© St. Petersburg Times, published December 2, 2002
ABC and ESPN may be owned by the same company, but let the debate over who does better nighttime NFL games begin.
Here's a vote for ESPN and its Sunday Night Football games. While ABC's Monday Night Football franchise throws up clunker after clunker, ESPN has had a string of winners this season. And there's a feel, an excitement, that makes the Sunday night game seem bigger than Monday's version. Mike Patrick has one of the best play-by-play voices around, and Joe Theismann and Paul Maguire keep you nodding or shaking your head.
The three-man booth works much better than the two-man booth, as the past two weeks of Bucs broadcasts have shown. Other observations from Sunday's broadcast:
YOU SURE?: "Tampa Bay on offense is going to have to run the football a little bit," Theismann assured viewers.
Really? The Bucs were 9-2 coming in with no running game, as sideline reporter Suzy Kolber explained with the help of a graphic showing the Bucs' woeful performance on the ground.
LOTS OF SUZY: ESPN uses the sideline reporter far more than Fox or CBS, and in a different way -- instead of injury updates, Kolber acted more as a third analyst. Too bad it comes off sounding so scripted.
A QUESTION: Why can't everyone include the play clock in their score graphic? It's a nice touch.
BLAME GAME: Sometimes, Theismann plays both sides of a coin, praising the very thing he was ripping earlier. In the case of quarterback Aaron Brooks, Theismann gave him the blame on two sacks, once for stepping up and trying to run, and another time for doing the opposite. Both times Theismann let Saints tackle Kyle Turley off the hook.
STORY OF THE WEEK: The ESPN crew addressed the Warren Sapp-Mike Sherman issue by unanimously stating Sapp is not a dirty player.
"No way," Patrick exclaimed.
"Just to put this thing to bed with Warren Sapp, Warren Sapp is not the kind of football player that goes out and tries to hurt someone," Theismann added.
Good night, issue.
HANDY MAN: Theismann said he thought the Bucs were "playing into the hands" of the Saint defense by the running the ball and later thought that a delay in the game was "playing into the hands" of a tired Saints offense.
Both comments "play into the hands" of those see Theismann as a limited analyst.
HOW ABOUT US?: After Saints receiver Joe Horn dropped a pass, and before officials reviewed it, Patrick said the fans had seen a replay on the Jumbotron and were booing because they thought he made the catch.
Viewers had to wait almost 30 seconds for the same replay.
THE BRIGHTEST STAR: How good was Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice in the first half?
So good that when Brooks was stripped of the ball in the third quarter, Maguire said, with special effect, "Simeon Rice, Simeon Rice."
Oops. It was linebacker Al Singleton, and though the play was definitely Simeon Rice-like, his No. 51 was pretty hard to miss.
BEST SOUND: You could actually hear Martin Gramatica's field goal plunk off the goal post in the second quarter.