Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Pimple

I'm going to try a new feature this year, and that's The Pimple, which will be a MMQB of sorts. Why The Pimple? Skiing Penguins are native to Northern Ontario, more specifically north of Kapuskasing and Moonbeam. The most famous (and only) ski hill in the region has "The Pimple" as a nickname, because of its shape. So there you go.

DISCLAIMER: I was working this weekend and only got to watch the Sunday Night game. That's why most of my focus will feature that contest, and more specifically NBC's new broadcast, report card included.

I can't start this column off any other way than to talk about the Thursday Night game, Defending Champions v. My Beloved Dolphins. I must admit that I bought into the Daunte hype. Silly old me, but how could I not? Since Marino (may Allah make his soul eternal) retired, we've had this wonderful lineup of QB's; Damon Huard, Jay Fiedler, AJ Feeley, Brian Griese, Ray Lucas, Gus Frerotte and Sage Rosenfels.Therefore, I only half-apologize for getting excited about Daunte Culpepper. Not that I'm writing him off or anything, but based on his performance, gifting the game to the Steelers, it looks like 2005 Daunte as opposed to 2003 Daunte.

Ze Red Barons owner joined me for the game, and since he has Daunte as his QB we were both quite grumpy by the end of the game. The Real Chazz Batch even showed up for a while, and it looked certain that the Dolphins would take full advantage, but alas, it wasn't enough. Back to the drawing board.

So I was working yesterday, during my lunch break (1:30 to 2:30) I decided to go the only sports bar on Sparks Street (I work downtown), Hoops. I walk in, look at all the TV's, and it's on TBS. I don't need to point out to you hardcore NFL'ers that TBS does not show football. So I walk over to the bartender, and ask the barmaid "Excuse me, are you showing any of the football?". Her reply: "Oh, right, I haven't even checked what's on." I stood there for a few minutes thinking "ok, anytime now she'll switch it over". I then promptly walked out. Lesson: There really aren't any sports bars on Sparks Street.

I therefore had to wait until I got home to watch some pigskin fly through the air. Fortunately, the 4pm game between the Cowboys and Jaguars was a doozie! I underestimated the entertainment value of cheering for Drew Bledsoe to be Drew Bledsoe, and watch the ticking time bomb that is Your 2006 Dallas Cowboys. How many more bad throws to #81 will it take for it to explode? That made for some compelling viewing. You can see the cracks being exposed slowly. There was a point in the game where Dallas went 3 and out, and Terrell was yapping on the sidelines, while Drew was trying to study those black and white photos of the defensive alignments. T.O. must have said something to Drew, because if you were looking for it, and I was, there was a flash of something that momentarily came into Bledsoe's eyes, and he replied without looking at T.O. We like ill will. Bring more ill will. Sidenot to Fox Sports: The Fox Bots have NEVER been cool. And now that you've got an acutal guy in a robot suit dancing around, it's CREEPY. Enough with the robots.

The Sunday Night game did not disappoint, but before I get into that let me spend a little time talking about Football Night in America, the new highlights show on NBC, and the production qualities of the actual game. First off, let me say that I was quite upset when it was announced that the NFL had given its Sunday Night highlights package exclusively to NBC. That brought an end to a legendary broadcast that we all grew up with - ESPN's NFL PRIME TIME. Chris Berman and Tom Jackson worked perfectly as a team, and it was sad to say goodbye. It was upsetting because it was a pure financial decision by the NFL, not based on the show's quality.

Having said that, I kept hearing about how good HBO's football show was, and that show's crew would be doing the Sunday night thing. That piqued my interest. So how was it? Football Night in America works for me. Works very well. I've always loved Bob Costas and Chris Collinsworth. Jerome Bettis comes off as well as an analyst as he did as a football personality, unlike Shannon Sharpe of CBS. Sterling Sharpe, who's firing on NFL Gameday a decade ago I never understood, is good as well. He's the antagonist on the panel, but he does way better than Michael Irvin, Terry Bradshaw or his brother Shannon.

The set looked gorgeous. Much better than ESPN's flying saucer setup. I don't get the current set on ESPN, it's terrible. NBC's set is classy, understated, perfect for a Sunday night. It's feels like football zen after a day of testosterone and over the top announcers and analysts. My only complaint is that it took 18 minutes to get into highlights, and Costas looked like a Liliputian in those oversized chairs. Nice to see they're giving midgets some important jobs in television. We could always use more midgets on TV (sorry Bob).

As for the game broadcast, I was disappointed. Not in the clarity of the HD, which was beautiful, but the presentation. Where are the stats? Hasn't CBS laid down the blueprint of what football fans expect in terms of stats? They kept showing Manning stats all night. Well guess what, we want to know how the other players are doing as well! Same producer as MNF, Fred Gaudelli, and I guess he doesn't like stats.

Opening music: YUK! Bill Simmons spearheaded the argument against using 20-30 year old songs in opening sequences, and no one is listening. Pink doing "I Hate Myself for Loving You" is a terrible decision. I guess they were hoping for a long standing hit like Hank Williams' "Are you Ready?", but come on...Joan Jett? Hopefully we don't get 10 years of this song, or I'll have to slit my wrists.

Al Michaels is losing some of his appeal, in my book. I used to love Al Michaels. I grew up watching Al Michaels with Frank Gifford and Dan Dierdorf in the MNF booth. But I'm officially losing my affection for Al. He's pretty much given up on telling the game story, describing what's going on. He'll do the play-by-play, but he always seems so eager to break away from the action on the field to wax poetic about the topics of the day not related the present game. That used to be charming in late blowouts, where the action on the field has become irrelevant, but now he does it all the time. I wish he'd tell me about the players on the field, the strategy, the backups, the stats.

Madden is a lot better with Michaels than he was with Pat Summerall. It's like he woke up (who can blame him - I'd fall asleep to listening to Pat Summerall for 10 years). He says insightful things at times, and he's not too over the top as he once was.

Pre-game - Football Night in America:

Host (Bob Costas): A
Panel (Bettis, Sharpe, Collinsworth): A
Set: A- (would have gotten an A+++ if not for the oversized chair)
Content: B

Sunday Night Football:

Presentation: F (for Pink and that song and no stats!!)

Play by Play (Al Michaels): C

Colour Commentator (John Madden): B-

Picture quality and direction: A- (looks beautiful, and brought us some very good images from the game...I won't give an A+ until they give us more live sky cam - that's the way the game is meant to be seen)

Overall: B+

Room for improvement, but the pre-game and halftime stuff were outstanding.

As for the game itself, Vinatieri f'cked me over with his 49 yard FG. I would have won my pro line Props if it hadn't been for that. I thought he had a bum planting foot?!? Oh well. This was an entertaining game, but I'd like to ask an open question to Corporate America: Who decided Peyton and Eli are marketable? Aren't they two of the most despised football players right now? Don't most people find them annoying? There is definitely something unlikeable about both of them, but apparently this does not matter since every second commercial last night featured one or both of the Mannings. Tell me this isn't what I have to watch for four months?

Who I've got tonight: Tomlinson running wild over the Raiders D, and Washington clobbering Minnesota.