Shooting from the lip
What two events made this one of the best sports weekends in years? What group is trying its best to ruin the NHL playoffs? What's wrong with the NBA playoffs? And how can you enjoy a fight without actually seeing it? Staff writer Tom Jones answers these questions and more as he looks back at a weekend of televised sports.
By TOM JONES
Published May 7, 2007
Watching the New York Rangers stay on the ice to salute their fans after losing a heartbreaking series to the Sabres.
It was a flashback Saturday. You had horse racing with the Kentucky Derby and a big-time boxing match with Floyd Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya. Time was that horse racing and boxing were right behind baseball as America's top sporting events. Not anymore, even though both events made the weekend special. So which of the two has the best chance at a resurgence?
"Neither, " Mitch Albom said on ESPN's The Sports Reporters. "I think both have just become singular event things. You can have a big horse race here, you can have a big fight there, but in terms of sustained interest in between those events, I don't see it happening."
Fox baseball analyst Joe Girardi predicted Giants slugger Barry Bonds would homer in his first at-bat against the Phillies on Saturday. Sure enough, Bonds homered.
Fox baseball analyst Ken Rosenthal reported the Giants won't give Barry Bonds prolonged rest on the road to make sure he breaks Hank Aaron's home run record at home.
Upon further review
As if Lightning fans aren't depressed enough about another first-round exit in the playoffs, consider this: Last season, the Lightning was knocked out in five games by Ottawa. The Senators were then knocked out in the second round in five games.
This season, the Lightning was sent packing in six games by New Jersey. And now the Devils are out after five games in the second round. In other words, the Lightning is getting knocked out by teams that are getting pounded in the next round. Not good.
I learned more about fastballs and pitch location by listening to Devil Rays TV announcers Dewayne Staats and Joe Magrane in the first 10 minutes of the Devil Rays-A's broadcast Sunday than I've learned in my entire life. This is an example of Magrane at his best - breaking down intricate parts of the game so everyone from the casual fan to the baseball die-hard feels smarter.
Jockey Calvin Borel, who rode Street Sense to a Kentucky Derby victory Saturday, watched a replay of the race with NBC and as he started making his move out of 19th place, he was asked, "You knew you had a lot of horse under you, didn't you?" Borel coolly said, "I felt like I had a bomb."
I was all excited that NBC decided to have a "Red Carpet Special" before the Kentucky Derby. Then the, uh, stars came out. Nick Lachey? Byron Leftwich? The guy who played the fat kid in Stand By Me? This is the best they could do? What happened, Joyce DeWitt and Tony Orlando couldn't make it?
Thank goodness for NBC's Brett Hull, who let the referees have it during Sunday's broadcast of the NHL playoffs. The officiating throughout the playoffs has been brutal. Ticky-tack calls that have no effect on the play are taking the games out of the players' hands. Sunday's Rangers-Sabres game was another example, with a half-dozen calls that should not be made in a playoff game, including two in the pivotal second period.
"It's hard enough winning in the playoffs without the referees giving it to you, too, " Hull said. "We need consistency in calls. They (the referees) have to be aware of where games are on the ice because those were two terrible calls."
Most interesting numbers
ESPN's Outside the Lines conducted a poll that revealed the striking differences of how African-Americans view Barry Bonds' run at Hank Aaron's home run record and how whites look at it. About 37 percent of African-Americans thought Bonds has used steroids compared with 73 percent of whites. Meantime, 78 percent of blacks hope Bonds breaks the record compared with only 28 percent of whites. Two other interesting numbers: 34 percent of blacks think Bonds has been treated fairly (61 percent of whites do), and 85 percent of blacks think Bonds should make it to the Hall of Fame, while 53 percent of whites do.
I preferred ESPN's Kentucky Derby pregame coverage compared to NBC, which showed the race. The reason? ESPN sprinkled in-depth stories with a little irreverence. Kenny Mayne (please ESPN, give this guy more airtime!) did a hilarious feature on a horse seeking to redshirt a year so he could race as a 3-year-old in the Derby. Hey, any story that brings out Merv Griffin to give fake quotes is automatically great TV.
In what may have been the best feature of the weekend, ESPN went to tiny Springfield, Ky. (pop. 2, 700), home of the horse Dominican. It was named after Dominican Sisters of St. Catharine College and one of the nuns said, "I don't think you should pray for a horse to win the Kentucky Derby because God has more important things to deal with. But, I'm praying for Dominican to win!" Dominican finished 11th.
It's time for the NBA to take a cue from the NHL and re-seed the playoff teams after every round. The fact that powerhouses Phoenix and San Antonio have to play each other out west in the second round while No. 5 seed Utah plays No. 8 seed Golden State is just plain stupid. While Suns-Spurs makes for a cool second-round matchup, I'm already thinking the Western Conference final is going to be a dud.
Most gruesome scene
Watching Suns guard Steve Nash get his nose split open late against the Spurs in a collision with Tony Parker on Sunday. Hopefully you weren't eating dinner because ABC fell in love with showing blood pour from Nash's face.
And speaking of this, how could sideline reporter Michelle Tafoya interview Parker and not ask about the collision with Nash?
Most enjoyable event
Finally, a golf tournament worth watching. The Wachovia Championship over the weekend had a great leaderboard with names such as Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson. But what made it fun to watch was the course was playable. Everyone, it seemed, shot in the 60s on Saturday. There were eagles (or at least eagle putts) all over the place. It made it more enjoyable than this year's Masters, which had a combination of bad weather and an incredibly difficult course that made the tournament frustrating for players and viewers. Hopefully this week's TPC will be more like the Wachovia.
I wanted to order the De La Hoya-Mayweather fight on pay-per-view Saturday night, but when I ran the idea of spending 55 bucks past my wife, I got the feeling that ordering it would've been a bad move.
Instead, I had to settle for ESPNews coverage, which really was the next best thing to watching the fight. The team of Brian Kenny, Teddy Atlas and Stephen A. Smith broke down the fight, had strong opinions and set up what could be in the future for both fighters. And you didn't need to watch the fight to follow along.
And ESPNews does it right. When it has a major story, it takes all the time it wants dissecting it. That's what it did with the big fight.