Insanity is becoming a troublesome sports norm
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Insanity is no longer a side dish. It’s the main course, the epidemic within the pandemic.
Insanity is so thoroughly expected that reader Tim Shea of Martinsburg, W.Va., watched that first play of Browns-Steelers on Sunday — the ball snapped over Ben Roethlisberger’s head, recovered for a Browns touchdown — then expected NBC to post a graphic giving the snap’s launch angle and catch probability.
Anyway, the millions left jobless due to COVID can cheer up now that the Braves have signed pitcher Drew Smyly to a one-year, $11 million contract. This past season he pitched for three teams to the tune of a 6.24 ERA. And that’s why they call him Smyly.
Say, anyone see Kyrie Irving? It’s as if he fell off the edge of the Earth.
In Irving, another local team paid a fortune for someone everyone else knew was a rotten risk. Irving wore out his welcome in Cleveland, then in Boston, now here. The Mets did the same with Yoenis “Bad Optics” Cespedes, only he’d made it clear to three previous teams that he was as reliable as, “It’s in the mail.”
The first words of the ABC/ESPN Ohio State-Alabama national championship telecast, spoken by Chris Fowler, were “Ohio State is an 8 ½-point underdog.”
The Nationals are installing a sportsbook inside their ballpark. Fans/suckers will have a hard time avoiding it, as it’ll be just inside the main entrance. Patrons will be issued a mobile app so they can bet from their seats. Seriously. How many years ago would this have read as impossibly ridiculous or as a sport in immediate need of a commissioner?
The practical subtitle for HBO’s tell-most documentary on Tiger Woods would have been “What TV and Other Media Knowingly, Dishonestly Ignored for 25 Years.”
ESPN could wreck the third-grade talent show down at P.S. 35. One minute and 20 seconds into the NCAA championship, it cut from the field to show video of Bama quarterback Mac Jones in previous games.
Twice NBC’s Tony Dungy has called Buccaneers games this season. And both times he left Jets fans mystified by his repeated characterizations of defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. In four years, his Jets teams were 24-40, often losing games to sideline confusion.
Sunday, after Bears QB Mitch Trubisky was forced out of bounds, CBS posted this: “First play for negative yardage today.” In my unsophisticated youth, we called that “a loss.”
ABC/ESPN’s Steve Levy noted that the Ravens and Titans “have their full complement of timeouts.” Reader Joseph Tout: “If a friend came over to watch the game and he said that, I’d ask him to leave.”
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After Titans defensive back Kenny Vaccaro knocked down a pass, ESPN’s Louis Riddick called it “a PBU.” Pro Bowl Underwear? Public Bath Ukulele? Editor and sparring partner Drew Loftis informs us, it’s for “pass breakup,” the same number syllables as PBU.
Reader Alan Hirschberg: “Took me until the second quarter Friday to figure out the team wearing orange and blue uniforms in Madison Square Garden wasn’t the Knicks.” Yep, that was the Thunder. The Knicks again wore Nike black. Reader Mark Dantonio sees black uniforms and always figures he bumped into a Providence game.
So on a Saturday afternoon, Disney’s ABC/ESPN opened Ravens-Titans with 72-year-old Samuel L. Jackson ranting like an unhinged lunatic until he finished with “mother-f—er,” the last two syllables edited out. No doubt, ESPN’s dignified, family-friendly shot-callers were very proud.
As Ravens-Titans deteriorated into another turf war — culminating with another classless, childish, midfield logo-stomping as invited by Sgt. “I See Nussink!” Goodell — the pandering ESPN crew seemed more and more delighted by it. And more delight from the ESPN studio for another game surrendered to professional creeps/college men.
Insanity isn’t always natural; it can be taught. During last year’s Super Bowl, the 49ers defense immodestly posed for a group end zone “selfie” to celebrate themselves — before blowing the lead and the game. Saturday, the Titans defense, after an interception, ran to the end zone to do the same — before losing the lead and the game.
Crazy, I know.
Herbstreit takes right turn, then gets back on wrong road
One of TV’s many untreated disappointments is ESPN’s lead college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit.
He could be so good — so important — if only he ceased saturating his words in football gibberish, from “running down hill” to “stick his foot in the ground” to chalk-talk explanations of defenses that no one can see once the ball is snapped, and, of course, the ESPN specialty, vacant, vacuous stats.
Monday night, Herbstreit had two outstanding moments, one after Alabama defensive back Jordan Battle was ejected for targeting, helmet-to-helmet. While ESPN normally loads up on useless stats, no mention was made that this was Battle’s second targeting ejection this season, and at least Bama’s third.
But after Chris Fowler said that such hits used to legal, Herbstreit hit us right in the reality chops: “Legal? They were encouraged! They led ‘SportsCenter’!”
Yep, excessive brutality was what TV and football once sold as the essence, why we love it. Now it’s trash-talking, muscles-flexing and all acts of excessive immodesty.
Herbstreit later praised Bama star receiver DeVonta Smith as the ultimate sportsman and gentleman, marvelously talented and a pleasure to watch. Here! Here!
But if that’s how Herbstreit feels — and I’m sure he does — why does he regularly indulge those who exploit the view to draw extra attention to themselves through demonstrations of self-aggrandizement — the kind ESPN tapes and airs as come-ons for future telecasts? Step up! Speak up! Unless he thinks ESPN will fire him for being pro-sportsmanship, a possibility worth considering.
Milbury sacking misguided
Let’s put it this way: If Mike Milbury had won the NHL’s Lady Byng Trophy for gentlemanly comportment, NBC wouldn’t have hired him 14 years ago. He was hired because he was opinionated, a tough-talker and he drew attention with both.
I was never a Milbury fan, but in officially dumping him this week for his “sexist” comment, NBC did him wrong.
The comment that did it was spoken last season, when he said the NHL’s COVID bubble made it difficult to focus on anything except hockey: “Not even any women to disrupt your concentration.”
I heard him say it. It wasn’t spoken as a sexist crack but as a fact worth considering. And if NBC wanted to bounce him because it was time he was gone, then do it, rather than brand him for the rest of his life as a bigot. As reader Ron Perri put it, “Next they’ll come for Henny Youngman.”
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