AP Photo/Bob Child UConn coach Geno Auriemma reacts during a win over Marquette, the team’s 87th in a row, last week.
There is some kind of noise connected to the UConn women’s basketball team as it approaches the iconic 88 – that is, the winning-streak standard that UCLA’s men’s basketball team accomplished in the early 1970s.
A blah buzz? A muzzled murmur?
A stifled media yawn?
In her column this week for USA Today (linked here), Christine Brennan called it a flagant foul, practically scolding the sports communications industry for failing to generate much of anything decibel-related for this pending achievement. Not even so much as giving it the obligatory apples-to-oranges sides that are drawn with any debate of such low-lying fruit.
On the flip side, a men’s team that happened to be zoning on the Bruins’ NCAA record would have every four-letter network turning upside down trying to produce daily countdown specials, websites and documentaries.
Yet, Brennan’s disappointment that the UConn-Ohio State game on a late-season NFL Sunday that could celebrate the Huskies’ 88th win in a row has “been relegated” to ESPNU and takes away from “the top billing” that the achievement deserves has merit, despite what one high-level ESPN person believes.
“ESPNU is in 73 million homes, and it’s the network of college sports, and this is a huge college sports moment,” Tina Thornton, ESPN’s senior coordinating producer, said today. “So, you know . . . I guess people can say all they want about where we put it, but it’s a great vehicle for a great game.”
Highlights of the week ahead in sports, both here and afar:
NFL: Baltimore at Houston, 5:30 p.m., ESPN:
As an L.A. NFL fan that saw the league award a franchise several seasons ago to the former home of the Oilers intead of the former home of the Rams and Raiders, do you find any glee in watching this Texans’ season about to collapse like the Metrodome roof? After what many thought was a tailor-made carpet trip to the playoffs, Houston now knows it has to win its last four in a row, and then hope a couple teams ahead of it struggle? Yup, Houston has a problem. Go ahead. Smile at least.
College basketball: UCLA vs. UC Davis, Pauley Pavilion, 7:30 p.m., Prime:
Put these 5-4 Bruins in the Big West Conference, and they’d be a shiny 3-0, with wins this year already against Cal State Northridge, Pacific and Cal Poly. The Aggies of UC Davis are next (with UC Irvine next week). And Ben Howland’s record over the last two seasons is now 18-22?
NHL: Kings at Detroit, 4:30 p.m., Versus:
In the afterglow of a 3-2 OT win against the Red Wings at Staples Center last week, the Kings start a five-game road trip with a rare national TV exposure. They had none of these last year. The Red Wings ended their first two-game losing slide with back-to-back wins over the weekend.
NBA: Lakers at Washington, 4 p.m., Channel 9:
Pardon the presidential interruption, but a day after a special meet-and-greet with Barack Obama — again — the Lakers have another scheduled appointment in pummeling the Wizards, probably not as irratically as they did last week at Staples Center. Last January, when the Lakers were in a 5-5 stretch after a 28-6 start, they had their champions meeting at the White House and were inspired to win nine of their next 11. And, if things to as advertised, Andrew Bynum will see his first action of the season here. Holding your breath?
NBA: Lakers at Indiana, 4 p.m., Channel 9; Clippers at Philadelphia, 4 p.m., Prime:
If not for the Grammys, then why again has everyone been kicked out of Staples Center this week? That goofy Disney On Ice show starts tonight, and goes through Sunday. The Lakers, as a result, get to meet up with the team that beat ’em by three a couple of weeks ago, and the Clippers find out how life’s been treating Elton Brand (averaging 16.1 points and 7.7 rebounds a game).
NHL: Ducks at Washington, 4 p.m., FSW:
As for this Ducks’ extended roadie, it’s not clear why they’ve been frozen out. They won’t be back at the Honda Center until New Year’s Eve, but Disney On Ice doesn’t barge in until Dec. 21-26.
NFL: San Francisco at San Diego, 5:20 p.m., NFL Network:
The Chargers, in their last home game, only wish they could face Brodie Croyle every week. The 49ers’ Alex Smith, in his last win over Seattle, only wishes he could look like John Brodie every week. San Diego (and Pittsburgh) has the easiest remaining schedule left for AFC playoff-eligible teams — their opponents’ winning percentage for the last three games are a combined .354.
NHL: Kings at St. Louis, 5 p.m., FSW:
Andy McDonald was the Blues’ leading scorer when he went out with a concussion on Dec. 4 – he hit a rut in the ice and crashed into the leg of Edmonton’s Shawn Horcoff. McDonald hasn’t played since. Remember, he missed the last 29 games of the Ducks’ Stanley Cup run in ’03 because of post-concussion syndrome. He also missed seven games earlier this season for the same reason.
NHL: Ducks at N.Y. Islanders, 4 p.m., Prime:
The best lead to a story last week in the Orange County Register: “ANAHEIM – Everything about Teemu Selanne’s game is fine except for that nagging pain emanating from his groin muscle.” He’s gone missing again, maybe for some of this trip.
NBA: Lakers at Philadelphia, 4 p.m., Channel 9:
All those things that Doug Collins used to say about Phil Jackson from the broadcast table may come back to haunt him now that he’s back coaching the Sixers.
NBA: Clippers at Detroit, 4:30 p.m., FSW:
TheBigLead.com contributor Stephen Douglas wrote it last week: “The Clippers are a garbage fire and Baron Davis is fanning the flames with an excrement-covered blanket. But Blake Griffin… man he’s a joy to watch.”
High school football: California state Division I championship: Corona Centennial vs. Palo Alto, Home Depot Center, 7:30 p.m., Prime:
Centennial (15-0) won the Division I state title in ’08, and has scored as many as 82 points in a game this season.
College football: New Mexico Bowl, Albuquerque: BYU vs. UTEP, 11 a.m., ESPN; Humanitarian Bowl, Boise, Idaho: Fresno State vs. Northern Illinois, 2:30 p.m., ESPN; New Orleans Bowl: Ohio vs. Troy, 6 p.m., ESPN:
To kick off the bowl season, it’s two 6-6 teams meeting in the only live televised sporting event in the state of New Mexico. At the end of the day, they’ll still combine for a .500 record. It can only get better.
High school football: California state open-division championship: Concord De La Salle vs. Anaheim Servite, Home Depot Center, 7:30 p.m., Prime:
Perennial power De La Salle, the open division winner in 2009, is 13-0, having won its division title 19 straight seasons. Servite, 14-0, the defending Division II title winner, and ranked No. 1 by MaxPreps, has won its last 25 in a row. In the 3:30 p.m. Division II championship, Serra of Gardena (14-0), with a 29-game win streak having won the Div. III title a year ago, takes on Folsolm (13-1) from the San Joaquin Valley.
NHL: Kings at Nashville, 5 p.m., Channel 13:
The Kings registered a 4-1 against the Predators in early November behind Jonathan Bernier.
NBA: Clippers at Chicago: 5 p.m., FSW:
See: Friday, at Detroit, Clippers.
College basketball: UCLA vs. BYU, Honda Center, 2:30 p.m. FSW:
For the first time since the inception of the John R. Wooden Classic, its namesake won’t be present. The Hall of Fame coach’s passing in June left some doubt about whether it could go on, but soon afterward, the family said in an a statement that it was “proud to continue the Wooden Classic in honor of our father, grandfather and great grandfather,” said Jim Wooden and Nancy Muehlhausen, John Wooden’s son and daughter. This is the 17th year of the event, and UCLA has been in 15 of them. The day begins with St. Mary’s against Long Beach State.
College basketball: USC at Kansas, 9 a.m., ESPN:
What UCLA couldn’t accomplish two weeks ago, maybe the Trojans can: Ending the Jayhawks’ home winning streak. Depends on what moods the referees are in.
NBA: Lakers at Toronto, 10 a.m., Channel 9:
We’re looking at a list of the leading scorers this year for the non-D League Raptors and … nope, don’t see Chris Bosh. We’ve lost track of his whereabouts. Blame Canada. At least this one will end early.
NFL: Green Bay at New England, 5:15 p.m., Channel 4:
Aaron Rodgers may not remember much about the Pack’s last loss to Detroit – and might have even been more confused watching the Vikings play the Giants on the Lions’ home field on Monday.
NHL: Kings at Chicago, 4 p.m., FSW:
They’ve already lost twice to the defending Stanley Cup champs in the first 22 games. Is Marco Sturm ready yet?
Our biggest Beef ‘O’ Brady with the current college football bowl system?
This season, it looks as if someone from the NCAA went to Overstock.com and bought up all the naming rights nobody else wanted.
So maybe the economy hasn’t fully bounced back to those glorious, disingenuous dot-com days where companies could sponsor a meaningless bowl game by swiping a credit card that they never intended to pay off.
But if this is supposed to be some sudden embarrassment of riches among the Big Lots of the world, maybe we should feel fortunate that UCLA and USC had a) not enough victories or b) too many violations to completely avoid the further embarrassment of having to ask their fan base to cough up full-price plane fair and game tickets for a tacky-named exhibition.
Go down the list. It’s like a who’s who of never was.
A Wilmington, Ohio-based trucking firm. A discount paint-and-body repair shop. A Japanese automaker with a name we still can’t pronounce, and whose top-selling model ranks No. 14 on the American best-seller list.
A multi-vitamin retailer whose customer service complaint hotline expands from 10 p.m. to midnight on Mondays and Tuesdays. An online ticket broker that has neither “Stub” nor “Hub” in its name. A website where you go, daddy, to buy a website domain name.
Two pizza delivery joints. A credit union that’s supposed to be looking out for your investment but is instead paying out $750,000 a team in appearance fees. And a U.S. defense contractor.
Who’s got a spare Poulan WeedEater to come in and clear some of this dry brush?
There are 34 minor-league, preliminary bouts over the next four-plus weeks before the Oregon-Auburn heavyweight battle to determine this season’s pretend national champion. There are just about 34 minor-league names to match.
Either the giants of the Forbes 500 weren’t bold enough to spend a little walking-around money and slap their logo on the midfield stripe, or this is an ingenious way for major corporate America to protest the whole charade.
There will be no drove to be humanely put down after the uDrove Humanitarian Bowl wraps up this Saturday in Boise, Idaho. This company that “replaces in-cab paperwork for the transportation industry from your smart phone” might want to add an app to monitor if anyone’s really paying attention in Spudville, USA.
Some think we’ve reached a new era with the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. But it’s really an opportunity for good ol’ 7-5 Syracuse, with stunning victories over Colgate, Akron and Maine but unable to upend UConn for the Big East title, to boldly offer travel packages to anyone willing to take a same-day, 250-mile round-trip charter from the campus to New York City. It comes with ground transportation, a pre-game reception and a “trip souvenir.” But no game ticket. All for just $720 a person.
That Emerald Nut-Job Bowl that the Trojans ended up winning last year in San Francisco? Now it’s the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. A noble cause, but really, is the best way to tackle this kind of global problem with gobs of Mac-and-Cheez Whiz?
Beef ‘O’ Brady’s, by the way, is an Irish pub chain. The closest one to us is in Phoenix. That’s not far enough.
These bowls that do get (but don’t necessarily need) NCAA certification have the option of going without a shady business partner. But then they have to figure out a way to pay the teams off for participating. Most guarantee at least the three-quarters-of-a-mil payout.
Yet, something called the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., on Jan. 8, can only afford $300,000 apiece for Pittsburgh and Kentucky. The R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl really got carried away and has committed $325,000 each to Troy and Ohio.
Why even bother?
The salad days of college football’s Salad Bowl – it was Phoenix’s precursor to the Fiesta Bowl, sponsored by Tostidos – make us wonder even more: How low will they go with lame names?
Tom Hagel, a senior director of marketing at ESPN, which is the network televising 34 of the 35 games this bowl season, told Bloomberg News recently that he has never had a title sponsor name rejected by the NCAA’s Football Issues Committee, which grants bowl licenses.
“We have our own filter,” Hagel said. “When you’re in the bowl business, it’s almost like you’re buying a house in a neighborhood. You don’t want a real bad house in the neighborhood.”
Unless it’s been sitting vacant for a few years and the neighborhood’s value is plummeting.
In that case, the ExtenZe Bowl has just been added to someone’s short list.
In the New York Times’ obit on the passing this week of former ABC “Monday Night Football” analyst Don Meredith, it notes:
Joseph Donald Meredith was born on April 10, 1938. In high school, he acted in school plays, scored 52 points in a basketball tournament game, graduated second in his class and won a statewide contest for identifying shrubs.
Some of the quotes that came out this week on his life:
== Frank Gifford, who got choked up when talking about Meredith when interviewed live at halftime on ESPN’s recent “MNF” telecast, told New York’s Newsday he went to Santa Fe, New Mexico for a final visit: “I saw him about three months ago. [His wife] Susan called me and said he was a little down in the dumps. He really wasn’t talking to anyone. He would just sit there and was on oxygen at the time and just every now and then he’d try to sing. She had an around-the-clock nurse for him. I figured it was getting close to the end. I just flew out one afternoon and spent two days with him and came back. He didn’t take very good care of himself, to say the least. Once he got to where he couldn’t do anything he just fell apart. Sad.”
== Dan Dierdorf, who did 12 years on “Monday Night Football” for ABC: “He was not a professional announcer and I think that’s really what endeared him to people. I think a lot of people looked at Don Meredith in the booth and thought to themselves, ‘That could be me.'”
== Randy Galloway, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist: “As a huge Meredith fan, I once asked (Cowboys coach Tom) Landry about him while walking back from the practice fields at training camp in Thousand Oaks, Calif. ‘Coach, did you enjoy Don Meredith back in the day?’ A slight grin appeared, then Tom answered dryly, ‘he was different.'”
Personal aside: Without Meredith, there’s no Terry Bradshaw, Paul Maguire, Lee Corso, or anyone else who injects their over-the-top personality into a broadcast. You knew Meredith knew what he was doing, he was perfect for that time when “MNF” was bigger than just a game, kind of an interloper who played his role but had the credibility.
They say that all good things must end. This ended too soon.
The Cowboys plan to pay tribute to Meredith before Sunday night’s game against Philadelphia. The Dallas Morning News reports that Meredith never did attend a game at the new stadium before his death. He was invited for the regular season opener against the New York Giants in 2009, but was the only living member of the Ring of Honor at the time to decline the invitation.
Following up on today’s media column (linked here), the rest of the stuff that passes for our media ring of honor this weekend:
== The NFL slate for your L.A. television stations coming up:
= 10 a.m., Channel 11: N.Y. Giants at Minnesota (with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman), instead of Fox’s other offerings: Green Bay-Detroit, Atlanta-Carolina and Tampa Bay-Washington.
= 10 a.m., Channel 2: Oakland at Jacksonville (with Kevin Harlan and Solomon Wilcots). CBS also has Cleveland-Buffalo and Cincinnati-Pittsburgh.
= 1 p.m., Channel 2: Kansas City at San Diego (with Gus Johnson and Steve Tasker) instead of New England-Chicago (with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms), Denver-Arizona and Miami-N.Y. Jets. Fox also has St. Louis-New Orleans and Seattle-San Francisco.
= 5:15 p.m., Channel 4: Philadelphia at Dallas (with Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth and Andre Kremer).
= 5:30 p.m., ESPN: Baltimore at Houston (with Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden and Ron Jaworski).
= 5 p.m., NFL Network: San Francisco at San Diego (with Bob Papa, Matt Millen and Joe Theisman).
== With today’s updated technology, would any network ever try an announcer-less NFL game again? The NFL Network experimented with it by replaying a recent Thursday night game with only the game sounds (and eliminating the call of their three-broadcaster booth). Thirty years ago, NBC tried it, and whether it succeeded or not is debated on the latest ESPN “Outside the Lines” Sunday morning show (6 a.m.) with then-NBC executive producer Don Ohlmeyer (the current ESPN.com ombudsman) and director David Neal talking about how it went during that contest featuring the 3-12 New York Jets and 8-7 Miami Dolphins in an otherwise meaningless season-ending game (link to video preview here).Dick Enberg and Bryant Gumbel also are interviewed for the piece.
== How ESPN plans to handle Saturday’s Heisman ceremony with Cam Newton and all that stuff (linked here).
== Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson call the 111th Army-Navy game (Chanel 2, 11:30 a.m., Saturday), the second year that the game is played on the second Saturday in December to end the college football regular-season, as part of CBS’ extended agreement to do the game through 2018. Tim Brando, Spencer Tillman and Aaron Taylor do the pregame show (11 a.m.) that includes an interview with Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs, who says his future plans which include becoming President of the United States in 2040.
== JP Dellacamera and John Harkes call the NCAA men’s College Cup, starting with the semifinals today (North Carolina-Louisville, 5:30 p.m., ESPNU; Michigan-Akron, 7 p.m., ESPN2) and the final on Sunday (1 p.m., ESPN2) from UC Santa Barbara.
== Big Ten Network has Fox Sports Detroit’s coverage of the Michigan-Michigan State outdoor hockey game (Saturday, noon) that is expected to fill the Big House — more than 109,000. The two teams played an outdoor game in 2001 at Spartain Stadium in East Lansing before 74,554. The 16-camera production uses Matt Shepard (play-by-play), former Michigan player and ex-Islanders colorman Billy Jaffe (analyst), Fred Pletsch (between the benches analyst), along with Mickey Redmond and John Keating (hosts/intermission interviews).
== ESPN has decided to unlease online columnist Bill Simmons as a guest analyst on tonight’s Miami-Golden State telecast (7:30 p.m.), joining Dan Shulman and Mark Jackson. At least it won’t happen during the ESPN coverage of the game preceeding it — Lakers at Chicago, with Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy.
== HBO’s final boxing event of the year sends Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant and Roy Jones Jr. (subbing for Emanuel Steward) to Las Vegas to see Amir Khan-Marcos Maidana and Victor Ortiz-Lamont Peterson (Saturday, 6:30 p.m.).
== Because it can, TNT has decided to send its studio team of Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith to Staples Center prior to its coverage of the Lakers-Oklahoma City game on Martin Luther King Day (Monday, Jan. 17). Yes, they’ve been trying to get out more this season. They were at the Oct. 26 Boston-Miami opener, then at the Dec. 2 Miami-Cleveland game.
== A new ESPN-created college basketball “Champions Classic,” featuring “four of the sport’s winningest programs” playing each other in prime time on neutral sites over the next three years – and UCLA didn’t get an invite? In mid-November during the 2011, ’12 and ’13 seasons, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State (who all play in conferences tied to ESPN contracts) have agreed to matchups played as a double header in New York, Atlanta and Chicago. The ESPN director of programming and acquisitions calls it an event that creates “a tremendous pillar for the start of the college basketball season.” Maybe it gives the current UCLA program something to shoot for. Or organize their own event with the help of Fox Sports Net.
== Dreaming of a White Christmas and the 1960 World Series? MLB Network has it, thanks to Bing Crosby.
The black-and-white kinescope of the ’60 World Series Game 7 which was thought to be lost but rediscovered earlier this year at the home of the late singer (who was part-owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates at the time) will be seen on TV Wednesday at 5 p.m. on the MLB Network for the first time since it was originally aired 50 years ago.
Bob Costas will include interviews with Bill Mazerowski, Dick Groat, Bill Virdon, Bobby Richardson, Vera Clemente (the widow of Roberto Clemente) and actor and Pittsburgh native Michael Keaton.
Interviews were recorded in front of a live audience of more than 1,000 at the historic Byham Theater in Pittsburgh on November 13, 2010, where the film of Game 7 was screened.
Hall of Fame broadcasters Mel Allen and Bob Prince alternate each half inning of the broadcast, which MLB Network worked with the Technicolor company to restore the picture and sound quality. The original production includes limited on-screen graphics and no instant replay.
Before the telecast, Costas will host a special “Bing and Baseball” at 4:30 p.m., to feature Crosby’s involvement with baseball. Interviews are done with Crosby’s widow Kathryn and his son Nathaniel