Friday, January 29, 2010

Listen ... Yes, They're Talking About the Pro Bowl

Some current and former players might not like the NFL's move to reschedule the Pro Bowl to this Sunday -- a week before the Super Bowl at the same site of the game as opposed to its recent regular home in Hawaii the week after the Super Bowl -- but the move has certainly generated abundant buzz about the league's sometimes overlooked all-star game.

Radio and TV talkers have debated the move of the game throughout the week. With more media members in South Florida than could make the trip to Hawaii, the players have noticed more attention on the game.

And, it seems current and former players are almost evenly split on the rescheduled game. For every guy who complains about not being able to make a trip to Hawaii, another chimes in about the ease of travel to Miami and being part of the week leading up to the Super Bowl.

The game moves back to Hawaii after the Super Bowl the next two years, but after that it could eventually end up as part of the Super Bowl buildup if things go well this week. For NFL officials, who often listen and respond with their wallets, the anticipated stadium full of fans also might help sway an eventual decision.

Once the Pro Bowl begins Sunday night (7:20 p.m., ESPN), fans at home should be able to listen, too. With 14 microphones on players and coaches, ESPN hopes to capitalize on its access and provide a different feel from a regular NFL game.

"It’s an opportunity for us to do a lot of things we’re not able to do during the regular season. The big thing for us is access in this game. We’ll be pretty aggressive at mikes on players, including all the quarterbacks and other players," said senior coordinating producer Jay Rothman, who lead's the "Monday Night Football" crew that will work the Pro Bowl with announcers Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski and John Gruden.

"We will have cameras in locker rooms, pregame, halftime, postgame and huddles," Rothman added. “We’ll have a ton of production elements, video packages and special graphics that we bring into the game because another thing is celebrating these athletes who made it into the Pro Bowl and celebrating their season. We have 25 cameras for this game, but it’s a little different plan for us. It’s more about maximizing all the audio we have versus the game coverage.”

Thursday, January 28, 2010

X Games Brings Energy, Technology to TV

Thirty-some years ago, made-to-TV sports programming (eventually referred to as "trashsports" by some) was rather mundane -- most notably a bunch of pro athletes competing outside their element against each other on ABC's "Superstars."

It was simple, schlocky and, at the time, appealing.

Although each of the then-big three networks trotted out their own version of that type of show, the "Superstars" was always the best, eventually including individual and team vs. team shows -- until the concept ran its course and athletes started earning enough money that they did not need to risk injury in such events. (Recent revivals of the show have been mostly an over-hyped disappointment.)

These days, though, made-for-TV sports bring energy, entertainment and, more importantly, technology to the screen. It's also appealing.

X Games 14 -- owned and operated by ESPN -- runs from Thursday to Sunday in Aspen, Colo. Last year the annual showcase of skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling averaged 942,000 homes for eight telecasts.

With ESPN in charge, even sports fans not interested in the X Games will find highlights on "SportsCenter" and across all of ESPN's platforms. While highlights might be more than enough for some viewers, the X Games do make for good TV.

Also, because of the energy and technology ESPN invests in the X Games, the annual action in the snow eventually benefits all sports fans. That's because all-access approaches and emerging technologies, such as small cameras or shots from cranes, that begin as experiments in venues such as the X Games often end up being implemented with coverage of the NFL, college football, Major League Baseball, the NBA and more.

This week, ESPN has nine production trucks and 63 cameras on site in Colorado. Notable gadgets include the "Huck Tower," a 30-foot high LED tower that will display the height of each jump in real time during events, and virtual graphics that track the flight of snowmobiles.

For the tower to work, competitors have small RF devices, about the size of a credit card, sewn into the bib they were during competition. It's not a stretch to imagine something similar having a use in other sports. Likewise, the virtual graphics are an technological cousin, of sorts, to familiar "First and 10" line that shows up on most football games.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Old (Favre) and New (Tebow) Merit Coverage

Weekend NFL action set the two teams for the Super Bowl, but the two quarterbacks most radio and TV types were talking about early this week were not Drew Brees of the Saints and Peyton Manning of the Colts.

Instead, the annual retirement of Brett Favre and the fledgling professional career of Tim Tebow were -- appropriately -- the most prominent stories.

As usual at this time of year, several outlets reported that Favre, 41, was unlikely to return next season. While nobody expects a firm decision from Favre before the NFL Draft or (even more likely) August, his story remains a story.

Favre has entered the homes of football fans on TV for more than two decades, and his effort Sunday, getting up from hit after hit and playing hard again and again was nothing short of typical. That hard-nosed approach has earned Farve abundant attention and respect through the years. Of course, in trying too hard, the game ended as other Favre efforts have -- with an interception.

At the same time, ESPN, the NFL Network and others followed every snap for Tebow, 22, at the Senior Bowl as he tried to define himself as a legitimate prospect at quarterback who could play on Sundays.

Many seem to agree that Tebow ranks as a project at the professional level. With limited experience taking snaps from center and a supposedly clumsy, slow throwing motion, few see him as a high-round draft pick. That does not mean he could not make an impact in the NFL, though, and that certainly does not mean people are not interested in his story.

An added nuance to his story emerged early this week when information about his Super Bowl commercial became public. He will appear, along with his mother, in a pro-life commercial during the big game -- something that already has prompted vocal reaction from pro-choice advocates.

All that, and of course all of Tebow's accomplishments make him a story, too.

While some might complain about Favre and Tebow as "media darlings," they're just the kinds of stories we should get in sports. Perhaps not every day (although it seems that way with Favre) but certainly on occasion.

Ratings up for Many Sports, Not Just NFL

Record ratings for the NFC Championship Game between the Vikings and Saints -- the game was the most-watched show on TV since 1998 (excluding Super Bowl games) -- appropriately prompted abundant reaction.

Anytime an average audience of 57.9 million viewers tune in for anything, it's news.

The rating reflects the power of the NFL, the never-ending interest in Brett Favre and the wonderful New Orleans storyline. It also reflects a trend for many sporting events over the weekend.

Whether it's the economy, ticket prices, the weather or a variety of other factors, viewers certainly found an interest in sports this past weekend.

Specifically, the first PBA Tour event won by a female posted a 100 percent ratings increase over similar coverage in 2009 on ESPN. On CBS, college basketball with top-ranked Texas at UConn was up 38 percent from Arizona-UCLA last year.

Pre-Olympic news was good for NBC as well. Its coverage of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships increased 33 percent over last year.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Super Bowl Buildup a Terrific Two Weeks

We're in the midst of the two best weeks of the NFL season -- the buildup to the Super Bowl.

Some fans might lament the time between games, but they would be wrong.

For TV storytellers, two weeks provides a good timeline to focus on the Xs and Ox as well as the Willies and Joes, providing a nice mix of technical and human interest stories. For all the things that surround the game (commercials, concerts, marketing), making it an annual holiday, two weeks provides just the right amount of time to stoke casual interest.

Honestly, this two-week buildup and sudden-death overtime might be two of the things the NFL does best.

Yes, overtime works. While some talk-show types and others who should have better things to analyze and rail against (especially Dick Vitale) spent a good part of Monday complaining about the NFL's overtime format, their bluster should be ignored.

The NFL has issues to address -- notably, as always, replay -- but overtime is not among them. Through the years the NFL has done a decent job of responding to fan complaints and not taking a knee-jerk approach when reacting to other problems.

Despite some complaints in the hours after the Saints victory, the league should do the same in regard to overtime. After all, that record viewership peaked during overtime, so people were clearly getting what they wanted.

And for so many reasons, from player safety to TV windows (the time available for games to air), sudden-death overtime works. It makes great TV, and it keeps football meaningful with an emphasis on special teams and defense.

Worried that the Vikings did not get the ball in OT? Well, maybe if their kick coverage had not allowed such a long return things would've been different. Or, maybe if their defense would've made a stop things would've been different.

Most important, maybe if a pass interference penalty had not been called, or if Brett Favre had not thrown an interception at the end of regulation ... all the ifs could go on forever. What should remain unchanged, though, should be the rule on overtime. It works, and it especially works on TV.

Sharing Henderson's Call a Good Gift

Thanks to ESPN Radio's "Mike and Mike in the Morning" for sharing with a national audience Monday the the heartfelt emotion and solid summary provided in one simple end-of-the-game call by WWL's Jim Henderson during the NFC Championship Game.

Henderson, considered one of the best play-by-play men in the NFL, called the Saints game on radio—as he has for nearly 30 years. So, he's witnessed a lot of football, and suffered right along with the team's fans.

His call when the victory was certain after the game-winning field goal was perfect: "Pigs have flown. Hell has frozen over. The Saints are on their way to the Super Bowl." Better still, his unbridled emotion, his sheer happiness, made good radio.

As the local team's guy, Henderson and people like him should be homers. They should enjoy the victories and endure the losses. That's what makes them different from national types on TV. And Henderson's hardly untalented. He's respected nationally and has been honored 13 times as Sportscaster of the Year in the state of Louisiana.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Changing the Game Plan for Playoffs?

Many teams work hard to preserve game plans and routines once they reach the playoffs.

Incorporate a third-team receiver into a more prominent role in the offense for the biggest game of the season? Experiement with six defensive backs if you've never done it during the regular season?

Probably not likely scenarios for any of the four remaining teams battling for a Super Bowl berth.

Broadcast networks usually follow a similar approach -- they stick with what they know works.

Not CBS Sports. Not for Sunday's Jets-Colts matchup in the AFC Championship Game.

While the play-by-play and color commentary duties of Greg Gumbel and Phil Simms were enough during the regualr season, CBS plans to add sideline reporters Sunday. And that's reporters plural, one for each team.

Both Steve Taker and Solomon Wilcots will join the broadcast for the game. During the regular season, they work in the booth with two-man teams but on Sunday they get some of the toughest, most underappreciated duties in all of sports.

One one hand, the approach could give CBS more access to information in one of the most important NFL games of the season. On the other, Gumbel and Simms and the strong production crew thew work with each week have done just fine throughout the season. So change now seems like change just for change sake.

As CBS prepares for the Super Bowl, it will no doubt pull out some bells and whisltes but Gumbel and Simms can stand alone. Changing that approach just seems unnecessary.

In terms of hardward for the game, CBS plans 40 cameras to cover the action. For most regular-season NFL games, networks usually utilize about 20 cameras.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Olympics Especially Important for NBC

With the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver just three weeks away -- opening ceremonies kick things off Friday, Feb. 12 -- their importance to NBC-TV seems to grow every day.

So far, the most positive view of the Games (not suprisingly) has come from the network promos. At the same time those well-produced segments have increased in frequency, network officials have confirmed NBC would lose money on the 17 days it plans to cover the Games.

Some reports put that loss at as much as $200 million, and NBC officials subsequently believe those reports of losses have hurt their potential for last-minute ad sales.

While all that plays out, NBC has an ugly public divorce from Conan O'Brien on its hands and an even more pressing date -- a Feb. 4 appointment for network officials in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding Comcast's pending purchase of NBC Universal.

O'Brien, ousted as host of "The Tonight Show" because of Jay Leno's failing ratings at 10 p.m., makes his last appearance Friday on the Peacock Network. He'll get more than $30 million (plus $7 million for his staff) to sit out a non-compete clause until Sept. 1, 2010, and then likely return to TV in the 11:30 p.m. timeslot for a competing network. Meanwhile, Leno will return to "The Tonight Show."

All of the changes have been a messy public problem for the network, which already has across-the-board ratings challenges.

In old TV models, a network with the Olympic Games (even if they were a loss leader) would parlay the exposure into a strong way to promote its regular programming. It worked that way for NBC in the 1990s. And sports, especially the Games, took also-ran ABC, a third-place network, to the dominant network of broadcast TV in the 1970s. At this point, NBC can only hope that happens in some small form this time.

With 835 hours of programming planned across all its platforms -- NBC-TV, cable and online -- NBC certainly gets a great opportunity for exposure.

Ironically, though, with the Comcast deal, NBC could cease to exist as it's been known for decades not long after the Games.

All of that clearly makes the Games important.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Connecting the Dots with Greenberg on Favre

ESPN Radio host Mike Greenberg made a good connection on "Mike and Mike in the Morning" regarding the NFL playoffs.

An admitted Jets fan, something that makes him all the more enjoyable in his radio role, Greenberg this morning cited Vikings QB Brett Favre for his impact on two of the four teams in NFL conference championship games this coming weekend.

Clearly, Favre's comeback and impact on the Vikings cannot be overlooked but Greenberg said he believed Favre's one-year stint in New York in 2008 had somewhat of a lasting impact and had played a role in the resurgence of the Jets. It's a point that some might dismiss, but it also might have some truth.

It's the kind of discussion point and observation that makes good sports talk radio -- and the "Mike and Mike" show already has an abundance of strong points.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

NFL Playoff Viewers Drive Donations to Haiti

The millions of people who watched the NFL playoffs during the divisional weekend responded to opportunities to support earthquake relief in Haiti in an impressive manner.

According to officials from the American Red Cross the program that billed $10 to people who
texted "Haiti" to 90999 on their cell phones, raised about $500,000 per hour at times during the weekend.

"I need a better word than unprecedented or amazing to describe what's happening with the text-message program," Roger Lowe, a Red Cross spokesman told The New York Times. Through late Sunday, the Red Cross had collected pledges of $103 million for relief in Haiti, with $22 million from text-message donations. And, because those texts were sent and billed through people's respective phone carriers, that money would represent an even more solid contribution than a pledge.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Nitpicking ... NFL Divisional Games

Only the last of the four NFL divisional playoff games produced much on-field drama this weekend, and the performances by broadcast teams were similarly unspectacular.

Still, there were some notable highs and lows.

Among the highs was the performance of the CBS Spors research and statistics crew working the Ravens-Colts game Saturday night. Just before halftime, and a game-changing touchdown by the Colts, the crew provided:
-- timely information that the Ravens had committed the most pass interference penalties in the league during the season (immediately after such a penalty had set up a Colts TD); and
-- solid, nuts-and-bolts stats within the flow of the game that the Colts produced 10 first-half touchdowns and the Ravens none as well as that Indianapolis had marched 50 yards in 58 seconds before scoring that touchdown before the break.

In terms of on-air teams, the Fox Sports tandem of Joe Buck, who might be better on football than baseball, and Troy Aikman sounded like the best of the bunch during the weekend while working the Cowboys-Vikings game. Even in a lopsided game, they were consistent with commentary and their work complemented each other regulary.

CBS's pairing of Jim Nance and Phil Simms had the weekend's most dramatic game and did fine. At the end, though, as the Jets weighted their game-ending options (go for it on fourth down, kick a field goal), Nance and Simms sounded disjointed, like they were not on the same page.

In terms of lows, CBS's Greg Gumble and Fox's Buck gladly joined the tournament-related hype that has caught the NFL (and some other sports) by storm in recent seasons. References to No. 1 seeds, and even the use of word "tournament" (no thanks, ESPN's Trent Dilfer) have become too frequent in pro football.

Announcers and networks have used the inappropriate verbage only because of the success of the NCAA Tournament in recent years.

This weekend's biggest offender was Gumble, who said the winner of the game he was working would reach the NFL's final four. Sorry, but the Final Four should apply only to college basketball. Why have the words division champions and wild card teams become taboo?

Finally, Fox also went overboard about hype regarding the Superdome in New Orleans. When the Saints victory ensured that the NFC Championship Game would be played on their home field, Fox trotted out information about other "major events" that the facility had hosted through the years. Those included Super Bowls, Sugar Bowls, BCN National Championship games, visits by the Pope and even meaningless Red Sox exhibition games.

It was an eclectic mix that seemed intended to validate the importance of the conference championship game, but when papal visits and meaningless baseball games show up on the same list it only confuses the matter.

Obvious Overlooked on 'Outside the Lines'

This week's installment of ESPN's stellar sports journalism program, "Outside the Lines," used one of two feature-length segments Sunday morning to focus college football coaches who have lost their jobs in recent weeks amid acusations that they mistreated players.

It was a fairly well reported and timely piece, although thes show could easily have spent a full half hour on the topic as opposed to just 15 minutes.

Most glaring, though, was what reliable host Bob Ley did not ask.

Among the guests on the show was former college coach and Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo. As one of three guests asked for comment during the segment, DiNardo brought some credibility to the topic. Additionally, Ley introduced DiNardo as someone who works with a consulting company that helps college coaches find jobs. That was something interesting about DiNardo most viewers would not know.

But, late in the segment, when discussion turned to Tennessee's hiring of Derek Dooley as its coach, DiNardo lauded the decision. Repeatedly. He made a decent case, too.

What Ley did not ask was whether DiNardo or the company for which he works had recommended Dooley or any other candidates for the UT job. Based on the credentials that DiNardo brought to the segment, it was a necessary question.

For a show that ranks as one of the shining lights of sports-related journalism on a weekly basis, it was a rare missed opportunity.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Games Go Inside on NFL's 'Best Weekend'

Many refer to the divisional round of the NFL playoffs as the "best weekend" of the season, and that usually proves true -- with four quality games, eight good teams and the fact that winners move one victory closer to the Super Bowl.

At this time of the year, weather sometimes plays a role in games as well, making compelling visuals with cold temperatures, rain or snow. This season, that probably will not be the case, because three games take place in domes and the other kicks off in seemingly always-sunny-and-warm San Diego.

So that leaves the broadcast booth as the only place for potentially sloppy conditions this weekend -- and Fox's crew of Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston and Tony Siragusa might be up for the challenge. While a three-person booth works well in some cases, and especially on "Monday Night Football" with John Gruden's debut this season -- Fox's three-person effort often seems uncomfortable.

This weekend, Albert/Johnston/Siragusa call Cardinals at Saints (4:30 p.m. Saturday, Fox).

Although Albert has clear talent and Johnston and Siragusa bring knowledge, the two-in-the-booth, one-on-the-field approach sometimes makes them feel disjointed to viewers. And it's hard to tell how serious they are about what's happening at times.

Other weekend assignments are:
-- Ravens at Colts (8:15 p.m. Saturday, CBS): Greg Gumbel/Dan Dierdorf
-- Cowboys at Vikings (1 p.m. Sunday, Fox): Joe Buck/Troy Aikman
-- Jets at Chargers (4:30 p.m., CBS): Jim Nantz/Phil Simms

In terms of weather, ESPN Radio's Colin Cowherd said only fans want cold or snow, anyway. Late in his nationally syndicated show Friday, Cowherd said good weather ensures better games and rewards sophisticated schemes and superior talent.

Finally, a Penn State alumnus will help shape how people view one of the weekend's biggest games. Rich Russo, a longtime director for Fox Sports, will help lead the behind-the-scenes team that shapes all the scenes people see on TV, while working the Cowboys-Vikings game.

ESPN Assigns Vitale to Women's Game

With weekend TV viewing set to be dominated again by the NFL, ESPN plans an unnecessary gimmick Saturday night to glitz up a strong women's basketball game.

Specifically, Hall of Fame analyst Dick Vitale will work with Dan Shulman and Doris Burke covering No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 1 UConn, which begins at 9 p.m. It's a great matchup of two of the best teams in the nation -- a game worthy of some attention -- but the Vitale move takes some focus of the game itself and probably will not drive any extra viewers.

Vitale, 70, cites the assignment as an exciting opportunity, and ESPN certainly gets some PR mileage from the move. For any women's basketball purists (OK, an admittedly small group), though, the move might be an affront.

It's just doubtful Vitale can add much cogent insight during the one and only game he'll work this season. Now, the assignment should add some on-site spice -- look for all kinds of signs and a bit more energy in the areana -- and his presence makes any game an A-List happening. So it that manner it legitimizes the game and quality of play a bit.

Still, women's basketball (especially Notre Dame at UConn) is far beyond needing legitimacy. With Vitale working -- and, to be clear, he deserves his accolades and Hall of Fame status for all he's done for college basketball -- this weekend's women's game just becomes a bit more about hype and what-ifs (comparing men's and women's basketball) than analysis and insights.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Show to Provide NFL-Controlled 'Contact'

All 62 commercial slots for the Super Bowl on Feb. 7 will be sold well in advance of the game -- just four remained this week, albeit at slightly lower prices than last year, according to The Associated Press (details lower in this post), and one will feature Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu promoting "NFL Full Contact,"

"Full Contact" promises a behind-the-scenes view of pro football, and truTV officials tout it as a perfect fit for the young male demographic the channel, formerly Court TV, is attempting to attract.

Keep in mind, though, that "Full Contact" will be a league-approved look at the show behind the show -- not anything reminiscent of "Playmakers," the 2003 series on ESPN that lasted for just 11 episodes before pressure from the NFL forced the all-sports network to pull the dramatic series about a pro football league that focused on drama and violence the NFL did not want associated with its game.

NFL Films has produced "Full Contact," and that means the access should be great and the images will be stunning but any drama will be mostly contrived. Expect to get behind the scenes, as much as allowed, of the league's big events (including the season-opening game from last fall in Pittsburgh and halftime of the Super Bowl) rather than inside the locker room or front office with a team. Access along those lines will come for people who watch annual "Hardknocks" efforts on HBO that follow teams through training camp.

The Polamalu ad will air in the second quarter of the Super Bowl, before the two-minute warning -- not surprisingly a good ad spot for show the league produced.

Really, "Full Contact" just provides another, slightly different outlet for the NFL to get its product on another network. Chalk it up as another savvy move by some of the best marketers in all of sports. Just do not expect it to be an earth-shattering show. Entertaining? Yes, but probably not much more. And, at 10 p.m. Mondays, when CBS's lineup of comedy ends, and since it's the off-season for "Monday Night Football," it might be worth watching.

In terms of Super Bowl commercials overall, TNS Media Intelligence reported that CBS ad rates for 30 seconds have dropped to about $2.5 to $2.8 million, down from last year's NBC record of $3 million. It's always a big day for advertisers because the most-watched event of the year means money. In 2009, ad revenue for the game totaled $213 million, a 14 percent increase from $186.3 million in 2008. which will debut Feb. 8 on truTV.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

McGwire Reaction Displays Disconnect

In the less than 24 hours since Mark McGwire's admission of steroid use during his career, and the expected avalanche of reaction -- thanks to 24-hour sports talk on TV and radio -- some of the most interesting aspects of that reaction have been how it breaks down among jocks and non-jocks.

For example, Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, who has hired McGwire as the team's batting coach, believes his former player has said he was sorry and now it's over. Now it's not a story.

He apparently expects no questions, or at least less of a furor in spring training for his team. And he's not alone.

McGwire himself seems to believe he's taken his medicine, thrown himself at the feet of the media and the people, and he awaits his forgiveness. After all, we're a forgiving society.

Likewise, LaRussa's good friend, college basketball legend Bob Knight, an ESPN analyst, was interviewed about the matter and -- amazingly -- said he never understood all the furor over performance-enhancing drugs. Knight said because Gatorade replaces electrolytes lost during physical activity, it was probably more of a performance-enhancing substance than certain drugs. (Who took the fiery, no-BS Bobby Knight that was the coach at Indiana in the 1970s and 1980s and replaced him with this guy?)

Many players and pundits remain critical of McGwire's actions, the timing of his admission and even the format of his admission. Still, those who remain blindly supportive seem to share sports experiences and an ability to smile, ask for forgiveness and move along. No harm, no foul, in their minds.

What they might find, though, is that this matter could be different than some they've experienced in the past.

Monday, January 11, 2010

McGwire Interview, Reports Prompt Questions

With MLB Network and Bob Costas leading a special report and sit-down interview, and with a timely special report on ESPN, former home run king Mark McGwire was all over TV on Monday night in the aftermath of his admission that he used steroids during his career.

Unfortunately for McGwire, the fairly friendly interview (with Costas throwing necessary but soft questions), did little to make the former player seem eminently more appealing or likeable through an hour of time with Costas.

At the same time, ESPN's brief special report, with Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic behind the "SportsCenter" desk, packed an informative punch into 15 minutes. Most notably, ESPN focused on McGwire's comments that he has long wanted to get the steroid admission off his chest. Its reports (thanks to T.J. Quinn) put that in context by pointing out that any legal implications for McGwire ended in 2006 -- so he has had three years since to get the pressing issue public.

During the first half of the sit-down with Costas, a sensible and strong interviewer, McGwire came off less likable or revealing than WWE boss Vince McMahon, with whom Costas had conducted an infamously contentious set of interviews in 2001 and 2002 part of his "Inside Sports" series on HBO.

In fact, one of the most striking aspects of the interview was the deferential, soft tone Costas took with McGwire -- again, in stark contrast to the things he did with McMahon in part on a strikingly similar topic (drugs) in regard to pro wrestling.

For example, McGwire seemed silly, saying his family never asked, ever, during his career about drug use. Really? Nobody ever? He said his wife, mom, dad and 20-year-old son did not know until he told them Sunday. Just hard to believe.

He was asked if he ever talked about steroids in the locker room as a player.

"I hid it," McGwire said. "I never talked about it. If I ever did, which I don't remember, I walked the other way."

There was also this, proving he just did not get the implications of his actions ...
Costas: "Do you view your accomplishments as authentic?"
McGwire: "Authentic in what way?"

How could he not know what Costas meant? Plus, McGwire consistently said he took steroids only to help with injuries and that his hand-eye coordination and God-given talent were the keys to his success.

Perhaps McGwire's most honest comments were that he was shy, and he was clearly uncomfortable at times with Costas, who was painfully kind and soft in the interview.

Costas: "How much does the Hall of Fame matter to you?"
McGwire: "First of all, I'm not doing this for the Hall of Fame. I'm doing this for me."

McGwire had some nice talking points, such as that, to lean on during the interview, but he remained steadfast to some illogical things. Again, he consistently tried to disconnect performance from taking performance-enhancing drugs, and he bristled at one point when Costas asked about him begin in exile after his retirement.

McGwire: "I was not in exile. I retired. I moved on with my life. Baseball was just another chapter in my life. Now I'm excited to start another chapter as a hitting coach.

"I'm asking for a second chance. I hope to get it. I have a whole Roledex of things I want to teach hitters. It's been a passion of mine and it came to a head this last October when Tony sent me a text and asked me to be the hitting coach."

Still, McGwire's admission Monday, perhaps as a potential one-time-only effort do quell the furor that will follow the St. Louis Cardinals with him as their hitting coach, did not work well.

Even Costas, who returned to MLB Network after the interview, took the former hitter to task and lashed out with his own doubts ("nobody, nobody hits 70 home runs who is not juiced"). While he should've done more of that, tactfully, in the interview, his doubt was the common threat for many who heard the interview.

Both MLB Network's Tom Verducci and Ken Rosenthal agreed.

"This shoud've been a great day for Mark McGwire, but he blew it," Rosenthal said. "People are not going to believe there's no link between taking performance enhancing drugs and performance. I have a really hard time believing the average fan is going to watch this and say ... let's start anew."

NFL: Replay Remains a Frustrating Tool

Games during the NFL's opening playoff weekend, the wild card round, luckily avoided any game-altering rulings (or non-rulings) through replay -- but the process remains a persistent trouble because the system does not work.

Two examples came in one game during the weekend.

First, in the Ravens-Patriots game Sunday, the muffed punt/fumble recovery should have been reviewed. It was a mistake on Baltimore's part not to challenge the play, and coach John Harbaugh offered only cryptic excuse for not challenging the play afterward.

Still, teams should not be in that position. Just as college football does, every play during every game should be reviewed from a central position upstairs. If a play matters enough during the final two minutes, when NFL rules do require all replays be initiated by league officials, then other plays throughout the game matter as well. How often have we heard a game could turn on one play?

That arbitrary two-minute mark, and the insistence on team initiated challenges rank as the biggest drawbacks of replay in pro football. Timeliness is another troublesome matter.

Second from Sunday, Baltimore challenged the spot of a run by quarterback Joe Flacco and was successful. But it was close, and confusing.

He was initially ruled out at the 8-yard line but after review, the ball was spotted at the 6-yard line. That in itself seemed to signal the Ravens would win their challenge -- but that's not how the NFL rule works.

After the ball was spotted, a measurement for a first down was then conducted. Only once it had been confirmed as a first down was the challenge ruled successful.

If the ball had been short of the first down -- even though it had moved nearly two full yards -- the challenge would have been ruled unsuccessful and the Ravens would have lost a timeout. That just seems illogical ... because the team was challenging the spot of the ball. If the ball moved 2 yards, that would seem to be a success. Not so with the NFL's replay rules.

NFL: Wild Card Weekend a Ratings Success

Ratings for NFL playoff games set all kinds over the weekend, with cold temperatures in many parts of the country and quality games (even after lopsided starts to both games Sunday) drawing viewers to TV screens.

The Saturday games, Jets-Bengals and Eagles-Cowboys, finished as the best Saturday afternoon game in more than a decade and as the highest-rated wild card game ever, respectively.

The early game, Jets-Bengals, was the hightest-rated wild card game since a Bills-Dolphins matchup in 1999. Also, the game's 16.9 rating/31 share was 18 percent higher than last year’s Falcons-Cardinals game (14.3/28) in the same timeslot and 10 percent higher than the Redskins-Seahawks game (15.4/29) in January 2008.

Saturday night's Eagles-Cowboys game drew the best overnight rating for a primetime wild card playoff game ever( 19.6/32). More than 30 million viewers tuned into the game -- and the same was true for the second game Sunday, as the Packers rallied before eventually losing to the Cardinals.

In the final half-hour of the game, it's "overrun" into the 7:30 p.m. timeslot, 34.7 million viewers were tuned into the action.