Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Racing, Olympics and ESPN-ABC Announcers; Goydos keeps his sense of humor

I apologize for not having written a blog yesterday. On my way home Sunday from the Holy Cross-Bucknell game I kept having to pull over because there were potholes on Rte. 15 that I was afraid to go through at 200 miles per hour.

Sorry stock car fans, couldn’t resist. But seriously, the biggest event in racing delayed for more than two hours because the track has potholes in it? Who was in charge of track maintenance, the NCAA? Look, I know nothing about auto racing—I covered the Indy 500 once; thought the start was about the most thrilling thing I’d ever seen and then had little idea what was going on for the rest of the race. To be fair, that was the year when officials had to go back and look at the tape to figure out who finished second to Rick Mears. So it wasn’t just me.

But I don’t think you have to be a racing fan to understand that two delays caused by potholes is not exactly great theater nor is having the race finish when it is already dinnertime in the east. Apparently Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second. Where was Danica Patrick? Oh, that’s right she was in the race Saturday that only the real racing geeks pay any attention to at all. She’s the biggest star in the sport—at least based on how often she’s on TV—and she runs in the equivalent of the NBA rookie game.

She got more attention for finishing 32nd in that race than all the other drivers combined did for the entire week. Gee, I wonder why. Couldn’t have anything to do with her looks could it?

Meanwhile, back at sports I know something about…(which means there isn’t going to be too much talk about the Olympics although I got a kick out of Bode Miller caring enough to win a bronze medal in the downhill and an American with a great name—Johnny Spillane--winning the first U.S. medal in Nordic skiing since Bill Koch in 1976. Seeing Koch’s name reminded me that when he won his medal (a silver in the 30 kilometer cross country race) I was in college and avidly reading The Washington Post. One American writer had thought to show up for the race—Lenny Shapiro from The Post—who was my hero then as he is now. He talked to Koch and wrote a great story about him and his solitary quest to be a Nordic skier in a country that had zero interest in Nordic skiing.

I swear I’d watch more of the Olympics but every time I switch over it seems that NBC is either in commercial or Bob Costas is saying, “let’s return now to figure skating….” Bring back Janet Lynn and I’ll return to figure skating. I finally figured out last night as I clicked back to college hoops as two more figure skaters graced my screen why I simply can’t stand it anymore: it’s not a sport, it’s a reality show. All it lacks are early tryouts with people who can’t stay up on their skates and Simon Cowell telling them that they suck).

Okay, now you are looking live at today’s blog. Sorry, I spent some of last night listening to Brent Musburger and Bob Knight. Talk about memories. Brent is now 70 and Knight is 69 but they both clearly love being in places like College Station, Texas doing a game on a Monday night in February. Hey, good for them. I wish I had that kind of energy sometimes.

Brent sometimes sounds like he’s doing an imitation of Brent but who cares? If ABC-ESPN gets the NCAA Tournament contract this summer, there’s going to be a battle royale over there about who gets The Final Four games. Dick Vitale HAS to do color because he’s Dick Vitale and he’s been waiting more than 30 years to go to The Final Four and not sell pizzas all week. I’d pair him with Knight because Knight’s sarcastic presence might tone Dick down a little and they could be the sort of Odd Couple that Al McGuire and Billy Packer became.

The smart betting on play-by-play would have to be Dan Schulman, who is the company’s rising play-by-play star and works most of the time with Vitale. Nothing against Schulman but I’d stick Brent right there in-between Vitale and Knight. It would be the climax to a comeback that began 20 years ago when CBS unceremoniously fired him on the eve of the 1990 national title game. And the guy still gets it done when the red light goes on.

Okay, I’m rambling. Some day I’ll tell the story about Brent and I almost getting into a fight about 10 minutes before the national championship telecast went on in the air in 1989 in Seattle. Billy Packer was standing there preparing, as he said later, to open the telecast himself. The whole thing has a happy ending. Brent and I have gotten along fine for years now.

The downer of the weekend for me was my buddy Paul Goydos coughing up the lead on the back nine at Pebble Beach. Anyone who knows me at all knows that Goydos and I have been friends since 1993 when I first began researching “A Good Walk Spoiled.”

I was at the Buick Open on the first day killing time in the afternoon before going to meet Billy Andrade for dinner. Larry Mize had shot 64 in the morning and the only player in the afternoon wave who had gone low at all was a rookie named Goydos, who had shot 66. After a lengthy debate, Chuck Adams and Mark Mitchell, the two on-site PGA Tour PR guys, decided to bring Goydos into the interview room.

“There’s no one else to bring in this afternoon,” Mitchell said. “Plus, it’ll be good experience for Paul.”

With nothing else to do, I wandered into the back of the interview room to see if there was any reason at all to listen. The first thing I heard Goydos say was, “I’m sure none of you have ever heard of me. There’s a reason for that: I’ve never done anything.”

Hang on, I thought, this guy might be worth listening to for a few minutes. He launched into a 10-minute monologue that was supposed to be a recap of his round but was more like a standup routine. “At 17 I hit 7-iron. When I’m playing well it’s because I get my slice going. I know if you’re on the PGA Tour you’re supposed to call it a fade but when you hit a 7-iron and it goes 20 yards to the right, that’s a slice.”

I needed to meet this guy. I introduced myself as he was walking out, said I was doing a book on life on tour and wondered if we could talk at some point. “Sure, I’ll talk to you all you want,” he said. “But you’re wasting your time writing a book on the tour. No one’s going to buy it.”

Fortunately Paul is better at golf than predicting book sales. He became the character in the book few people had heard of but continued to follow long after it was published. We became good friends. He’s won twice on tour and pieced together a pretty good career for someone who likes to describe himself as, “the worst player in the history of the PGA Tour.”

He had a great chance to win on Sunday, but came undone on the back nine with a couple of bogeys and then, disastrously, a quadruple-bogey nine that sent him spiraling to a disappointed tie for fifth. Talk about hitting a pothole.

On Monday I sent him an e-mail offering condolences. Typical Paul, this was the answer I got back: “Well, when I made my back-nine 9 on Sunday at The Hope it was on a par-three. This time it was on a par-5. I guess that’s progress.”

You have to love a guy who NEVER loses his sense of humor. There aren’t many people you can say that about.

Gotta go. I think Costas is about to introduce some more figure skating.


Anonymous said...

John, is there any truth to the rumor that Brent was pleasuring Pyhlis George on the side?

Tim said...

I know the Olympics are getting good ratings, so I must be different, but I just can't get behind the Games so far this year. I haven't sought out their nighttime lineup so I'm not sure what's on when, but with the skiing and Bode Miller's silver, I knew immediately after that he won it.

Oh boy, with your mention of Dickie V, Knight and Musburger doing the Final Four, you already put me on high alert. I don't know that I can listen to those three together. Separately, sure. But all at one time? Knight will be upset that some kid made a no-look pass that his teammate dropped, Musburger will be talking about what watering hole he went to the previous evening and Vitale may just explode with pent up excitement. Mute will be the order for the day.

John from Indiana said...

Knight will be Knight. Wouldn't his post game interview with John Calipari, should Kentucky win, be a priceless memory? I'm tired of Dickie V. blaming David Stern for the sham of one and done "student" athletes. I would really like someone to let him in on the secret that money rules the NCAA.
I am just so happy that I won't have to listen to Billy Packer taking himself so seriously again. Give me Jay Bilas with just about any play by play guy and I'll be happy for the final four. Even if he is a Dukie.

Anonymous said...

To me, NASCAR is much like the PGA Tour, where explosive growth has led to a leveling out, and even decline, in viewership. With the lag, it doesn't mean it has lost its way, the non-mainstream masses took a look over a couple year period, making the numbers jump in a tremendous manner. Now, some stayed as viewers, and some dropped off, and their are no new eyes to introduce it to. Therefore, the numbers seemingly HAVE to drop off, regardless of what any of the leadership does. And its not a bad thing.

jason said...

You have got to be joking. Knight and Musburger are the absolute WORST announcers on tv right now. Coming from a KU/Big 12 fan that listen to them do all of our big Monday games on ESPN, they are uninformed, incompentent and say some of the most stupid comments. On occasion he will say something insightful, but for the most part, he information is horrible. Take for instance, last night's game with KU leading by 3 and only 18 sec left, Knight states "I think Texas A+M will look for a quick shot" or KU is in an obvious man and he says we're playing zone. The guy is a complete d-bag when it comes to announcing. Check the internet and you will find many people who agree. Fire both of them! HORRIBLE!!!!

Anonymous said...

I like Dave O'Brien better than Shulman. I find Shulman too often gets sucked into Vitales style.

My favorite analyst right now is Steve Lavin. Just the right amount of schtick to go along with actual analysis (which Vitale hasn't done since about 1985).

Rich, Denver

Anonymous said...

You have a very strange obsession with Paul Goydos, about whom no one else in the world (outside his immediate family) gives a shit.

Tim said...

Anonymous - on Goydos background....JF wrote a popular book where Goydos was a key figure, and it seems as though they've become close friends stemming from it.