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Sound bites

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 16, 2002

The allure of live television is its immediacy.

But there are times the demand for instant information requires those reporting on breaking news to blur the line between fact and speculation.

Fox and its announcing team of Curt Menefee, Tim Ryan and Jennifer Hammond floundered initially when reporting on the injury to Lions quarterback Joey Harrington in the first quarter Sunday.

Hammond, who began piecing together the facts after Ryan speculated the injury dealt with Harrington's sternum, reported that an ambulance had taken Harrington to a local hospital and team officials refused to reveal the extent or type of injury.

Viewers didn't learn until the halftime update that Harrington left because of an irregular heartbeat. Hammond followed with a post-halftime interview with Lions coach Marty Mornhinweg, added another informative update in the third quarter but wasn't seen or heard from the rest of the game.

FORESHADOWING: The Bucs were heavy favorites and clinched a playoff spot with the win, but the Fox people were smart to mention the 20-17 and 15-12 Tampa Bay wins against Detroit last season.

"I don't think a lot of people forecasted this being the type of game it's been today," Ryan said. "It's been a terrific game."

TELLING CHART: The Lions did a fine job pressuring quarterback Brad Johnson for most of the game but did not record a sack.

Fox had an informative graphic in the second quarter showing Johnson's won-loss record, touchdowns, interceptions and third-down conversion percentages in games in which he was sacked two times or fewer and three times or more. Johnson is 10-0 when sacked two times or fewer.

BY THE WAY: Menefee and Ryan, who lack enthusiasm and chemistry, fell all over themselves praising Tampa Bay's defense. But they failed to update Bucs fans on the status of safety John Lynch, who was inactive with a neck injury, until five minutes into the game.

COVER YOUR EARS: Leaving the field microphones open gave viewers a feel for the punishing hits absorbed by Michael Pittman and celebrations in the end zone. That might not be the smartest move when an infuriated Jon Gruden is roaming the sideline.

WOULD'VE BEEN NICE: With Harrington and running back James Stewart out with injuries, Menefee and Ryan continually referred to the number of backups playing for the Lions.

Instead of telling us, show us in a graphic.

IN THEIR OPINION: The debate has started over who should be the NFL's Most Valuable Player. Ryan chose Derrick Brooks over Simeon Rice but said Rice should be the defensive MVP.

ENOUGH ALREADY: If you didn't know before the game, you do now through the pointless reference to Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer and mentions of Southern Cal players in the NFL that Ryan played for the Trojans from 1986-89.

"Is everyone in this game from USC?" Menefee asked.

Does anyone really care?

BEST LINE: "Fifty-one yards on the punt. Two Excedrin on the return." -- Menefee after the Bucs' Corey Ivy drilled Eddie Drummond on a punt return in the third quarter.

BEST LINE II: "I don't want to speculate, but I think all guys know what happened." -- Menefee after Keyshawn Johnson caught a 30-yard pass and an elbow in the groin when tackled by two Lions.

SAY AGAIN? "In my opinion, you don't make a change. This is the guy for the future in Tampa Bay. You don't want to put Joey Harrington through another staff. Get him some weapons and Marty Mornhinweg will be safe and successful here in Detroit." -- Ryan in the fourth quarter.

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