By ERNEST HOOPER
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 25, 2000
I'm baffled by the criticism occasionally aimed at ESPN analyst Mel Kiper.
Usually, there's some smarmy comment about his hair or the even more ridiculous notion of, "I know as much as Mel does."
Of course, few could truly match Kiper's knowledge of pro and college football. As Larry Beil, Kiper's co-host on ESPN Radio's College GameDay says, Kiper's knowledge is a little scary.
"If there's a third-string offensive tackle in a major program, Mel can you tell you his height, weight, 40 time, bench press and his girlfriend's first name," Beil said.
Kiper has parlayed his love of football into a mega-business with his NFL draft reports. When someone directs a diatribe at Kiper, I think it's simply because they didn't think of the idea first, didn't have the entrepreneurial energy to make it work. Or both.
If you're jealous, tell us.
The fact is Kiper has become a legitimate football analyst because his approach is rooted in hard work and that impressive depth of knowledge. Plus, his on-air affability is underrated.
Not only is Kiper part of College GameDay from September through November, but for the rest of the year, he joins Andy Pollin for weekend shows that run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Kiper has proven to be equally adept at talking about other sports, in part because he uses the contacts he has made during his 22 years in the business to build his knowledge. Pollin, who also is solid, and Kiper typically inteview various ESPN analysts, and if you want to know if Kiper is doing a good job just count the number of times you hear, "That's a good question, Mel."
"The reaction to the Saturday and Sunday shows has been great," said Kiper, whose longtime friendship with Pollin permeates the show. "I've gotten more reaction from college basketball and baseball fans who say I didn't realize you love those sports as much as you love football.
"But I've always been a sports fan. We do four hours on Saturday and four hours on Sunday and those hours go by so fast. I've enjoyed them more than I imagined."
For those college football-loving fans who can get away with telling their spouses, "I'm watching college football all day, don't bother me," Kiper's ability may not mean much. But for those who don't have that kind of juice -- we know who we are -- and end up spending at least part of Saturdays in either Home Depot, Wal-Mart or Bath and Body Works, Kiper can help.
College GameDay bails us out by providing eight hours of constant football talk. Kiper and Biel blend analysis with updates from every major game. Plus, the producers.
"The neat thing about the show is you can only be in one place at one time. You can only focus on one particular thing," Beil said. "We can take you to essentially 20 or 30 games. That's the fun part of it. You may be a fan of Auburn or USC, but we can give you the complete picture."
The show's success has led to more exposure. For the first time in four years, the radio version of College GameDay goes on the road for six special games: Purdue-Notre Dame, Sept. 16; Oklahoma-Texas, Oct. 7; Alabama-Ole Miss, Oct. 14; Michigan-Michigan State, Oct. 21; Nebraska-Kansas State, Nov. 11; Florida-Florida State, Nov. 18.
"We're going to be there on Fridays and to actually be at the site all day Friday and feel that excitement building for that game is going to be tremendously enjoyable," Kiper said.
CHANGES: CBS' Verne Lundquist moves from the NFL to college and will fill the void created by Sean McDonough's departure. Former ABC analyst Dean Blevins joins CBS and will work on the No. 2 team with Craig Bolerjack. . . . Former CBS sideline reporter Michele Tafoya has joined ESPN and will work the sidelines on Saturday primetime games on ESPN2. She joins the network's new three-man booth of Dave Barnett, Bill Curry and Mike Golic. . . . Former sideline reporter Don McPherson becomes an analyst with Rich Waltz on ESPN. Holly Rowe will work with that pair as a sideline reporter.