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A fresh face to drown out blustery voices

Published March 14, 2004

It's good that ESPN sends analysts to hot spots of hoops, football, baseball, hockey, golf and other occurances of mass interest, but the network's general commentary shows, like Sports Reporters and the mad talkies from the ever-expanding world of ESPN Radio, always have been too Northeastern, too Beltway, too Apple, too Boston and too Philly.

ESPN's yapfests are dominated by the adept voices of Mike Lupica, Tony Kornheiser, Bob Ryan, William Rhoden, Michael Wilbon and Peter Gammons with Mitch Albom (native New Yorker) occasionally thrown in from Detroit.

Around the Horn, a daily melee of machine-gun opinions featuring one journalist from each of four zones, falls shy of common sense and representing the breadth of sporting America.

There's a new act on the way. I'm biased about this fellow. Among eight co-hosts during my 16 years on Tampa Bay talk radio, Colin Cowherd was the sharpest, quickest and most gifted.

In the early 1990s, his main gig was Ch. 13 backup to the late Andy Hardy. Cowherd was the best sportscasting talent on local television but never got a full-bore chance. He moved to Portland, Ore., as sports anchor at an NBC-TV affiliate and built a huge audience on talk radio.

ESPN saw the need to snag Cowherd's skills. Kornheiser is giving up his daily radio outburst to concentrate on his TV show Pardon The Interruption, where he is paired with fellow Washington Post columnist Wilbon.

Cowherd is Kornheiser's replacement, moving east with a vow to widen ESPN's scope, bringing more attention to college towns and smaller pro-sports markets. Not becoming another bellowing Nor'easter.

"Fridays during football season, I want my show to air from the venue of that weekend's hottest game," Cowherd said. "I promise that choices will not be dictated by Northeastern thinking."

Cowherd will be a hit. He's sure to get bashed by Nor'eastern critics because he's not polarized by Red Sox, Redskins and Yankees, but my man will diversify and thrive.

GOLF JOCK AIR: E-mail from Parker Davies of Longboat Key says, "I'm like you, Hubert, dubious of athletes who become TV announcers, until they prove on-air professionalism.

"I watch a lot of golf. Hal Sutton is a pro I admire, but he's breaking in as a TV analyst and I find our Ryder Cup captain to be a bow with no arrows."

Sutton openly admits he won't criticize PGA Tour brothers. I'm for shipping him back to the course. Who needs another house man? I can differ with Johnny Miller or Curtis Strange, but I know they'll put honest blabs on me. Jock announcers must be tough enough to not wilt when, in locker rooms, they hear, "How could you say that about me? I thought we were friends."

DEAL!: Poker is TV's new hottie, with games frequently on ESPN, Bravo and the Travel Channel, but so-called celebrity competitions are going cold quickly. Too few big names, too many players from network benches, not enough crust.

In a constructive spirit, if Celebrity Poker Challenge were a show I produced, there'd be theme tables. Pairing bettors from genres other than showbiz.

What about a live poker game with a seven-person table of Tiger Woods, Jon Gruden, George Steinbrenner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mike Krzyzewski, Andre Agassi and Annika Sorenstam?

I'd like to see celebs put up half the pot with their own money. An ante of $100,000 a head with Bravo or whomever sweetening it to $200,000.

Put together your own table. E-mail it to me ( If it's funny and/or provocative, maybe it'll show up in this space.

Okay, I have another table to try: John Daly, Mike Tyson, Bob Knight, Lawrence Taylor, Pete Rose, Allen Iverson and John McEnroe. Who'd win? Who wouldn't survive? Who'd erupt?

THE LAST WORD: I was in Louisville a few days ago and drove past Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. I was stunned.

Expansion and upgrading of grandstands, badly needed at the old track, is maybe 50 percent done, but already new steel and concrete are taller than that most identifiable symbol, the Twin Spires.

From some angles, I couldn't see the spires. It was like motoring up Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C., and finding new skyscrapers suddenly obscuring the U.S. Capitol.

Listen in May for Derby Week outrage.

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