘My great and good friend.’ ‘Nobody died.’ ‘Take a deep breath and hold it.’ His deadline game stories were not newspaper-y, but 800-word novellas, replete with heroes, villains and plot.’’
Three things that popped into my head
1. I wrote this back in October in the Times’ NHL preview: "Many predict Las Vegas will be better than your typical expansion team. I’m not one of them. The Golden Knights will be awful.’’ Whoops. Man, was I wrong. I should have written: The Golden Knights will be awfully good.
2. The Lightning played so well for three months that it was bound to hit a slump. Though the play of the past couple of weeks is not encouraging, it’s way too brief a time to say the Lightning’s tide has turned. Let’s see where things stand in a month before hitting the panic button.
3. Jacksonville’s defense is the real deal, and running back Leonard Fournette looks unstoppable. But I still don’t believe in Blake Bortles as the Jaguars’ quarterback.
tom jones’ two cents