A look back on the most compelling Southern California sports media moments of 2015, and some educated looking forward on how they could affect what’s coming up in 2016 and beyond.
What’s worth putting out there at this point:
== Jason Benetti, Rod Gilmore and Shelley Smith have the ESPN call of the UCLA-Nebraska meeting in the Foster Farms Bowl from Santa Clara (Saturday, 6:15 p.m.)
Pay attention to Benetti: His ability to forge a career in sports play-by-play despite a mild form of cerebral palsy is nothing if not inspiring.
He was born 10 weeks premature, contracted a virus and bronchopulmonary dysplasia, a lung disorder that required the aid of an oxygen machine. The result was an issue with his motor skills that led to surgery on his legs and going to second grade in a wheelchair.
“Nowadays, if you tune into a game I’m doing, you may first see my lazy left eye, a byproduct of my cerebral palsy,” he said in a recent CNN first-person story. “But through the creation of the Internet, you can know immediately that I’m not intentionally looking away from you. I care about you and what you think of the game I’m covering. And you, though you may not know it, are changing your perception of the world by watching.”
From an ESPNFrontRow.com interview, Benetti, a Syracuse graduate who also has a law degree from Wake Forest and joined ESPN in 2011, explains: “The daily difficulties are really limited to a misstep here and a stumble there. Some people who meet me may note that my shoes are more worn than the average person’s because of my gait. I’ve chosen a profession in which the way I walk doesn’t directly affect my performance.”
Another piece on Benetti from the Washington Post notes that Benetti tells his student he now teaches at Syracuse that first impressions matter, and he still has a difficult time when those in stores or at airports treat him as if he’s lost or hard of hearing, and try to put him in a wheelchair.
“It used to get me mad,” he said. “But now, I understand, I need them to go home and think about the next time they see someone who looks different, just talk normal, have a regular conversation, don’t make assumptions.”
== More college football bowl highlights in the post-Christmas/pre-New Year’s Day games:
= Adam Amin, Kelly Stouffer and Olivia Harlan have the USC-Wisconsin matchup in the Holiday Bowl from San Diego (Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN)
= Amin, Greg McElroy and Holly Rowe have the San Diego State-Cincinnati matchup in the Hawaii Bowl (Thursday, 5 p.m., ESPN). On the ESPN Radio call, Mike Golic Sr. and Jr. are scheduled to be the game analysts together.
= Carter Blackburn, Gary Danielson and Allie LaForce have the Washington State-Miami matchup at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Tex. (Saturday, 11 a.m., Channel 2).
= Rece Davis, Danny Kanell, Joey Galloway and Paul Carcaterra have the Indiana-Duke game from the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium (Saturday, 12:30 p.m., Channel 7).
= Dave Flemming, Mike Belloitti and Allison Williams have the Cal-Air Force matchup in the Armed Forces Bowl (Tuesday, 11 a.m., ESPN).
= Mike Patrick, Ed Cunningham and Dr. Jerry Punch have North Carolina-Baylor in the Russell Athletic Bowl (Tuesday, 2:30 p.m., ESPN)
= Joe Tessitore, Jesse Palmer, David Pollack and Maria Taylor have LSU-Texas Tech in the Texas Bowl (Tuesday, 6 p.m., ESPN)
== EPSN/ABC has been doing a Christmas Day slate of NBA games for the last 14 seasons – all of them involving a Lakers’ appearance, and most times with Kobe Bryant in the lineup. The Lakers-Clippers matchup on Friday at 7:30 p.m. wraps a five-game schedule for the networks that covers about 14 straight hours of hoops.
Tim Corrigan, the main NBA producer for the package, admits that it will be strange when Bryant isn’t a gift-wrapped part of the Christmas Day calendar.
“It’s been an unbelievable run, absolutely awesome,” Corrigan said. “Whether it’s coming off an NBA Finals win, or a loss, or going up against Shaquille O’Neal … there’s all sorts interesting story lines he has brought people to the TV. The fact this last one, against the Clippers, is a cool narrative for us. He’s always been inspiring to cover, to watch his passion and work ethic and drive. He’s been such a face of the league for so long, this will be a privilege for us.”
Dave Pasch, Jon Barry and J.A. Adande are on the ESPN broadcast of the Lakers-Clippers game, which also will be with the regular team broadcasts on TWC SportsNet and Prime Ticket.
Corrigan will be stationed at the Cleveland-Golden State contest on Christmas (2 p.m., Channel 7, Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson, Heather Cox). The day starts with New Orleans-Miami (9 a.m., ESPN, Mark Jones, Kara Lawson, Israel Gutierrez) and also hits Chicago-Oklahoma City (11:30 a.m., Channel 7, Mike Tirico, Hubie Brown, Chris Broussard) and San Antonio-Houston (5 p.m., ESPN, Ryan Ruocco, P.J. Carlesimo, Cassidy Hubbarth).
In the ESPN LA Live studios, the “NBA Countdown” show debuts for the season at 11 a.m. with Sage Steele, Doug Collins and Jalen Rose. Mike Wilbon has interviews done with Bryan and LeBron James. The “Countdown” crew will appear at halftime of all five games, and, for the finale, move across the street to Staples Center.
Rose added this about Bryant this week in a conference call with media reporters: “An all-time graded top 10 player, it almost reminds me of watching the end of Derek Jeter’s career with the Yankees. Because on one hand, you know that guy is so competitive that it’s hard to imagine him being on a team that has no chance to win at all, but it shows you the beauty of team sports that it just can’t be about one guy. So I hate to see Kobe Bryant playing on a team that’s virtually irrelevant. But he does deserve the opportunity to finish with the Lakers, as he will.
“They should start erecting a statue right now. Why wait? Then unveil it the last home game of the regular season. I think that would be a great culmination to an all-time great player.”
The LANG NBA columnist Mark Heisler wrote about the annual NBA Christmas Day parade in his recent piece. And here’s a recap of Bryant’s top five Christmas Day performances.
== From the Sports Illustrated end-of-the-year best-and-worst in the Sports Media issue comes the cover piece on the movie “Concussion,” which comes out Friday and we wrote about last Sunday.
A quote in the piece by Smith, talking about what the movie means to him:
“For me, this is strictly about knowledge. Historically, in the long run, knowledge never makes things worse, even if it may not feel good for a minute. Bennet Omalu is not an angel. The NFL’s not the devil. It’s about the process of change and the introduction of new, inconvenient information, and that’s always going to be painful.”
The issue hits newsstands today.
== The NFL Week 16 lineup for the Los Angeles TV marketplace:
= The Thursday night San Diego-Oakland game (5:25 p.m., NFL Network, with Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson)
= The Saturday night Washington-Philadelphia game (5:25 p.m., NFL Network, with Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts)
= CBS has one game for the weekend, and has picked Pittsburgh-Baltimore (Channel 2, 10 a.m.,Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Jamie Erdahl) instead of New England-N.Y. Jets (Eagle and Fouts), Cleveland-Kansas City, or Jacksonville-New Orleans.
= Fox’s doubleheader begins with Carolina-Atlanta (Channel 11, 10 a.m., Kevin Burkhardt, John Lynch, Pam Oliver) over Indianapolis-Miami, San Francisco-Detroit, Dallas-Buffalo and Chicago-Tampa Bay. In the afternoon window, it’s Green Bay-Arizona (Channel 11, 1:25 p.m., Joe Buck, Troy, Aikman, Erin Andrews) over St. Louis-Seattle.
= NBC grabbed N.Y. Giants-Minnesota (Channel 4, 5:30 p.m., Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya).
= ESPN finishes Monday with Cincinnati-Denver (5:30 p.m., Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters).
== For the final Week 17 Sunday (Jan. 3), NBC will pick Monday which game it wants. Fox and CBS both have doubleheader windows that day, with no Thursday or Saturday games available.
== When announcing the Sunday Night Baseball package schedule from the April 3 opener to mid July, ESPN did not make note of whether the broadcasting team of Dan Schulman, John Kruk and Curt Schilling would be formally reunited.
An ESPN spokesman said the network was “still in the process of finalizing the crews for all three weekly prime time games, plus our ‘Baseball Tonight’ shows,” and an announcement was forthcoming.
Schilling missed the last month-plus of the season, including the ESPN wildcard game, while serving a suspension, and was replaced by Jessica Mendoza. Schilling returned as an ESPN “Baseball Tonight” studio analyst during the playoffs and World Series.
The schedule, which begins with an already-planned N.Y. Mets-Kansas City World Series rematch in Kansas City (April 3, 5:30 p.m.) also has the Dodgers playing host to San Francisco on Sunday, April 17 (5 p.m.), the Dodgers at the New York Mets on Sunday, May 29 and then at San Francisco on June 12 (5:30 p.m., following a 2 p.m. St. Louis-Pittsburgh matchup).
== And finally:
== News earlier this week that Fox has decided to finally bring in Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz as the lead MLB analyst to work with Joe Buck at a two-in-the-booth situation doesn’t necessarily mean former analysists Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci are going away.
A Fox Sports spokesman said the network is still “discussion other roles” for Reynolds and Verducci, who were both named as Buck’s booth partners after the retirement of Tim McCarver.
We were tipped off to Smoltz’s pending arrival after the World Series, which probably came two seasons too late.
We were never keen on Reynolds taking this role going into the 2014 season and, as the last two seasons played out, the former MLB second baseman kept getting his feet tangled up in the pivot.|
He tried to be light-hearted, insightful and a team player. If anything, he may have only succeeded at the later, because his cliche lines often fell flat and more between-the-lines insight was actually provided by Verducci, the Sports Illustrated writer and MLB Network reporter.
Verducci can definitely stay, if only as another sideline reporter with Ken Rosenthal, especially for the playoffs, to make Erin Andrews completely go away.
“It is rare in this business that you’re presented the opportunity to have a Hall of Fame-level player who is also one of the sport’s top broadcasters,” Fox Sports president and executive producer John Entz said of Smoltz. “Having been able to work with John each of the last two seasons, we’ve gained an even greater appreciation for his insight into the game and what he brings to the booth.”
Reynolds, who once worked in the studio at ESPN and still does at the MLB Network, could go back there — although the Fox studio today is somewhat overflowing with mediocrity already.
Sadly, the Saturday tweets will probably end to follow Reynolds’ every bobble. One of our favorite Tweets of the year about Reynolds — and there were many — was during the World Series:
Someone inside baseball just texted this picture to me. Absolutely glorious. pic.twitter.com/QlBcp3Oqnd
— Cespedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ) October 31, 2015