NBC would enjoy another close Super Bowl, please

NBC would absolutely love it if Super Bowl LII turned out as well as the last three it has televised.

nbcsports11In Super Bowl XLIII in 2009, Pittsburgh defeated Arizona 27-23. In Super Bowl XLVI in 2012, the New York Giants beat New England 21-17. In Super Bowl XLIX in 2015, New England topped Seattle 28-24.

Three games, each decided by four points.

For those of us who remember the Super Bowls of the 1970s and ’80s, when nearly every game was decided by a blowout, this has been a welcome trend. And the ultimate was achieved in last year’s game, where the New England defeated Atlanta 34-28 in the first overtime game in Super Bowl history.

With the Patriots once again playing in Sunday’s Super Bowl in Minneapolis against the Philadelphia Eagles (and favored by 4½ points), NBC would be ecstatic if something similar happened this time around.

Al Michaels will be calling his 10th Super Bowl. (NBC photo)

Play-by-play man Al Michaels, who will call his 10th Super Bowl, understands he has been blessed by his recent assignments.

“We’ve been very fortunate,” he said Tuesday in a call with reporters. “We had Arizona-Pittsburgh, which featured two of the most iconic plays in the history of the Super Bowl: James Harrison’s 100-yard interception return — and ironically, he will be in the game on Sunday — and Santonio Holmes’ catch in the end zone to win it. And then we did the Giants against the Patriots three years later and that game ended with [Tom] Brady launching one to the end zone for [Rob] Gronkowski that fell incomplete as the Giants beat them for the second time in four years. And the last time out we had the Seattle-New England game three years ago and that featured the Malcolm Butler interception at the end of that game to seal it, and he’s in the game [Sunday]. So we have Harrison and we have Butler, probably the two most iconic defensive plays in the history of the Super Bowl.”

Michaels had one of his bucket-list items taken away last year, so he’s replaced it with another.

“We always had hoped to do the first overtime Super Bowl, but the Patriots took care of that last year [with a 34-28 win over Atlanta], so the only thing I’m rooting for this year is triple overtime and the longest game in the history of football.”


Speaking of rooting, network announcers never root for anything other than a good game and big ratings. No matter what you may think, they are not pulling for one team over another. It just doesn’t happen. No way, no how.

Objectivity in his analysis has led many viewers to think that Cris Collinsworth hates their team. (NBC photo)

But some people just don’t believe that. Eagles fans on Sunday completely expect NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth to not only be pulling for the Patriots, but to be hating the Eagles.

“It’s probably the most asked question I get in every city,” Collinsworth said. “I know the Eagles fans think they’re unique by asking that question. I think the Patriots fans think they’re unique, the Cowboys fans think they’re unique. Even the Bengals fans think they’re unique [Collinsworth played eight years for Cincinnati] by asking me that question. I have probably heard that question, I’m going to guess, in my lifetime, about 1,500 times.

“Usually, I just give a traditional answer, you know: ‘It’s my job to critique the players and I really don’t hate these guys, blah, blah, blah,’ just go down the list. And then sometimes, if a guy is particularly obnoxious, I’ll just turn to him and go, ‘I don’t know. I just hate ’em.’ It’s a bizarre world. I think I spend 98% of my time saying glowing, nice things about people in a broadcast and yet I know there’s another 2% [where I say] ‘They stink.’

“I’ve had my son play college football. I’ve heard him be critiqued on the air and it’s no fun. And obviously with these two [Super Bowl] teams, they’re so good and they’ve come so far, they become a bit of the family for the neighborhood of the local team, but I really, honestly expect my next question to be why do I hate the Patriots so much?”


For NBC sideline reporter Michele Tafoya, Super Bowl LII is a home game; she lives in Minneapolis (where the high for Sunday is expected to be 11 degrees and the low to be zero). Tafoya says that even though the hometown Vikings just missed playing, Minnesota is still ready to be a gracious host.

Michele Tafoya is enjoying having the Super Bowl in her hometown of Minneapolis. (NBC photo)

“It’s neat having the Super Bowl in your hometown,” said Tafoya, who grew up in California and has lived in Minnesota since 1994. “… I can tell you that the state and the cities have been preparing for it since they’ve known it was going to be here. There was all kinds of Minnesota nice and Minnesota excitement. They love the winter here in Minnesota. They embrace everything about it and so there’s a lot of fun going on around town. Even though the Vikings came really close and it’s been a major disappointment, I think still the fans here are ready to embrace the game as it stands.”

There are critics who think sideline reporters are a waste of time, that nothing good ever comes from them. But Tafoya may well be the absolute best of all.

“There’s nobody better than Michele,” Michaels said. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with her in basketball as well with the NBA [on ABC] about 14 years ago. You can always count on her and sometimes she’s in a very difficult spot. I know we were doing a game in Houston about four years ago. Gary Kubiak was the [Texans] coach and he suffered what appeared to be a heart attack and collapsed on the sideline. And there was Michele right there. I mean, that’s as tough as it gets, to get the information in the craziness going on all around you.

“… I’ve also watched her in a situation where a player’s brother had died earlier that day in a motorcycle accident and able to do it both journalistically and with a great deal of compassion. No matter what the situation is, she is up to it. She has never missed a beat.”

Tafoya and her husband Mark Vandersall have two children and she says she is pulling double duty this week as reporter and as mom.

“It kind of cuts both ways,” she said. “It’s a luxury in that I get to spend extra time at home and that is a premium to all of us who are on the road all season long. We miss a lot of stuff. … I have a hired assistant. His name is Mark Vandersall; I married him about 17 years ago. He has always held down the fort when I have to go to work. This week is no different in that regard, but we are going to try to enjoy it, too.”


Scoreboards tell more than the score; they tell history, too

This photo shows the Yankee Stadium scoreboard on Friday, June 6, 1969, two days before a Mickey Mantle tribute on June 8.

I love scoreboards. Yes, I know it’s a rather weird obsession and a rather weird confession. I have other obsessions too, but I have no plans to confess any of those just yet.

I’ve been enamored with scoreboards for as long as I can remember. I suppose for most people, a scoreboard is simply a device, perhaps almost a necessary evil, for showing what the score is, how much time is left, what quarter, inning or period it is and, to a lesser degree, down and distance, where the ball is, how many timeouts remain, if a team is in the bonus, how much time is left in the power play, etc., etc., etc.

I’ve recently started a Twitter account and a Facebook group called Vintage Scoreboards that I’d like to invite you to follow or join (or whatever verb is appropriate). I really didn’t expect much reaction out of either of them, except maybe from my immediate circle of Facebook friends and whatever lunatic fringe I might attract on Twitter.

However, the response has been rather surprising, especially on Twitter. For about a week, the only two people following the account were me and my son Mark. Then I plugged it on my own Twitter page and it took off pretty well, if you call 73 followers pretty well, and I do. Even Keith Olbermann follows it. So … that’s something.

As the name implies, I concentrate mostly on older scoreboards, i.e., pre-1990. This is primarily before every scoreboard became a videoboard. So we’re talking light bulbs, not LEDs.

The Dodger Stadium scoreboard setting the scene just before Kirk Gibson’s game-winning home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

The thing I like most about scoreboards is they record history. Sometimes it’s a no-hitter, sometimes it’s a big home run. Most of the time it’s nothing at all, but even then, they’ll show players who eventually became Hall of Famers or remind someone of a favorite player from back in the day (as the kids say — or said, back in the day).

So I started collecting photos of scoreboards through this big thing they call the Internet. A lot of these photos simply snapshots, taken on film a long time ago. Many times the scoreboard in the shot isn’t even the primary subject; it just happens to be in the background. As such it still serves to communicate what was going on at the precise moment the photo was taken.

Ebbets FieldMay 21, 1952
Ebbets Field in 1952. You can see how the “H” and “E” on the Schaefer beer sign could be lit to signal for a hit or an error. The Dodgers scored a major league-record 15 runs in the first inning. Also, you can see the out-of-town scoreboard showed only National League games — except for the Yankees on the very bottom part of the scoreboard. And why does the right column of scores have room for 10 innings, but the left column only has room for nine?

It wasn’t always abundantly clear what old-time scoreboards were trying to communicate. This was especially true in baseball. There were more doubleheaders back then, so you’d often see a column with the heading “1G” or “F” on it. That was to show the score of the first game during the second game. Want to know if the play you just saw was a hit or an error? In some ballparks, you’d have to look at the advertisements for Schaefer or Rheingold beers. They’d light up the “H” in each beer’s name if it was a hit or the “E” if it was an error. I kid you not.

A big thing in baseball was the out-of-town scoreboard. In those pre-Internet and even pre-TV days, there was no better way to find out what was going on in other games around the majors. Some old scoreboards put the entire score by innings for out-of-town games and made you add it up. A lot of boards would put up the uniform number of the pitcher in the game for each team. The way you would find out what number went with which pitcher was to buy a program. Some boards cared only about the league the home-town team played in, so you might see only the National League games at Crosley Field in Cincinnati.

And by the way, there were a lot of out-of-town scoreboards that had no idea how to abbreviate Cincinnati. The most logical (and correct) way was “CIN” but you’d often see “CINN” or “CINCY” or “CINCI.” When the Giants moved to San Francisco, teams weren’t content to simply put “SF.” A lot of them put “FRISCO” or “S FRISCO.” Of course, “Frisco” is one of the biggest insults you can give a San Franciscan, but who knows? That might have been the very reason they did it.

Yankee Stadium football 1958
The Yankee Stadium football scoreboard during the overtime NFL championship between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts.

During the era of multipurpose stadiums, converting scoreboards from baseball to football wasn’t always elegant. In the 1950s, around the time of the NFL’s “Greatest Game Ever Played” between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants, they would put it in an additional scoreboard at Yankee Stadium, given that you needed a clock for football. I remember reading that the Football Giants radio broadcasters used to announce from inside the baseball scoreboard, where it was either freezing or roasting.

Scoreboards for pro basketball and hockey have been fairly interchangeable, going from personal fouls to penalties and from timeouts remaining to shots on goal.

I’ve had the opportunity to run a few smaller scoreboards. These days, scoreboards run on wireless connections, add the score for you, synchronize with TV graphics and compute time remaining down to the tenth of a second.

But being a nostalgic kind of guy, I like the old-fashioned type better, back when a degree in hieroglyphics helped quite a bit.

Super Bowl storylines are already wearisome

SB52_Primary_RGBWe’re more than a week out from Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis and already I’m sick of the storylines we’re going to hear on TV and radio.

I don’t care about whether players kneel for the national anthem or not and neither should you. It’s not the law, it’s not even a rule, it has nothing to do with the military and the players who choose to kneel as a sign of protest are within their rights to do so.

While I disagree with this form of protest and wouldn’t do it myself, I support their right to do it.

Next will be how the TV ratings for the Super Bowl are down 9% this season and last week’s conference championship games were down 8%. Some of this may have to do with the whole kneeling thing, some of it may have to do with the continuing concussion controversy (which is still the NFL’s elephant in the room). But be that as it may, the NFL is in fine health, especially when it comes to TV. NFL games are still the highest rated and most watched programs on television and the price for a 30-second commercial is still north of $5 million.

Finally, it’s going to be cold in Minneapolis. The high is predicted to be 11 and the low minus-2. It doesn’t matter! You’re not going! You’re going to be in your mancave (or at least what will serve as your mancave for the day), cozy warm and stuffed with nachos. And besides, it’s an indoor stadium. The game won’t be affected at all. You’re not going to be tailgating outside the stadium, so hush.


The conference championships were seen by an average of 43.2 million viewers, according to SportsBusiness Daily. The AFC title game with New England defeating Jacksonville was seen by 44.1 million on CBS, while the NFC game with Philadelphia downing Minnesota had an audience of 42.3 million. It’s impressive when your numbers can be down 8% and you’re still averaging 43.2 million viewers.

NBC plans to show an unprecedented 11 hours of unauthenticated Super Bowl streaming (“unauthenticated” meaning viewers won’t have to be subscribers of a cable or satellite TV provider). Streaming will begin at 9 a.m. PST with pregame, followed by game, halftime and postgame coverage, and even the This Is Us episode scheduled for afterward. However, contractual restrictions prohibit mobile streaming.

Rather surprisingly, NBC’s coverage plans do not include Bob Costas, and he’s just fine with that. He told SBD his enthusiasm for football has been waning.

“The decision was mutually agreeable, and not only do I not have a problem with it, I am actually happy about it,” he told the website in an email. “I have long had ambivalent feelings about football, so at this point, it’s better to leave the hosting to those who are more enthusiastic about it.”

In addition, Costas has been vocal about the league’s concussion problem in the past couple of seasons.

Dan Patrick and Liam McHugh will host the pregame show with Tony Dungy, Rodney Harrison, Mike Florio and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“The broadcast is in good hands, and they don’t have an appropriate role for me, or compelling reason to use me,” Costas said. “All involved are fine with that.”

As usual, the network showing the Super Bowl will originate many of its regular programming from the host site. NBCSN will even show its NHL Live pregame and postgame show from Minneapolis next week. The Feb. 2 Vegas-Minnesota game will be shown on NBCSN.

While NBC plans to have “nearly 100 hours” of TV and radio coverage from Minneapolis, ESPN is set to originate more than 60 hours.

Meanwhile, the Pro Bowl, the all-star game no one asked for, will be at 11:50 a.m. on ESPN and ABC from Orlando, Fla.


The NBA All-Star Game isn’t until Feb. 18, but the event made news when the starters and reserves were announced on TNT. The Clippers are the host team at Staples Center, but there are no Clippers on the team. No Lakers, for that matter. Many particularly thought Lou Williams of the Clippers would make the West team.

“The Clippers, all of their best players have been out,” TNT’s Baron Davis said. “[Williams] is the best player on the team. He’s a playmaker, he evolved, he put up 50-point games … I think he deserved it.”

Coming sooner is the NHL All-Star Game, running head to head with the Pro Bowl, at 12:30 p.m. Sunday on NBC from Tampa Bay. The network plans to use “4DReplay,” a system with 100 high-speed cameras mounted in the arena — 50 placed on each side of the ice — to provide immediate replays of the action from a 360-degree perspective. Also utilized will be “JitaCam,” a 360-degree jib camera, mounted on a truss 40 feet above the ice.


Alex Rodriguez will take Aaron Boone’s place and Matt Vasgersian will take over for Dan Shulman on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball next season, joining holdover Jessica Mendoza. Rodriguez will remain as a postseason studio analyst for Fox while Vasgersian will continue as a studio host and announcer for MLB Network. … Speaking of MLB Network, a documentary on Tony Gwynn, MLB Network Presents: Mr. Padre, will premiere at 5 p.m. on Tuesday. … HBO’s Real Sports (10 p.m. Tuesday) will include segments on tennis legend Margaret Court and the St. Brown family of Southern California, whose three football-playing sons are everything basketball’s Ball family is not. …

The Southern California Sports Broadcasters presented former Kings announcer Bob Miller with its Vin Scully Lifetime Achievement Award and inducted Lakers analyst Stu Lantz and race announcer Trevor Denman into its Hall of Fame. … Tiger Woods’ return to Torrey Pines should give CBS good ratings for the Farmers Insurance Open this weekend — provided he makes the cut. Golf Channel has the first two rounds. … Golf Channel, incidentally, reached an agreement with International Alliance of Theatrical & Stage Employees technicians after a 1½-week strike. …

Tom Hoffarth, longtime columnist for the Los Angeles Daily News and the Southern California News Group, was one of many laid off this week. Hoffarth is a great writer and as good as they come in the newspaper business. He has been second to none in covering L.A. sports media for decades.

Patriots and Eagles — teams only their mothers could like

One thing about the New York Post. It doesn’t mess around in letting you know what it thinks.

The day after the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles became the teams to play in Super Bowl LII, the front page of the Post’s sports section summed up its feelings perfectly:


With the subhead: Patriots vs. Eagles is a N.Y. nightmare

No need to be so provincial, Posties. A lot of the rest of us aren’t all that crazy about it either.

post(By the way, the Post, being a tabloid, puts its sports in the back and works its way in from there. So Monday’s sports front page says its NFL coverage is on “Pages 53-48.” It’s like a bizarro universe.)

The NFL, even with two teams now back in Los Angeles, holds only limited attraction for me. No, it has nothing to do with kneeling or not kneeling or concussions or whatever. I just get tired (as apparently does the New York Post) of having the same teams in the Super Bowl.

OK, actually, I get tired of having the same team in the Super Bowl. I am so tired of the New England Patriots, of Bill Belichick, of Tom Brady, of Rob Gronkowski, of Robert Kraft. They are going to be in their record 10th Super Bowl. Out of 52. That’s almost one out of every five. They are the New York Yankees of pro football and I’m not too fond of the Yankees either.

Then there are the Philadelphia Eagles, and more important, their fans. These are the fans who marched down Broad Street on Sunday night and caused damage just for getting to the Super Bowl.

These are the fans who prompted the police department to grease down street light poles to keep inebriated fans from climbing them. The police officers who got this duty quickly dubbed themselves “Crisco Cops.”

These teams have some of the worst fans in sports. They each have a sense of entitlement. You kind of understand it with the Patriots: They’ve been to the Super Bowl so often, they should just rename it the Patriot Bowl and be done with it.

With Philadelphia, this will be their third Super Bowl after appearing in the 1980 and 2004 seasons. When they were babies, most Eagles fans’ first word was “Boo.” They boo their own team, they boo the other team, they boo the officials, they even once booed Santa Claus (I think he threw an interception or something).

And it isn’t just booing. Here’s an example from Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings from The Associated Press:

Jana Hokinson of Manson, Iowa, was one Vikings fan who traveled to Philadelphia for the game. She told Minneapolis’ WCCO-AM radio that she walked into the stadium with a group of other Vikings fans. Suddenly, two men in the front of the group were hit in the head with something and bleeding.

“One guy had a cracked forehead and the back of his right ear was just bleeding. The other guy, it was his left ear,” she said.

She said that security told their group there was nothing they could do.

Once she got to her seat, the fans around her were giving her group some good-natured grief at first, but after the Vikings scored, one of her sisters got spit on by Eagles fans, and another sister had food thrown at her.

She said she left after the third quarter and “security escorted us out because I got beer cans thrown at me.”

Hokinson said they were escorted to the car, but they had promised to give a man from Minneapolis a ride to the airport. Security had to go back and retrieve that Vikings fan from his club seat because Eagles fans were blocking him and wouldn’t let him leave.

“It was crazy,” she told the radio station.

The Vikings team bus was pelted with beer cans after the game.

To say Philly is a tough town is like saying Tom Brady leads a charmed life. It doesn’t even begin to describe it. Bradley Cooper tried to make us like Eagles fans in 2012 with Silver Linings Playbook, a movie about winning a dance contest as the Eagles defeat the Dallas Cowboys. Or something. I’m not sure what exactly.

Eagles fans have this feeling of destiny this season. Nick Foles leads the Eagles at quarterback after Carson Wentz, an MVP candidate, was injured Dec. 10 against the Rams. Foles has exceeded expectations in his backup role and has emboldened Philly fans to think he can lead them over Brady and the Patriots.

You go with that, Eagles fans. You’ve got two weeks until kickoff.

Meanwhile, Patriots fans were wondering if Brady’s charmed life was beginning to fade. Tom Terrific suffered a cut on his throwing hand during practice last week and even he wasn’t completely sure of how effective he would be Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Brady did not practice Thursday and was limited Friday, but by the time Sunday night rolled around, he had only some tape protecting his stitches and completed 26 of 38 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns.

“I’ve had a lot worse,” Brady said. “I didn’t know that on Wednesday. It was a crazy injury. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday was a little scary. Then I started getting some confidence and today we did just enough to win.”

It was Brady’s eighth AFC championship and he’ll be going for his sixth Super Bowl win with the Patriots, a team mark that would match the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Adding to the Patriots’ injury concerns, tight end Rob Gronkowski left the game with a possible concussion. But Danny Amendola stepped in and caught both TD passes in the fourth quarter.

The Eagles are 5½-point underdogs to the Patriots for the Super Bowl, but that’s the way it’s been throughout the playoffs.

“You know, everyone was against us,” Foles said in true us-against-the-world style. “Coming out here and stick together and come away with an amazing victory against a great team.”

The Eagles have not yet begun to know true underdog status. That 5½-point spread? It’s way low.


Now, just a few more first-glance tidbits about Super Bowl LII:

  • The Associated Press’ style directive toward the Super Bowl now says writers should not use Roman numerals the way the NFL has with every Super Bowl since III in 1969. Instead, it mandates this year’s game, if you absolutely must use a number at all, should be Super Bowl 52. What’s the fun in that? Romans are aghast.
  • Ticket demand for the Super Bowl, to be played at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, has dropped — a little. ESPN reported online ticket prices went up to $5,400 when the Vikings scored the first touchdown Sunday against the Eagles. By the time the game ended and Philadelphia had won 38-7, the price had gone down to $4,525 because the hometown Vikings were out of it.
  • If the Vikings had won Sunday, it would have been the first time a Super Bowl team had played in its home stadium. The only times a team came anywhere close to having a “home” game was in Super Bowl XIV when the Los Angeles Rams played at the Rose Bowl and in Super Bowl XIX when the San Francisco 49ers played at Stanford Stadium.
  • The Patriots are likely to lose both offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia to be head coaches of the Indianapolis Colts and the Detroit Lions, respectively. Meanwhile, Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is expected to become head coach of the New York Giants.

NFL conference championships are a great show for underdogs

On one hand, this should be a very interesting NFL playoff Sunday. Three of the four teams involved in the conference championships have almost completely unknown quarterbacks. If you’re a fan who consistently enjoys rooting for underdogs, these two games were meant for you.

Playoffs_rgbAt 12:05 p.m. PST Sunday, the AFC championship game features the Blake Bortles and the Jacksonville Jaguars visiting Tom Brady’s New England Patriots on CBS and at 3:40 p.m., Fox will have the NFC championship with Case Keenum and the Minnesota Vikings at the Philadelphia Eagles and Nick Foles.

Sure, everybody knows Brady and there’s always the likelihood that the Patriots will not only win Sunday, but go on to win Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4. That’s just the Patriots. That’s who they are. But Sunday’s conference championships give us the opportunity to dream a little bit and wonder what it would be like to have the Jaguars in the Super Bowl, or to have the Vikings being the first team to play the Super Bowl in their own stadium.

CBS analyst Tony Romo — who has been brilliant in his first season as the network’s No. 1 booth analyst, working with Jim Nantz — says anything could happen, but New England is the team to beat.

“Whether it’s Jacksonville, Minnesota or Philadelphia, New England will be prepared and they’ll be ready,” Romo said this week. “… To win this thing, they’re going to have to go through two dynamic defenses and that’s a lot of hits on the quarterback. That’s a lot of throws under duress.

“… If anyone can do it, it’s Brady. If anyone can get their team ready, it’s [coach Bill] Belichick. We’ve seen it. But, it’s definitely a challenge and I would say whoever comes out of the NFC is a very formidable opponent. And they’re going to be in the mix. All four of these teams can win a Super Bowl. And you can’t say that every year.”

On the NFC side, the Eagles have taken an us-against-the-world approach that CBS’ Bill Cowher says has worked to their advantage.

“I don’t think they are [underdogs], but don’t tell them,” Cowher said. “I think they are playing the underdog role pretty well right now. … Last week being the underdog at home kind of fueled them to play that card to take them to the Super Bowl.”

The Vikings, however, will be a formidable opponent for Philadelphia, especially after their amazing, last-second 29-24 win last week over New Orleans. Cowher said much of the Vikings’ success falls directly on coach Mike Zimmer.

“Mike, in my opinion, does a good job of keeping everyone on edge,” Cowher said. “… What really speaks volumes about Mike, he doesn’t let people get comfortable.  I think there is a lot to be said for that. And they have had a lot of success, but they are still playing with an edge. … I give a lot of credit to Mike Zimmer for having the no-nonsense approach he is taking to this team. They have adopted that and they are a reflection of their head coach.”


The most amazing moment of the weekend was how the Vikings beat the Saints on a 61-yard pass play from Keenum to Stefon Diggs with no time left.

Just as impressive were the calls of the play on TV and radio. Fox’s Joe Buck, not particularly known for emotion, screamed his head off:

“Keenum steps into it. Pass is caught! DIGGS … SIDELINE … TOUCHDOWN! UNBELIEVABLE! VIKINGS WIN IT!

Kevin Harlan on Westwood One radio, who is known for emotion (even on unemotional plays), had a great call, too:

“Shotgun snap. He moves up, he throws a long line drive on the near side. Leaping to it, catch made! My goodness! IT’S GOING TO GO IN FOR THE TOUCHDOWN! GRAB BY DIGGS! He broke a tackle, 61-yard touchdown throw! The Vikings have won! The Minnesota Vikings have won!”

Of course, the Vikings’ radio broadcast on the team’s 68-station network was loud and proud. Paul Allen and Pete Bercich were astonished:

Allen: “Case on the deep drop, steps up in the pocket, he’ll fire to the right side, CAUGHT BY DIGGS! STAY IN BOUNDS!”

Bercich: “OH, MY GOD! OH, MY GOD! NO WAY!”




Bercich: “NO WAY!”



Ratings for the NFL’s divisional games last Sunday were bleak. SportsBusiness Daily reported that the contests had their “lowest figures in at least a decade, despite three of the four games coming down to the wire.”

As might be expected, the thrilling Saints-Vikings game had the best mark, with a 21.8 big-market overnight rating for Fox. Anything over 20.0 is a big rating for any program, but it was the lowest figure for a Sunday afternoon divisional game since the 2009 Chargers-Steelers game had a 21.4 on CBS. The first game Sunday, Jaguars-Steelers, pulled in a 20.4, the lowest mark in that spot in at least 15 years.

The two Saturday games fared worse. NBC had a 17.4 for Eagles-Falcons and CBS had a 16.6 for Titans-Patriots. Those were the lowest ratings for Saturday divisional games since 2009.


Chris Berman and Tom Jackson will reunite on ESPN after this weekend’s NFL conference championship games to host a special edition of NFL PrimeTime at 7 p.m. Sunday. The two worked together for 29 years on various studio shows. Berman will also host the show following Super Bowl LII. Matt Hasselbeck will be the ESPN analyst for the Jan. 28 Pro Bowl alongside play-by-play man Sean McDonough. Several reports speculate this will be an audition for Hasselbeck to replace Jon Gruden on Monday Night Football next season. … SportsBusiness Journal sources say ABC “has emerged as a surprise bidder” for the NFL Thursday Night Football package. Other than playoff simulcasts with Disney sister network ESPN, ABC hasn’t shown NFL games since Monday Night Football was shifted over to ESPN in 2006. CBS and NBC are the incumbents for the TNF package and have submitted bids along with Fox.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will not only join NBC’s NASCAR coverage this season, he will also be part of the network’s Super Bowl and Winter Olympics programming. … Katie Couric has been tabbed to co-host the Winter Olympics opening ceremony with Mike Tirico. The former Today host (as well as anchor for the CBS Evening News) hosted opening ceremonies at the Sydney, Salt Lake City and Athens Games. NBC’s most recent Olympics, at Rio de Janeiro, was hosted by Matt Lauer and Meredith Viera. Lauer was fired by NBC in November after sexual harassment allegations. … NBC plans to stream the opening ceremony live (it would start at 3 a.m. PT), then show its curated version on TV in prime time. …

Golf Channel is struggling to show live golf events while technicians belonging to the International Alliance of Theatrical & Stage Employees are on strike. … Nicole Briscoe has signed a new contract with ESPN. A new duty will include being host of ABC’s Indianapolis 500 telecast. … The first telecast of this season’s ABC’s NBA Saturday Prtimetime package starts this weekend with Warriors-Rockets at 5:30 p.m. The network will also show a “matinee,” Thunder-Cavaliers, at 12:30. … NBCSN will show the NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony at 5 p.m. Friday. … MLB Network will reveal the Baseball Hall of Fame election results at 3 p.m. Wednesday.

An appreciation of Keith Jackson, the voice of college football

Keith Jackson 2
“Amplify, clarify and don’t intrude,” said Keith Jackson. “That was my philosophy and I never changed it.” (ABC photo by Ida Mae Astute)

Watching a college football game that Keith Jackson was broadcasting was like watching a game with your dad or your grandfather. There was always an appreciation of the event, but also a sprinkling of folksy phrases.

The linemen were “the big uglies,” an unattractive but very necessary part of the game. The vast stadium at the University of Michigan was “the Big House.” The Rose Bowl was “the Granddaddy of Them All,” a moniker that became so attached to the event it was trademarked by the Pasadena Tournament of Roses. When a ball got loose, the call was “Fum-BULLLL!” When an errant pass just missed being intercepted and returned for a touchdown, “six points went a-wastin’!” And when an eye-popping play was almost too good to believe, it was punctuated by “Whoa, Nellie!”

Jackson died Friday night at the age of 89, leaving the legacy of a legendary sports broadcasting career on ABC.

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Keith Jackson was so identified with the Rose Bowl, he coined the phrase “The Granddaddy of Them All.” (ABC photo by Craig Sjodin)

“For generations of fans, Keith Jackson was college football,” Walt Disney Co. chairman and CEO Bob Iger said. “When you heard his voice, you knew it was a big game. Keith was a true gentleman and memorable presence. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Turi Ann, and his family.”

As much as he meant to college football, and vice versa, Jackson’s broadcasting career was vast and varied. His ABC career started on Wide World of Sports, a cavalcade program of often obscure sporting endeavors, which meant Jackson covered such things as skydiving, arm wrestling and motorcycle jumping. Jackson made everything he announced sound like it was the biggest thing around.

“I wanted to be a sports announcer and you’re not going to be one if you don’t go out and do whatever it is you’ve been assigned to do,” Jackson said in 2011.

After a stint in the Marines, Jackson went to Washington State College where he broadcast football and earned a degree in broadcast journalism in 1954. He went to work at ABC affiliate KOMO in Seattle, working first in radio, then in television, including some time as news co-anchor. In 1958, he did the first live sports broadcast from the Soviet Union to the U.S., a crew race between the University of Washington and a Soviet team.

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Keith Jackson, center, was the first play-by-play voice of “Monday Night Football,” with Howard Cosell, left and Don Meredith. (ABC photo)

In 1964, Jackson became sports director for ABC Radio West and continued freelance work with ABC Sports before working full time in 1966. He also served as a radio news correspondent during those years. Jackson covered the 1964 Republican National Convention in San Francisco, and in 1965 he worked a baseball telecast with Jackie Robinson in the afternoon and covered the Watts riots in Los Angeles that same night.

With ABC, his sports work took him to 31 countries and to 10 Olympic Games. Jackson called Mark Spitz’s seven swimming gold medals in Munich in 1972 and Eric Heiden’s five gold medals in speedskating in 1980 at Lake Placid.

While Jackson is primarily known for college football, he was the first play-by-play voice for the NFL’s Monday Night Football when it started in 1970. The next season, ABC Sports president Roone Arledge hired Frank Gifford, a handsome former player with a glamorous name, to join Don Meredith and Howard Cosell.

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Keith Jackson poses at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. (ABC photo by Steve Fenn)

Also at ABC, Jackson called major league baseball, including 11 World Series and league championship series. His highlights included Reggie Jackson’s three World Series home runs for the Yankees against the Dodgers in 1977 and Bucky Dent’s playoff homer for the Yankees against the Red Sox in 1978. Jackson did NBA games with Bill Russell, along with college basketball, boxing, the USFL and auto racing — NASCAR, USAC and Formula One, including seven Grand Prix of Monaco races.

But college football was Jackson’s domain.

“When I was a boy, we didn’t have all this pro stuff,” he said in 2009. “All professional sports of any consequence were located in the big cities in the north, so those of us who enjoyed the game of football followed college football.” Over the years, Jackson’s broadcast partners Jack Jensen, Lee Grosscup, Bud Wilkinson, Ara Parseghian, Frank Broyles, Lynn Swann, Tim Brant, Bob Griese and Dan Fouts.

“He did it for a long, long time,” Griese told ESPN. “… He never intruded on the game. It was always about the kids on the field, Never, never shining the light on himself. And that was one of the things that I most admired about him.”

Jackson insisted he didn’t say “Whoa, Nellie!” all that often, that it was really more the people who impersonated him who did that. But in this wonderful appreciation from ESPN, you can catch Jackson saying it at the 4:35 mark.

“This ‘Whoa, Nellie!’ thing is overrated,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “There were all kinds of stories going around. People said I had a mule in Georgia named Nellie. Well, we had a mule in Georgia, but her name was Pearl.”

Jackson was given the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame’s Gold Medal in 1999, the same year he was the first broadcaster named to the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame. He is also a member of the American Sportscasters Hall of Fame and a winner of the Amos Alonzo Stagg Award by the American Football Coaches Association.

He was named National Sportscaster of the Year five times by the National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

“The college football game as such doesn’t exhibit the skill pro football does, but,” Jackson said, holding up a finger for emphasis, “it’s got spirit.”

However, he was criticized in 1978 for ignoring an incident at the end of the Gator Bowl when Ohio State coach Woody Hayes punched Charlie Baumann, a Clemson linebacker, after Baumann intercepted a pass.

ABC showed the replay, but Jackson and Parseghian said nothing. Jackson explained later that they could not see the replay in their booth.

Despite majoring in broadcast journalism, Jackson told The Boston Globe in 1999, “I’m not a journalist. It’s a simple thing. When ABC spends half a billion dollars on something, I’m not going to rip and tear it apart.”

At the end of two contracts — after the 1986 and 1998 seasons — Jackson said he was headed to retirement, but both times, within months and without missing a college football assignment, he re-signed with ABC. He confined his schedule primarily to West Coast contests. His last game was the 2006 Rose Bowl, where Texas beat USC for the national championship.

Keith Max Jackson was born Oct. 18, 1928, in the west Georgia town of Roopville and grew up about 10 miles away, outside Carrollton.

In addition to his wife, whom he married while in college, he is survived by his children Melanie Ann, Lindsey and Christopher, and three grandchildren.

If Jackson’s play-by-play was essentially simple, that was by design.

“I’ve lived all my professional career with a single thought when I went to do a program,” he once said. “Amplify, clarify and don’t intrude. That was my philosophy and I never changed it.”

Overtime pays off for ESPN, College Football Playoff

Overtime turned out to be a good time for the College Football Playoff.

cfpThe CFP championship game as well as the Rose Bowl semifinal went into extra time and produced big TV viewership numbers.

Monday’s title game, won 26-23 in OT by Alabama over Georgia, was seen by an average of 28.4 million viewers on ESPN (which had 27.4 million itself), as well as on “MegaCast” networks ESPN2 and ESPNU.

It’s the No. 2 most watched cable TV telecast in history and 11% more than last year’s Clemson-Alabama title game (25.3 million). The inaugural CFP game — Ohio State-Oregon in 2015 — is still No. 1 at 33.9 million.

Monday’s game was, understandably, a huge draw in the South. Nine of the top 10 markets to watch the game were from the region with Birmingham topping the list with a 57.6 rating (meaning 57.6% of all TVs in the market were tuned to the game). The big-market overnight rating was 16.7.

For the Rose Bowl (a double-overtime victory by Georgia over Oklahoma), the overnight rating was a 14.8, the second best mark for a CFP semifinal behind Oregon-Florida State in 2016 (15.5). The Alabama-Clemson semifinal at the Sugar Bowl had a 12.5 overnight rating.

All this had ESPN smiling broadly.

“The record-breaking audiences, over the course of multiple years, clearly reinforce how the College Football Playoff has quickly established itself as an elite event on the sports calendar,” ESPN executive vice president Burke Magnus said in a statement. “[Monday’s] thrilling finish coupled with ESPN’s innovative MegaCast presentation showcased the incredible strength of college football and the deep connection live sports have with fans.”


SportsBusiness Daily reported all four NFL networks had double-digit declines for the wild-card round of the playoffs last weekend. The Rams’ Saturday night loss to the Falcons on NBC earned a 14.9 overnight rating, down 10% from the 16.5 for the Seahawks-Lions matchup last year.

Wild Card_rgbFox had the most watched game, with Saints-Panthers drawing a 20.4. However, that was still down 15% the 24.0 for Packers-Giants last season. CBS had a 17.2 mark for Bills-Jaguars, down 10% from the Steelers-Dolphins’ 19.2 in 2017. The Titans-Chiefs game on ABC and ESPN had a 14.7 rating, down 11% from a 16.6 for Texans-Raiders in ’17.

Whatever you may think about the NFL right now, between national anthem kneelings and concussion issues, it is still golden for TV networks. Nothing beats it and nothing will.

“We always want ratings to go up, but we’re 37 of the top 50 shows, which is higher than ever,” Goodell told reporters Sunday. “We’re likely to be the No. 1 show … on all of television, the Fox Sunday afternoon game. Sunday night prime time is for the seventh year in a row the No. 1 show. Thursday night football is No. 2.

“I think dominance of the NFL in television is still very clear.”

For this weekend’s divisional round, the two Saturday games are Falcons-Eagles at 1:35 p.m. PST on NBC, followed by Titans-Patriots at 5:15 on CBS. CBS gets two games this weekend. On Sunday it has Jaguars-Steelers at 10:05 a.m. and Fox gets Saints-Vikings at 1:40 p.m.


image005The Kings and Ducks play at Staples Center on Saturday night and they’ve declared it Hockey Day SoCal with all kinds of Southern California events, but as far as I’m concerned, the real star of the day will be Bob Miller.

The former Kings broadcaster, who retired after last season after 44 years, will be honored Saturday with a statue outside Staples Center and a permanent banner inside. It’ll be the third hockey statue at Staples’ Star Plaza, joining Wayne Gretzky and Luc Robitaille. Miller’s will be the first statue of a broadcaster at any current NHL arena. The banner will join those for Gretzky, Robitaille, Rob Blake, Dave Taylor, Marcel Dionne and Rogie Vachon. Fans will receive a Bob Miller “BOBblehead.”

As part of the event, Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket, as well as Fox Sports San Diego, will each offer 6½ continuous hours of hockey-themed programming beginning with two Kings vs. Ducks classic games at 4:30 p.m. and concluding with Ducks-Kings pregame and ceremony coverage at 7. Game time is 7:30.

FS West’s classic game will be the first ever played between the Kings and Ducks on Dec. 2, 1993. Prime Ticket’s will be a Ducks comeback win from Jan. 22, 2003.


CBS Sports Network will air a documentary that should be worth watching. History in the Astrodome: UCLA vs. Houston 1968 looks back at the classic college basketball game — the first to be televised nationally in prime time — and how it changed the sport. CBS Sports announcer — and Houston alumnus — Jim Nantz interviews the late Dick Enberg (who called the game), Elvin Hayes, Don Chaney and Seth Davis.NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, according to USA Today, but he expects to return in time to be involved with next month’s Winter Olympics. McGuire’s diagnosis comes five months after fellow NBC analyst Ed Olczyk was told he had colon cancer. … Fox Sports named Mark Silverman as president of its national networks. He’ll oversee Fox Sports, Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2 and retain his role as president of the Big Ten Network.

TNT will show three games Monday on Martin Luther King Day: Lakers-Grizzlies at 2:30 p.m., Warriors-Cavaliers at 5 and Rockets-Clippers at 7:30. Also, NBA TV will have Hornets-Pistons at 9:30 a.m. and Spurs-Hawks at noon. … Australian Open coverage begins at 4 p.m. Sunday on ESPN2. NBC announced it will provide more than 50 hours of Winter Olympic virtual reality coverage to authenticated users via the NBC Sports VR app.