Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mixed emotions for Ravens-Jets; Wrap up of the almost ESPN Classic - US Open

I almost never have mixed emotions watching any game or tournament or match on TV. There’s always a reason why I’m pulling for—or in the case of Dan Snyder’s team—against—someone.

Monday night though I was back and forth between two simultaneous events and had mixed emotions about both.

I have warm feelings for both the Ravens and the Jets. I grew up a Jets fan. Their win in Super Bowl III is one of my most vivid early sports memories. I might have told this story before, but, what the heck, I’ll tell it again.

On the afternoon of that game—all those years ago the Super Bowl was still an afternoon game—my parents went to a concert. As had become my custom that season, I paced up and down in front of the TV, coaching the Jets. I did everything but call plays.

My parents arrived home early in the fourth quarter and my dad came in to see how the game was going. The Jets were up 16-0. Even though he wasn’t into sports, he knew this was a huge surprise and how much it meant to me. So, he sat down to watch. I paced.

After a few minutes, the pacing got to him. “Stop pacing,” he said. “Sit down. Your team is going to win.”

“But dad, I always pace.”

“Sit,” he ordered.

If it hadn’t been 16-0, I would have argued. The lead felt safe. I sat. Johnny Unitas came in for Earl Morrall and promptly drove the Colts the length of the field to make it 16-7.

“Pace,” my dad said—which I did until the game was over.

Of course there haven’t been any moments close to that since then. In fact, the Jets haven’t been back to The Super Bowl since then—as all Jets fans know so well. Still, I’ve remained a Jets fan.

Of course the year I did my book on The Ravens (“Next Man Up.”) the Ravens played at the Jets. I’ll be honest, I had no mixed emotions that day: I wanted the Ravens to win. I liked the people I was working with and wanted to see the team do well, in part because of that but also—being honest—because it would make for a better book.

The Ravens won that day. I felt a little guilty for being happy about the Jets loss but that’s the way I felt. Time went on: Brian Billick was fired by the Ravens and replaced by John Harbaugh—who I also like. Then Rex Ryan got the Jets job.

Look, I like Rex Ryan a LOT. He takes his football seriously but doesn’t take himself seriously. He’s funny and he’s honest. He was great to work with during my season with the Ravens and we’ve stayed in touch since then. Now, he’s coaching my boyhood team. So how can I possibly root against him?

I can’t. But I also like to see the Ravens do well. Steve Bisciotti became a friend while I was writing the book and has stayed one and has done wonders to help ‘The Bruce Edwards Foundation,’ the last six years. A lot of the people I knew back in ’04 are gone, but a lot are still there.

So, I felt a little bit like I feel watching an Army-Navy game. I didn’t want either team to lose. I averted my eyes every time Mark Sanchez dropped back to pass, but boy that Ravens pass rush looked good.

While that game was going on, the U.S. Open men’s final was stretching into the night. It had been moved from CBS to ESPN 2 during a rain delay. The fact that it still wasn’t over and was going head-to-head with Monday Night Football is more proof of how incredibly dense the people running tennis are most of the time.

When the Rafael Nadal-Novak Djokovic final was rained out on Sunday, the USTA should have started it at 1 o’clock on Monday. Look, the TV ratings were going to be lousy no matter what time of day the match began. The tennis geeks would get to Arthur Ashe Stadium and their TV sets. Everyone else would be waiting for the start of Jets-Ravens, regardless of the time the match began.

So what did the USTA (and CBS) do? They scheduled the start for 4 o’clock, even though an identical situation a year ago produced the embarrassing moment when Dick Enberg told Juan Martin Del Potro there was no time for him to talk to the crowd in Spanish because he needed to be presented a car—and so CBS could get off the air to its prime time lineup.

To make matters worse, the USTA decided to restart the women’s doubles final at 3 o’clock—meaning it was entirely possible the men wouldn’t start at 4 once the awards ceremony was over and the players got out to warm-up. Sure enough, it was close to 4:30 by the time Nadal-Djokovic, which was going to be a long match since neither player likes to volley on a hard court, finally began.

And then, surprise, at 4-all in the second set, it rained. Wow, I guess they don’t have radar or The Weather Channel at the US National Tennis Center do they? Couldn’t have anticipate that, could you? The thunder and lightning was bad enough that the start of the FOOTBALL game was delayed.

Nadal and Djokovic was a wonderful match and a great story—Nadal trying to finish off a career Grand Slam while Djokovic tried to beat Roger Federer and Nadal back-to-back to win his first Open and second career major. They played some amazing points.

It was on ESPN 2—against Monday Night Football. Are you kidding me? What’s more, if Nadal hadn’t finished the match off 6-2 in the fourth, do you know where it would have been televised as it ended, as Nadal, “made history,” to quote John McEnroe? ESPN Classic. Yup, ESPN Classic, the US Open final. That’s because at 10:15 ESPN 2 had to switch to the Chargers and Chiefs because Jets-Ravens was still going on over on ESPN.

What a joke. Give credit to the fans who stayed although the lower bowl was empty enough that McEnroe was pleading for the USTA to let people upstairs move downstairs to fill in the empty seats. When it was over, both players were gracious and sweet and Bill Macatee, clearly rushing to get the ceremony over before it switched to ESPN Classic, did it smoothly.

Of course there was the ridiculous sight of USTA President Lucy Garvin—I swear I don’t know where they find these people—saying, “you fans are what make this the greatest tennis event in the world.”

Please, I’m begging you, shut up. Have you ever heard of Wimbledon? I mean come on, just say the fans make the Open a great event even if we at the USTA do everything in our power to screw it up every year with matches that go into the middle of the night and a final that almost ends up on ESPN Classic. There’s an old saying that sometimes you should keep your mouth shut because if you do that people can only THINK you’re dumb. Lucy Garvin qualifies.

Anyway, to quote my old friend Hoops Weiss, “I felt vurry, vurry good for the Ravens and Rafa and vurry, vurry sad for the Jets and Novak.” (Hoops would then add, “they’re all vurry, vurry good friends of mine”).


One thank-you this morning to the poster who noted that Brad Nessler and Trent Dilfer, not the morning pitchmen were going to do Chargers-Chiefs. I guess there weren’t enough commercial reads in the broadcast to make it worthwhile for the pitchmen to make the trip to Kansas City.


case said...

totally agree with your thoughts on the usta--but some criticism should be left for cbs for not staying with the match --that type of switch is fairly rare, but i guess the $ the prime time sponsors provide dictated the cbs decision to switch

Anonymous said...

I was trying to figure out the US Open scheduling time for Monday as well -- I thought usually networks hated to cut off local evening news, the bread and butter for affiliates? Weird decision as it finally bit them in the tail on all fronts.

Also, anyone know how the money works with CBS announcers, on-screen graphics and whatever ad inventory they have all being shown on ESPN2?

Dan Serafini said...

Likely not much tennis ad money to divvy up....

sanford said...

Not sure why you are being so derogatory towards Golic and Greenberg. As part of their job they are being paid to sell things.