King Kaufman’s Sports Daily

Tirico, Kornheiser replace Michaels on Monday nights. Plus: Duke-Carolina. And: Duck! Venezuela wins Caribbean Series.

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ESPN confirmed the worst-kept secret in broadcasting over the past few weeks, that Al Michaels won’t be calling “Monday Night Football” after all.

And to think I wasted a whole half-hour listening in on that conference call last summer, listening to Michaels talk about how ESPN is ABC, and ABC is family, and how the words “Monday night” and “football” resonate with him like no other.

Family, as we learn time and time again from high-powered people who leave a job to “spend more time” with theirs, only to take another job a few weeks later, is highly overrated. And apparently Michaels has learned that when you say “Sunday night” and then “football,” well, gosh, it has a certain resonance, don’t you think?

As of this writing, there hasn’t been an announcement yet that Michaels is going to NBC to call the Sunday night game with John Madden, his partner of the last four years, but that’s what’s going to happen.

Most of the ABC Monday night crew is moving over to the Sunday night game, which the NFL will trumpet as the marquee game of the week, except perhaps during the weeks when there’s a Thursday night game on the NFL Network. Michaels reportedly wanted to work with Madden and that crew more than he wanted to stay with his employer of the past three decades.

ESPN won’t have any postseason games in the next round of TV contracts, which are all starting next season, and that may have figured in Michaels’ thinking too, though by moving from ABC to NBC he’ll no longer get to broadcast the NBA Finals.

The press release announcing ESPN’s new Monday night play-by-play man, Mike Tirico, also announced that Michaels would be replaced as ABC’s lead NBA broadcaster by Mike Breen, who is terrific.

I wish I could say I have the same opinion of Tirico, but for some reason I just can’t stand listening to him. I don’t know why. He’s smart, smooth and well prepared, and he doesn’t do Chris Berman-style schtick.

And he drives me up a wall. I’m not sure about this, but what bothers me may be that he sounds like he’s trying too hard to talk in a Big Broadcast style. He doesn’t make with the stentorian, Thom Brennaman timbre, fortunately, but his voice swoops and swings in a way that sounds not so much like Keith Jackson, who I think is the model, as like Guy Smiley.



I’ll try to get over it.

Michaels was going to be in a two-man booth with Joe Theismann, which I was looking forward to. Tirico and Theismann evidently can’t pull off the double act in ESPN’s estimation, so the third wheel will be Tony Kornheiser, the Washington Post columnist turned TV star on “Pardon the Interruption.”

Kornheiser’s a big wild card. He can be vastly entertaining — good as he sometimes is in print, his real genius, it says here, is as a radio host — but he can also be annoying, and there’s a very real danger he’ll go over like a lead Dennis Miller.

But at least he’s a sports guy, though kind of a reluctant one. I have a hard time picturing him meshing with the serious Tirico and the often self-important but sometimes funny Theismann. But it’s possible, and it could be fun to listen to, especially if it bombs.

And just in case anybody forgets this most important point, I’ll mention it again: It doesn’t matter who the announcers are. People tune in to the games or they don’t because of the teams on the field.

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Waking up to Duke vs. UNC [PERMALINK]

I got a little tired of people complaining and fighting over the officiating in the Super Bowl so I thought I’d watch Duke play basketball.

That’s a little Duke basketball humor, right there.

We’ve been mostly talking about football around here lately, but I don’t want you to think I haven’t been keeping up-to-date on college hoops. That Alcindor kid at UCLA’s pretty good, but I’ll believe he’s better than Elvin Hayes when I see it.

And I’ve stayed current on the NBA too. I see there are two Houston Rockets in the Western Conference starting five for the All-Star Game Feb. 19, so the Rockets must really be having a great season. And if the NHL ever comes back, I’ll pay attention to that too!

Is it just me who kind of focuses on one or two sports at a time and lets everything else move to the back burner in the meantime? I have this job, so the back burner isn’t that far back there. But I do let basketball and hockey kind of simmer along as the college and pro football championship season goes along.

It’s true in any sport that, as a casual fan, you can tune in at midseason and not feel like you’ve missed that much by the time the playoffs come around. But it’s even more true in basketball and hockey than it is in baseball and football, to check off the North American big four.

So if you’re a sports generalist — unless I’m the only one who’s like this — there’s a feeling of waking up to the winter team sports after the Super Bowl buzz dies down. Or whenever your favorite football team’s season ends.

It’s not a coincidence that college basketball’s “rivalry week” is the week after the Super Bowl. For those of us shaking off the college basketball rust, Duke’s win over North Carolina at the Dean Dome Tuesday night was a pretty tasty breakfast.

And there was a nice appetizer too with the Tennessee-Kentucky game. A pretty good game, a Tennessee win, but a great, great orange blazer on Vols coach Bruce Pearl. I mean, not just any man can pull off a bright orange blazer. And Bruce Pearl is not one of those men. Still cool, though.

So Duke scored the first 12 points of the second half to take a 17-point lead, but North Carolina came roaring back, the rally sparked by that old college-coach move by Roy Williams, pulling all five starters. The splinter gang came in and went on a 10-0 run that eventually became a 14-0 run. The crowd going bananas, the Tar Heels pulled ahead with just under seven minutes to go, and had a five-point lead with four and a half to go.

But J.J. Redick brought Duke back with a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws, then helped put the game away with two more threes down the stretch.

It was a great win for Duke. I was pretty high on them early in the year but now I’m not so sure. They’re good, and they can beat anybody, but they’re turnover prone and I don’t think they defend well enough.

North Carolina is athletic and exciting, and can also beat anybody. The Tar Heels will be a middling seed at best come Tournament time, but I wouldn’t want to play them.

Hey, did you see the Detroit Pistons are having a great year? Can anyone beat them?

That’s a little Atlanta Hawks humor, right there.

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A Series win and a smile [PERMALINK]

Remember a few years ago when Major League Baseball was making noises about putting advertising on uniforms?

MLB actually did festoon the pajamas of the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays with corporate logos for a season-opening series in Tokyo in 2004. When fans objected, baseball promised never to put ads on uniforms again, then a month later announced it would put ads on the bases. Another protest, and baseball backed down again.

If you want to know what the major leagues might have looked like if Bud Selig had gotten his revenue-generating wish — or what it will look like if baseball goes back on its promise, hard as that is to imagine — you can look at photos from the just-concluded Caribbean Series.

For some reason, looking at Alex Gonzalez and his Venezuelan teammates celebrating their dramatic, come-from-behind victory over the Dominican Republic, I’ve got a craving for a tasty soft drink.

The craziest play that ever ended a major league World Series, I think, was in 1926, when Babe Ruth, carrying the tying run with two outs and Bob Meusel batting in the bottom of the ninth, got thrown out trying to steal second.

That had nothing on the way the Caribbean Series ended. Venezuela, the host team, was down to the Dominicans 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth, but Gonzalez, the new Red Sox shortstop, drove in the tying run with a single off Jorge Sosa, who works for the Atlanta Braves.

Henry Blanco, a Chicago Cub, then lifted a pop fly behind third. Out went Los Anahangeles Angels prospect Erick Aybar, toting the glove that got him labeled the best defensive infielder in the Angels’ system by Baseball America last off-season.

Aybar went back and toward the line, stopped, turned around and looked at left fielder Napoleon Calzado, a Baltimore Orioles prospect, and then had the ball bonk him on top of the head. Jose Canseco lives!

Aybar had lost it in the lights. The ball, I mean. Not his head. Gonzalez scored, Venezuela won its first Caribbean Series since 1989, and suddenly I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.

Previous column: Myth: Seahawks wuz robbed

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