Can ESPN's "SportsCenter" get any more self-referential, pointless and irritating?
Caught a few minutes -- it felt like a few hours -- of "SportsCenter Old School" Sunday night, with Craig Kilborn returning to the anchor's chair beside Dan Patrick. The gimmick of "Old School" week is that old anchors return for one broadcast, and everything looks all retro on-screen. So if you're feeling nostalgic for those long-lost days of innocence that were the mid-'90s, this one was for you.
I was actually surprised when the broadcast didn't stop every few moments to hand out ESPY awards, for things like Best Old-School Blazer Patch or Funniest Ad-Lib By a Returning Anchor Named Craig, which Kilborn could have won only if the fix were in.
I didn't think Kilborn could get more annoying than he was in his ESPN days, but he proved me wrong with his stint on "The Daily Show." And just when I thought he couldn't get more annoying than that, he proved me wrong again with his late-night talk show. And just when ... well, you get the picture. He rose to the occasion on his ESPN return, let us say.
My favorite part about Kilborn's obnoxious routine is his conceit that his dim-witted ejaculations -- yelling "Jumanji!" over home-run highlights, for example -- influenced a generation of ESPN talent, who now clutter up "SportsCenter" with overdone riffing, tut, tut, tut. He's all faux-apologetic about the damage he has wrought. Humor like that is a dangerous thing in inexperienced hands, kids.
As if he were ever anything other than just one more guy in a suit doing his version of Keith Olbermann's shtick. He was as original as the Monkees, as fresh and new as the latest "Family Feud."
Olbermann, who really was a talented guy who really did have a pernicious influence on sports broadcasting, left ESPN on bad terms, to say the least, and wasn't invited back for the big reunion.
Olbermann and Patrick, as co-anchors of "SportsCenter" from 1992 to '97 -- they called it "The Big Show" -- gave sports news broadcasting a needed shot of hipness, irreverence and humor. Almost everyone since, including Olbermann and Patrick themselves, has acted as though the talking head, not the sports news and highlights, were the star of the show.
It's not like I pine for the old days of some jowly ex-jock in a plaid sport coat reading the scores. I like hip, irreverent and funny. And unlike a lot of sports fans I don't particularly miss "The Big Show," which I enjoyed at the time but didn't think it was anything to build a lifestyle around or anything.
But I do want to just once watch a Padres-Pirates highlight without wanting to throw something at the TV, you know?
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Football sneaks up on us all [PERMALINK]
Wait, it's football season already?
The Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins play Monday night in the Hall of Fame Game, kicking off the 2004 exhibition season, which the NFL would like us to call the preseason.
One of the many fascinating cultural differences between baseball and football, not mentioned by either George Carlin or Thomas Boswell in their famous dissertations on the subject, is that when spring training games begin people seem ready for baseball. When football exhibition games start, the reaction from those who don't divide their lives into "football season" and "seven months of torture" tends to be, "Whoa, football already?"
I'm sure it has something to do with the seasons, which Carlin did mention. Baseball means the end of winter. Those sunny images from Florida and Arizona are a sign of the coming spring, which is still technically a week or two away when the games start. Football's the opposite. Even though summer's only half gone, the first exhibition games are a sign of the gathering autumn, of cold weather and putting away the beach toys and getting back to business and teacher's dirty looks.
It used to be just a first sign, a precursor, before the start of the school year backed up into early August for reasons that are lost on this observer, who as a kid used to think it funny when people called Labor Day "the end of summer" because school didn't start for another three weeks.
Anyway, as exhibition games go, this one is pretty intriguing, and it's difficult for me to put into words how small a statement that is. But you have Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, already a Hall of Famer, returning to the sideline after 12 years in NASCAR, and you have the principals in a blockbuster offseason trade playing against each other in their first time out in their new duds. Running back Clinton Portis now plays for the Redskins, cornerback Champ Bailey for the Broncos.
They'll both be gone by the second quarter, of course. That's exhibition football, and that's good. You can get to bed early. You need your sleep. There's a lot of summer left to enjoy.
Previous column: The readers write
- - - - - - - - - - - -