Tom Jones’ Two Cents: Sad to see ESPN’s ‘Sports Reporters’ come to an end –

Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.

Saddest goodbye

I’ve been doing this weekend-in-review column for the past 10 years. Though I have no official numbers, I’m fairly certain that no show has been quoted more often in it than ESPN’s Sports Reporters. That’s because each week, someone on the show says something smart or funny or shocking or a combination that needed to be repeated here. Plus, it was a part of my Sunday morning routine for nearly 30 years.

Sadly, that show will never be quoted here again. Sunday, after 29 years, the final episode of the Sports Reporters aired. The first episode aired on Oct. 5, 1988, and was hosted by Gary Thorne with guests Jackie MacMullen (Boston Globe), Scott Ostler (Los Angeles Times), Lyle Spencer (New York Post) and Ralph Wiley (Sports Illustrated). Each week, columnists and sports writers from around the country weighed in on the hot topics of sports, but did so in an intelligent, civil manner, unlike all the screaming we see in today’s debate-driven shows.

The show was groundbreaking, but it never lost its sensibilities.

Much of the credit for the civility and intelligence goes to the two long-time hosts of the program, Dick Schaap and John Saunders, both of whom have passed away.

Sunday’s finale had a panel most associated with the show: Mike Lupica (New York Daily News), Bob Ryan (Boston Globe), Bill Rhoden (who spent most of his career with the New York Times) and Mitch Albom (Detroit Free Press). The final episode was handled perfectly, with the panel talking about current events, then looking back at the greatest athlete they covered during Sports Reporters‘ run and finally, their lasting memories of the show.

It wasn’t over-the-top sappy, but it did acknowledge the end of an era. It was a reminder of just how classy the show was. Why is it being cancelled? Maybe it was getting too expensive, or maybe having a once-a-week debate show made for stale topics in today’s 24-hour news cycle.

Whatever the reason, this column will greatly miss Sports Reporters. So will I.

Next Sunday

With Sports Reporters going away, ESPN will unveil a new Sunday morning format next week. E:60, the network’s award-winning newsmagazine program, will air live hour-long episodes starting at 9 a.m. Bob Ley of Outside the Lines and Jeremy Schaap will host the program. Among some of the features of the new show: “The Take,” which will have commentary and storytelling from Ley and Schaap; “ICYMI,” the craziest sports video of the week; “The Calendar,” looking ahead to the week’s key, interesting and obscure sporting events; and “The Social Story,” fan-generated video.

Best coverage

Not even close. The best sports TV of the weekend was NBC’s broadcast of the Kentucky Derby. This year, Mike Tirico (top right), joined longtime host Bob Costas (below right) to navigate the network’s fast-placed 4-hour, 45-minute coverage. Yes, you read that right. Nearly five hours for an event that lasts two minutes.

The coverage feels a little like going to a great party. You mingle over here a bit, getting fun conversation about food and drink and celebrities for a while. Then you go over there and get in-depth, serious human interest features. Then over there you get the latest odds and the nuts and bolts of racing.

The network never lingers too long on one topic, and therefore, the viewer is either entertained by it all or it can drift in and out of the broadcast and never feel like he or she is missing anything. Personally, I enjoyed all of the broadcast, but three moments stood out:

Rutledge Wood, who was outstanding all day, had a superb feature on Rosie Napravnik, who retired as a jockey to raise a family and is now an assistant trainer working alongside her husband.

Costas’ interview with the four men alive who have called the Kentucky Derby. It was insightful to hear how the announcers have to have a “bathtub memory” to call eight or more races in a day. That means memorizing all the horses for one race, then draining that race and filling up the tub with all the horses for the next race. Fun stuff.

The fascinating tale of trainer Antonio Sano, who was twice kidnapped for ransom in his native Venezuela, including once when he was held captive for 36 days. He now lives in South Florida.

Few networks cover a sporting event better than NBC covers horse racing.

Best stat

I love this research put in by Exactly half of the top 50 retired quarterbacks — the top 50 in terms of victories, that is — became broadcasters for national networks. That includes the most recent two to go from the field to the booth: Tony Romo and Jay Cutler. Fox’s hire of Cutler came out of nowhere, and many are predicting disaster. But they don’t hand these jobs out without doing research. Cutler is going to be better than the haters think. Cutler’s former teammate Kyle Long told the Chicago Sun-Times, “Cutler would be on point as an analyst. He’s one of the most cerebral guys I’ve ever played with.”

Best Van Gundy

Don’t you just love ABC NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy? During Saturday’s Warriors-Jazz game, replays showed Golden State’s Draymond Green barely committing a foul.

“That’s not a foul,” Van Gundy yelled. “That’s every play. So if that’s a foul, then every play the whole game is a foul.”

Best debut

Grizzlies coach David Fizdale was top-notch during Saturday night’s NBA Primetime. His best moment came when asked if Golden State was so good that it wouldn’t miss coach Steve Kerr, who is out indefinitely with back problems. After all, can’t anyone coach this all-star team?

“Not when it gets deep,” Fizdale said. “When that water gets deep, the coach is going to have to step up and make the right decisions for his team and keep his team believing. There’s going to be some doubt, and when that doubt creeps in, he’s going to have to be the one to glue them together.”

Three things that popped into my head

1. Win two, lose two. Win one series, lose the next. That’s the Rays. Get used to it. That’s what they are: a .500 team. At best.

2. There’s plenty of intrigue in the various NBA playoff series. But come on, can’t we just fast forward already to the Cavs-Warriors final?

3. Meantime, the Stanley Cup playoffs are a blast and I’m already dreading getting to the final because every night is a thrill ride.

tom jones’ two cents


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