Monday, February 07, 2005

Monday morning sludge

Recovering from pizza, beer, poor clock management

Well, I might as well talk about the Super Bowl, since I've got the conch here . . .

---When I was a kid, I was a tremendous fan of all Philadelphia pro teams. Mike Schmidt was my favorite baseball player; Mike Quick was my favorite football player, at least until Randall Cunningham started scrambling around and throwing 50 yard bombs on the run, off his back foot; and Doctor J. and Moses Malone were my favorite dribblers up and down the court, at least until Charles Barkley demonstrated that the words "charming" and "misanthrope" are perhaps not completely incompatible.

Anyway, I wasn't a kid forever, and as my teen years began to elapse, I started to question the things to which I held a mindless fascination---as most people that age do. I am reluctant to cop out and mark this transition with a "catastropic event," like the 1994-95 baseball strike. I suppose I could, though; baseball was and is that which I hold most dear (at least among sports), and the strike came when I was 18-19 years old, your classic "disillusionment age." But that would be unnecessarily dramatic.

Instead, it all came apart when I took a train through Wilmington, DE. You see, I think the origin of my Philly phandom was the knowledge that I was born in Wilmington---I was a "DuPont kid"---which is close to Philly; perhaps this fact imbued me, at an early age, with some sort of parasocial civic pride. [Or hell, it could be even more ridiculous than that: I was also a huge fan of Michigan football, I believe, because of the helmet design. The old (or older, I should say) Eagles' helmet design of the 1980s was unquestionably cool.]

Anyway, I went camping with a friend and his family during my freshman year at GW. He was from Philly, which is where we met his family. The AMTRAK train stopped through Wilmington en route, marking the first time I had ever actually paid attention to the city. (My parents moved to Richmond when I was still an infant. I had passed by it in the car, but never really looked at it.) Well, you can't judge too much about a city based on the location of its train station, but something killed the mystique. Maybe it was just the unfamiliarity of it; maybe it was the knowledge that my "home" was not the Wilmington/Philly route, but the Richmond/DC route. Whatever it was, I came away from that trip with a tremendously reduced passion for Philly sports.

My interest lingered for a few years, but mainly as a token measure. As it is now. Philadelphia's teams still hold a special status, but more and more that status is special in the sense of "rivals I don't hate." And so, I'm a secondary rooter of Philly teams, as I was of the Eagles last night.

It was funny. When I displaced my memories of the 1980s/early 90s Eagles teams onto this one, I began rooting for the Eagles last night. For instance, when I imagined that Donovan McNabb's spot in the roster was actually occupied by Randall Cunningham---long and and lithe and elusive, as bringing that graceful bird on his helmet to life---my heart began to discover something long lost. But when I realized it was in fact McNabb out there---fast and blessed with a certain "escapeability," yes, but also muscular and powerful and bruising, as befitting the "more intimidating" bird and color scheme on the current helmet----I started to "balance the equities," as I so often do when watching a sporting event that does not directly implicate my fan's interest (i.e., a Redskins game, or like a Nats game will). Heck, even my undergrad school (GW) and law school (Richmond) are not only in the same conference, but the same division.

And so I started to consider other factors. My best friend from childhood (see below), for instance, lives near Boston and roots passionately for its teams. My sweet 85 year-old grandmother, who cried when the Red Sox finally broke the so-called curse, naturally roots for the Patriots. In addition, the Patriots are so well-managed (for instance, I'm sure Bill Billichik would know that when you're down 10 with a few minutes to go, it's time to, you know, hurry up a bit), sometimes called football's version of Moneyball, that I have to appreciate them on an intellectual level.

Consequently, I was mainly just rooting for a well-played game. Didn't even get that, though.

---You know what? Joe Buck's not a bad announcer. Really. And that's nothing small for me to admit, since I'm on record as saying that FOX is killing baseball broadcasting as we know it.

But Buck was pretty solid last night. He matches Collinsworth's sarcastic wit with aplomb and doesn't even mind when Aikman tunes the game out. (Moments later: "Hey, that wasn't Freddie Mitchell catching the touchdown; it was Lewis.")

While I'm on the subject of Buck, I figure this is a good time to rank national baseball play-by-play men (I'll get to color guys at a later date to be determined):

Dan Shulman, ESPN: Excellent. The best, and I say that with no qualification. He should be the next national star, but he'll probably be stuck with, at best, B-team opportunities for decades to come.

Jon Miller, ESPN: A better local companion than national mouthpiece, but he's certainly capable in the latter role. His tangents play much better on the radio, but he also gets bonus points for working well with Joe Morgan---and actually playing the good-spirited contrarian when Morgan assumes the old ballplayer persona.

Dave O'Brien, ESPN: Doesn't make much of an impression; just does his job. These are actually compliments for an announcer. O'Brien seems genuinely good natured and doesn't attempt to distract from the game for his own benefit. I believe O'Brien is an ex-beat writer, which is an interesting path to take for an announcer. He's observant, understated, and deferential to the color guy---exactly the qualities a B-or-C-team announcer should have.

Josh Lewin, FOX: Sort of FOX's analog to O'Brien. I actually root for the Saturday "regional game" to come on in my market. I enjoy listening to a Lewin game. Like Shulman, he should be a rising star, but probably isn't.

Gary Thorne, ESPN: Aside from a tendency to make a baseball game sound like a hockey game, Thorne is fine. His voice is a bit grating at times, but he makes up for it by being capable of tremendous "controlled passion." He's not bombastic or contrived (think Brent Musberger). He's a professional. And he gets residual bonus points for tolerating the Norm Hitzges Experience way back during ESPN's first year with baseball.

Joe Buck, FOX: Getting better, I think, and we do have to normalize his rating a bit for the "Tim McCarver effect," which is a little bit like hitting in Dodger Stadium. Still, it's becoming clear that he's every bit the football-announcer-doing-baseball that his father was the baseball-announcer-doing-football. And this guy is the big national guy of the moment and foreseeable future.

Which reminds me: How tough is it to be "the top of the profession," as Buck is now proclaimed by many, just by virtue of actually being the No. 1 national guy at the rightsholder's network? Seems to me, all you have to be is a competent announcer, and the praise will follow. The only exception I see is Brad Nessler, a very capable basketball announcer who "failed" because he could not make a stultifyingly inert NBA Finals interesting. Well, soooorrrryyy . . .

Bob Costas, Diva: Just on the list owing to his obsession with the subject and as a way of comparison. Costas, I think, peaked way early as a baseball announcer; he and Tony Kubek formed a great B-team for NBC in the 80s. I'm sure Ralph Nader started out pretty well, too, though, until he started believing his own press. And Costas did the same thing. I was of two minds when FOX won the exclusive over-the-air rights. While FOX is a blight on baseball, its exclusivity also cuts off Costas' main outlet to pontificate. That's a good thing. In addition, Costas gets marginal mitigation points for soldiering through a teaming with both Morgan and Bob Uecker, whose main contribution was "Hey, how 'bout that?"

Dave Barnett, ESPN: Sort of a higher-profile Dave O'Brien. Probably should rank higher, but I feel like I'm give ESPN announcers too much credit.

Chris Berman, ESPN: By all rights, should be the worst. But anything ESPN can do badly, FOX can do worse. Not worth my time, except to say that he killed the game that Ripken broke "The Streak." I suspect many people hate Ripken in part because of the bombastic approach and overblown rhetoric that Berman propogated.

Kenny Albert, FOX: Just dreadful. Marv's voice, but not his wit or enthusiasm. Ugh. Announces a game with the unstated subtext of "Why am I here, and why are you tuning in?" And, while this is a low blow, I am compelled to add that he is just beyond ugly. I wince when he's the "sideline reporter." No better on radio. Just a nepotista, through and through.

Thom Brenneman, FOX: The nadir. Combine all the worst elements of Buck, Costas, and Albert, and you get Thom Brenneman. Have you ever noticed that he just seems to marshal every ounce of energy in the vain hope that his voice will sound "deep"? Consequently, it's hilarious to hear his voice crack.

---Special props to the good Rev. Shawn Allen, childhood and current best bud of yours truly, who not only predicted the final score of the Super Bowl, but correctly predicted the shape of the outcome. What I mean is that he not only predicted a 24-21 Pats' win but didn't predict that Vinatieri would win it with a kick at the end---as just about anyone else would do, and reasonably so. Amazing.


Comments:
Yes, yes, yes on Thommy boy. He actually makes Steve Lyons listenable, by comparison.

The thing that grates me the most, is not his voice, but his sanctimonious, holier-than-thou, blessing you poor lepers, attitude. You're not the moral arbiter, bub!

The classic example is when he spent 4 innings of game 5 of the Oak/Bos ALDS railing on Manny Ramirez for doing Manny-Ramirez-type things. Make your point once and drop it. We don't wanna hear a scold.
 
I agree, Chris. He tries to sound deep, both tonally and intellectually, and fails on both accounts.
 
Perhaps your affection for Michigan football is because Delaware wears the exact same helmets?

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Thom Brenneman is an excellent play-by-play man. He's not sarcastic and disinterested and perhaps that annoys you. Joe Buck and Bob Costas are both of the above not to mention imperious assholes ... sorta like you.
 
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