© St. Petersburg Times, published December 30, 2002
Four weeks ago in this space, after the Bucs-Saints game on Sunday night, it was determined that ESPN's NFL broadcast is superior to its Monday night forefather on sister station ABC.
Chalk up another vote for the Sunday bunch.
From the lively, insightful banter between analysts Joe Theismann and Paul Maguire to the updated stats scrolled smartly across the bottom of the screen during play, to timely graphics, Skycam and informative pre-produced packages, ESPN provided its customarily strong coverage -- and made a 15-0, five-Martin Gramatica-field goals snoozer bearable.
FOREBODING: On the second Bucs possession, the inevitable statistic was flashed: quarterback Rob Johnson is sacked once every 6.8 times he drops back, the highest ratio in the league.
Soon enough, the Bears were racking up the sacks.
WELCOME TO THE CLUB: By the middle of the second quarter, Johnson's inability to make a decision when needed led to the Bears' fourth sack and put Theismann over the edge:
"Why don't you just throw the ball away? Rob Johnson is never going to be the quarterback he can be if he continues to make bonehead plays," Theismann said. "This is a problem that is solely Rob Johnson."
NON-INTRUSIVE: Scrolling the starting lineups across the bottom of the screen works well. It doesn't disturb the opening series like having the graphic splashed across the middle does, and it's more efficient than having each player introduce himself.
BREAKING NEWS: Sideline reporter Suzy Kolber interviewed Bucs general manager Rich McKay during the second quarter regarding the stunning news of the day: That the Bucs want compensation from any team seeking to hire Bill Parcells. McKay said the Bucs executed a contract with Parcells in January.
BRAIN DEAD: Maguire and Theismann correctly upbraided Dexter Jackson's first-quarter decision to field a punt deep in his end zone. Jackson hoped to catch the Bears napping, as most players assumed the play was dead. He barely got out of the end zone.
NO PAINT?: Even though the University of Illinois, where the Bears play their home games this season, finished its season weeks ago, "ILLINOIS" still was painted in the end zones, not "BEARS."
SAY WHAT?: Simeon Rice's sideline interview moments before kickoff with Kolber was largely unintelligible.
DOWNPLAYED: For Bucs fans, it was nice not to hear the announcers making repeated references to Tampa Bay's failure to win in sub-40 degree conditions. It was noted at the outset, then left alone until midway through the fourth quarter, when play-by-play man Mike Patrick said the Bucs were about to break the 0-for-21 skid.
Viewers also weren't inundated with shots of telegenic Bucs coach Jon Gruden, for a change.
UNAPOLOGETIC: Theismann, as usual, had many strong comments, including a declaration that Michael Vick doesn't deserve to be in the Pro Bowl. His strongest words came on a first-quarter pass interference penalty against Chicago's R.W. McQuarters, when replays showed Keyshawn Johnson wrapped up McQuarters, not vice versa.
"That is garbage," Theismann said. "That is so bad."
AGREED: After Brian Kelly's fourth-quarter interception, his second of the game, with 6:20 to go, Patrick said, "What a defense this ballclub has." Kelly is tied for the league lead with eight interceptions.