Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Worst Football Telecast Ever: Overhyped Vick-Watch Hangs ESPN’s TV Coverage

NFL preseason games have no bearing on the standings. Yet preseason matchups are invaluable, not only for the teams trying to get warmed up and test out their rookies, but for gamblers and prognosticator types as well, who are looking for clues to the teams’ forthcoming performances in the regular season. There’s always some talk around the NFL about trimming the so-called exhibition schedule, but I would say that four games is about right, especially since coaches do a nice job of using their stars sporadically and/or measuredly, to get them some work but not to overexpose them to possible injury in meaningless contests.

So preseason tilts certainly have their value. Which is why it was a bummer witnessing last night’s ESPN telecast of the Bengals-Falcons game, which just might qualify as the Worst Football Telecast Ever.

The game being set in Atlanta, there was, naturally, focus on Michael Vick’s recent legal troubles. But talk about your overkill. What the ESPN team did to the game itself was as bad as...well, as bad as electrocuting a dog for not having enough killer instinct.

The Vick-obsessed ESPN talent were so intrusive into the game that we received absolutely no play-by-play during a two-play sequence where the Falcons followed up a key reception with a TD catch-and-run by Jerious Norwood, both throws delivered by new Falcons QB Joey Harrington, who had a very nice game and looked like a viable replacement for jail-bound Vick. No doubt color man Ron Jaworksi was champing at the bit to work last night, but how could he, when all we got were ceaseless and repetitive commentary and interviews about the Vick situation?

At one point, we had pointless cutie-pie Suzy Kolber interviewing another ESPN employee, Chris Mortenson. Uh...that makes no sense. Then to play the politically correct feminist and racial cards, we had overwrought Michele Tafoya interviewing black Atlanta newspaperwoman Cynthia Tucker. Then play-by-play guy Mike Tirico welcomed into the broadcast booth someone named David Cornwell, a so-called “ESPN legal analyst.” (Is Cornwell a lawyer? We weren’t told.) Cornwell is African American as well. He added nothing new to the Vick discussion; just the same old speculation that had been swirling all day and night everywhere. But at least he was the right “color man” to enter the fray. (God forbid we have more white people on air daring to say that Vick is one messed-up dude, even though we all know he is, no matter what color we are.)

Then there was the other sorta color guy, Tony Kornheiser, looking bored and being boring. No passion, no humor, no insight into the game or performances. Totally expressionless and blah, Tony—and no thanks for your (attempted) sage-like words on the social implications of L’affaire Vick.

There were oddball shots into the booth, for example, of Jaworksi and Kornheiser standing up while Tirico was sitting. (Can you say awkward??) Self-consciousness ran rampant, and the constant Vick frenzy—Does ESPN think they’re CNN during the Gulf War?—was emphasized and pounded into the ground ad nauseam. All to the detriment of our prime reason for showing up: to watch the game and to see how the Falcons QBs would handle their assignments.

In fact, anyone who’d watched even a little TV earlier in the day already knew the situation or had heard sound bites of Vick’s “public confession,” which was yet another overplayed scenario out of the modern-day jock PR playbook. (“I want to apologize to the fans,” etc.) Suck it up, Vick. We don’t give a damn if you apologize to anybody. You certainly needn’t apologize to us for throwing away the remainder of your 10-year, $130 million contract because you like to watch, partake of and invest in dogfighting.

It was a hellacious experience watching that broadcast, and sorta pathetic to see ESPN mandating such a hyper, tabloid-type journalistic style.

Oh, in case you wondered, the Falcons won, 24-19. Harrington was 13-21 for 164 yards and 2 TDs, with no interceptions. He looked good. So did backup Chris Redman.

It actually was a very good game. But thanks to ESPN, you’d never have known it.

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