Monday, February 6, 2012
The ancient saying “Silence is Golden” still applies. Anyone who watched the Australian Women’s Singles Tennis Championship can attest to that. Maria Sharapova, the gorgeous Russian tennis star and television ad millionaire, was pitted against her hard-hitting countrywoman Victoria Azarenka in a battle of shrieking and grunting that could shatter glass. Their on-court noise wore on the nerves of all in the stadium or watching the match via television. I spent 40 years officiating at matches and consider this high-pitched yelling as demeaning to the game. As commentators pointed out time and again, tennis management will have to address this loud noise distraction sooner or later. Hopefully sooner.
Sporting events consistently top the ratings charts. A big part of keeping the interest in sports coverage has been the addition of former sports heroes to the commentary teams.
One of the advantages of having lived through generations of sports commentators is remembering yesterday's great athletes who moved into the broadcast booth. The immortal Red “The Galloping Ghost” Grange was one such. When he joined NBC to comment on football he was teamed up with Lindsey Nelson. The duo got off to a shaky start when Red failed to get Nelson's first name correct (Grange kept calling him “Linsley” instead of Lindsey) To make it even more painful Red used the incorrect name abundantly during their coverage. It was like he was hitting Nelson in the center of his forehead with a hammer. Some duos had great success, others not so much.
Each year the “Boob in the Booth” Award goes to the biggest dunderhead in sports commentary. And once again Phil Simms of CBS Sports has won hands down. The philosophy of network sports leadership seems to be combining an inept former jock like Simms with a front runner like Jim Nance. (Likewise Verne Lindquist, who has been around the gridiron since the first football was hiked, is weighed down with Gary Danielson.) Even Nance can't bail Simms out. Phil's style is to say things like “I agree with you, Jim” and then go droning on to nowhere. If he would just buy into “silence is golden” and let Nance fly mostly solo, all would be right again in the football world. Offsetting the idiocy of some commentating duos there is occasional brilliance. A good example here is the teaming of Joe Buck, one of the very best of the best, with Troy Aikman. The two of them show audiences how it should be done.
An advantage of old age (perhaps the only one) is that you can recall the greats of other eras. And trust me, there were some true giants - commentators like Mel Allen, Red Barber, and (who could ever forget him?) Bill Stern. Stern brought great excitement to his narration, and did not hesitate to make it up along the way. Typical was his breathless call of a pass interception where he followed the runner (we'll call him “Smith”) all the way down the field. As Smith was ready to cross the goal line for a touchdown, someone passed a note to Bill saying that Jones, not Smith, was actually the ball carrier. Without missing a beat Stern simply said “Smith laterals the ball to Jones who scores!!!! Such shenanigans were possible on radio but not in the television age. More famous is the Bill Stern story about a gloomy man looking out the second story window of a mansion during the Civil War. The tall bearded figure, observing Union soldiers sitting around listlessly on the lawn below decided to create a game for them to play and ease their idle hours. Then Stern intoned in somber dramatic voice “the sport he invented was called baseball...and that man was Abraham Lincoln.”
Maybe Simms isn't so bad after all.