Play It Forward: Jan. 7-13

Highlights of the week ahead in sports, both here and afar:

THIS WEEK’S BEST BET

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: BCS National Championship in Miami: No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Alabama, today at 5:30 p.m., ESPN:

The SEC has won the last six straight national titles – three of them belonging to ‘Bama – so maybe it not shocking seeing the Crimson Tide anywhere from a six-to-10-plus point favorite in this final game of the college football season. But then, Notre Dame is as close to America’s team in this sport, and many are pulling for the Irish to win its first national title since 1988. Where do your loyalties lie? “I think every other conference and every other fan base outside of those 14 (SEC) teams are passionately rooting against Alabama,” said ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who’ll call the game with Brent Musburger. “And what’s interesting in this case – Notre Dame is such a polarizing team, where everybody, no matter where you grew up, you either love or can’t stand Notre Dame. So a lot of people out there are going to have to make a tough decision on who to pull for.” Then you’ve got those who claim they dislike both, so they aren’t going to watch. “I think anybody that takes the time to make a comment like that, clearly they’ll be watching,” said Herbstreit. “They’ll, in fact, watch the four hours of pregame that we have before the game and be blogging and tweeting about how wrong everybody is on those shows.” The 2006 USC-Texas title game at the Rose Bowl set the TV record for one of these events with a 21.7 rating – but it was also on ABC, not ESPN. Will this one exceed it? Probably best to tune in and find out.

BEST OF THE REST:

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So the hockey thing is over … OK … so now what?

To understand a hockey fan’s apathetic reaction today to what seems to be a resolution in the NHL owner and player impasse is to put yourself in the shoes of a grocery store clerk, a cross-country truck driver or a mail carrier.

They’re used to long hours, taking some abuse, struggling to get their honest day’s work in, and then being rewarded with little if any recognition.

And they go back and do it again.

(Perhaps any “hockey fan” in L.A. may not really understand much about this, especially those who joined in the Kings’ parade at the tail end of things last summer and became entralled by the whole, shiny Stanley Cup thing as it went through town. No problem. Excuse yourself to watching the replay of last night’s Clippers’ victory.)

The reaction today of the hockey fan is why the NHL owners, to a greedy man, know that no matter what happened in this labor negotiation, no matter how these millions of dollars will eventually be split up by them and the players, they’ll prey on the loyalty of those who buy the tickets, wear the sweaters and support the sponsors on TV that they’ll be back no matter how ridiculous this all played out.

Now, that may cause you to believe that hockey fans are stupid, stupid, stupid.

That’s a very romantic approach.

They’re humble, first. They’re altruistic, second. They’re loyal. To a fault. They’ve probably experienced first-hand their own labor issues, causing them to trust in their union leader in telling them walking off the job for awhile is something that had to be done for the betterment of everyone who comes after you.

They seem to understand that things like this come up, stuff gets bogged down, people stop drawing checks for awhile, then it gets figured out and, dang it all, they’re grateful their job still is there.

They’re God-fearing, not Fehr-fearing. They don’t gamble with their future, like Bettman likes to do.

And they do love their puck.

Darren Rovell, ESPN’s sports business correspondent, wrote about how he took a Twitter poll today, one in which he concluded that about three-quarters of the hundreds who responded indicated they’d watch the same percentage of games as they did the previous non-lockout seasons. The theory is they have no recourse to switch to – NFL or NBA fans can turn to the college football or basketball during a belabored labor stoppage. Hockey fans have the college game to turn to, and some have. But ultimately, they’re true to the pro game, and that’s that.

Thing is, the hockey fans I know don’t care much for Twitter anyway. Even the ones living in L.A. They’re not all that impressed with social media tools that portend to tell us how we’re thinking or reacting or planning to retaliate. They are the ones who tend to just enjoy the sport for what it is, admire the players who are a lot like them in many ways, and they look forward to having a beer and watching a hockey game at the end of the day. At the arena? Sometimes. But mostly, it’s on TV. Just works out better that way.

So if they appear a little apathetic today to whatever news has come out about anything getting settled, forgive them.

They’ll come around. They always seem to no matter how much they’re abused, misused or refused.

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Sunday Q-and-A Part II: Denman, you’ve got to take this more serious

Today’s editions carry a Q-and-A with Trevor Denman, who has been the voice of Santa Anita the last 30 years. That conversation we had with him Saturday at the track was a little less traditional — we were more interested in his favorite episode of “The Simpsons” (the one he was in, obviously), his largest wager and the odds of him doing this another 30 years.
Here’s a more traditional Q-and-A we also wanted to pursue for the 60-year-old South African native …. and away we go:

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Sunday Q-and-A Part I: Santa Anita’s Trevor Denman, maybe as you’ve never heard him

Trevor Denman calls it as he sees it – and this somewhat  claustrophobic 15-by-20 square-foot room just under the main press box at Santa Anita race track is what he refers to as his office.

It might be more accurately mistaken as a small branch of the Arcadia library.

Keeping his mind engaged between the tens of thousands of races that he’s described at this race place for the last 30 years has resulted in a collection of the printed word that exceeds just the necessary reference material.

Sure, there’s the English, Latin, Spanish, French and Italian dictionaries neatly shelved in one bookcase, with an encyclopedia of Greek gods and other mythical figures that often end up used as the names of thoroughbred horses and are subject to a quick, correct pronunciation.

But then there’s the series of Dick Francis mysteries, a volume of poems by Shelley (his favorite), Page Smith’s “The Nation Comes of Age,” and books on the lives of Michener, Khrushchev and Mandela.

Off on the small couch buried under a stack of notes and The Racing Form is the latest biography on James Madison by Richard Brookhiser that Denman is currently devouring.

“He’s a bit of a dry guy – he’s no Jefferson or Franklin,” Denman says of the subject matter. “But he is still interesting.”

On an otherwise normal Saturday afternoon at the track, we could go by the book and ask Denman to recall some of the dry subject matter that he’s surely covered over the years.

His most memorable race call? We know it’s Zenyatta’s 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic victory.

For this, we’re going off the beaten path with 10 questions to test the reflexes of the 60-year-old South African native, whose voice is as connected to Southern California sports as a Vin Scully, Bob Miller or the late Chick Hearn:

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Rome’z Mizdirection back on crazy Santa Anita chute track Sunday

Mizdirection, the Jim Rome-majority-owned 5-year-old mare who surprised the field at the Breeders’ Cup to win the Turf Sprint, is back to defend her title in Sunday’s Monrovia Stakes at Santa Anita.

Mizdirection, who drew the outside post in a field of six, has been off four weeks since her Nov. 3 victory. She won last year’s Monrovia Stakes with Garrett Gomez, but she’ll be ridden Sunday again by Mike Smith, who is 3-for-3 with her.

The complete field for the Monrovia Stakes: Curvy Cat, Corey Nakatani, 118; Byrama, Rafael Bejarano, 118; Kindle, Edwin Maldonado, 118; Givine, Tyler Baze, 118; Broken Dreams, Garrett Gomez, 118, and Mizdirection, Mike Smith, 123.

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It’s Out of the Question: Phil’s ringing endorsement of Jeanie

Happen to see the rock Phil put on Jeanie’s finger over Christmas?
It’s been all over Twitter more than an Erin Andrews’ Instagram promoting her New Year’s Eve hook up with (fill in the name of a Kings’ player).
Don’t you think Jeanie’s pursuit of a ring had to be a far more arduous journey than the 11 pieces of crushed coal bestowed upon Phil for the manner in which he positioned himself on the bench in an official capacity for the world championship Bulls and Lakers?
Or was this Phil’s best revenge, becoming an official brother-in-law of the guy who left him at the altar when the team last made a knee-jerk head coaching switch?

==  Charles Barkley is the latest to come out and say the Lakers have “none . . . zero . . . . zero chance” of winning the 2013 NBA title.
He should know. Number of NBA titles on Barkley’s resume?
Zippity doo dah.

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Weekly media column version 01.04.13

Bill Walton waves to the crowd after he is introduced as an honorary captain before the UCLA-Oregon basketball game at the old MacArthur Court in Eugene, Ore., in 2010. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

What made it into the latest newspaper/online version: Bill Walton, on how he’s come all the way into broadcasting college basketball games (including Saturday’s Stanford-UCLA game from Pauley Pavilion); Doc Emrick, on how he’s come to like doing college hockey games in the wake of the NHL lockout, and an update on Hannah Storm, as she works her way back from a horrific situation where she was burned in a gas grill accident.

What didn’t make it in, but could have:

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How Mike Emrick differs from the late Rodney Dangerfield: He gets respect on college campuses

The way Doc Emrick operates, being asked to scrub up for a college hockey game can be just as exhilarating as doing one for the NHL.

Especially when the option for doing the later still isn’t even an option.

Emrick’s last call of an NHL game was proclaiming the Kings as the Stanley Cup champions last June, but all he’s had on his schedule since are NCAA games for the NBC Sports Network. That continues Friday night at 4:30 p.m. when the Hockey Hall of Famer finds himself in Omaha, Neb., joined by Pierre McGwire to do No. 13 Nebraska-Omaha vs. Colorado College.

Since the NHL lockout began months ago, Emrick has gotten around the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Association, the Hockey East Association and games involving Notre Dame and the University of Denver – hearing school bands playing fight songs and seeing cheerleaders in attendance that he’d otherwise miss in an NHL arena.

“I’ve enjoyed the college experience a lot – I just like any kind of hockey,” said Emrick, a 64-year-old waiting to call his 30th season of NHL play after receiving a Ph.D. in communications from Bowling Green in 1976, thus earning the nickname “Doc.”

“I’m waiting like everyone else on the NHL, but in the meantime you get to see some players who down the road that I expect I’ll get to see someday in the NHL.”

Emrick says prepping for a game is just as enjoyable for him as calling it, so he’s apt to start reciting new facts he’s come across – stuff he really couldn’t use in an NHL broadcast.

Such as, finding out that when Michigan State played Notre Dame in a hockey game outdoors in South Bend in the ‘20s, Knute Rockne was the tending physician.

“One of the Spartans got a skate in the ankle and bled crazy all over the place, so it was Rockne who took care of him,” said Emrick.

A Boston College-Boston University game this year led him to learn “that Alexander Graham Bell received one-year salary advance from the Boston College to do research, and during that year, he developed the telephone,” said Emrick..

“I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t been researching some of the college games.”

There’s proof that Emrick isn’t phoning in these assignments.

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Hannah Storm’s New Year’s Day came with sense of relief

ESPN anchor Hannah Storm, right, poses for a photo with her family, from left, husband Dan Hicks and daughters Hannah, Ellery and Riley on the parade grounds of the Rose Parade on Tuesday in Pasadena. (AP Photo/Courtesy Hannah Storm)

By Ben Walker, The Associated Press

With a wave of her bandaged left hand, and boosted by well wishes from Dr. Phil, Chris Evert and even a young woman she once babysat, Hannah Storm returned to a most comfortable setting — talking in front of a TV camera.

The ESPN anchor hosted the Rose Parade telecast Tuesday in her first on-air appearance since sustaining first- and second-degree burns to her face, hands, chest and neck in a propane gas grill accident Dec. 11.

“I was just so happy to be there, so grateful,” she said. “It took a lot out of me, but it went great.”

Storm lost roughly half her hair in the accident outside her home in Connecticut. She wore extensions for the two-hour show on ABC. Storm’s eyebrows and eyelashes also were burned off. When a makeup artist brushed on her first eyebrow, “I wanted to kiss her, it looked so good,” she said.

This was the fifth time Storm served as TV host for the Rose Parade. She said working alongside her former “SportsCenter” co-anchor, “Good Morning America” host Josh Elliott, eased her way.

She said it was to her benefit that she could ad-lib through the show. She’s left-handed, and the burns and an infection make it hard to turn pages on a script or take notes.

“I could be myself today, just talking and reacting to what I saw,” she said. “It was a very familiar place.” Continue reading

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