Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sports Round-Up, Volume 2

Consistency, Please: How can Dwight Howard be suspended a game for the elbow he landed Tuesday night against the 76ers, while Rajon Rondo's foul on Brad Miller in the Celtics-Bulls series didn't merit a similar penalty? And while I'm at it ... how can you suspend a guy who the refs didn't even toss from the game? Yet another reason I'm not an NBA fan ...

Drafty In Here: To give teams grades on the performance in last weekend's NFL Draft at this point is ludicrous. We don't know who will or won't be successful in the NFL, and probably won't for a couple years now. Do we really need Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. to tell us how each team did before we even hit rookie minicamps? Don't they need to sleep at some point?

Bailout!: How do you think all those automakers in Detroit who lost their jobs feel about No. 1 overall draft pick Matthew Stafford getting $41 million guaranteed from the Lions before he's even played a down in the NFL? In this economy, that just seems wrong -- especially in a city hit as hard as Detroit. I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'.

Duh: According to a book coming out next month from Sports Illustrated writer Selena Roberts, Alex Rodriguez's steroid and HGH use extended to his high school days and when he was with the Yankees -- which contradicts Rodriguez's claim he only juiced when he played for the Texas Rangers. Am I the only one not surprised by this, or are we all numb to this performance-enhancing thing by now?

Less Expensive: The New York Yankees have lowered ticket prices on some of the more expensive seats in the new Yankee Stadium. Now, instead of the most expensive tickets going for $2,600, they're going for $1,250. So instead of paying an arm and a leg to see the Yankees play, you'll only need to bring your arm.

Huh?: The best pitcher in the bigs right now is Zack Greinke, who is 5-0 with a 0.50 ERA so far this season. That's not the part that makes my heart hurt, though; that honor goes to the fact that Greinke pitches for the Kansas City Royals. I always thought I'd realize it when Hell finally froze over; this really snuck up on me.

I Want Revenge: The horse by that name is the early-line favorite for this Saturday's running of the Kentucky Derby. What that means, I don't know, but I do know the race is over so quickly, some sports fans call the race "The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports." Wonder how many guys can last that long.

Here We Go Again: There are rumblings that Danica Patrick might consider leaving the IndyCar Series after the end of this season to head to NASCAR. Let's look at this for what it is, people; a media darling driver in the final year of her contract with Andretti-Green Racing, trying to broker the best possible deal she can for the coming years. If she has to use the threat of NASCAR to get paid, so be it.

Friday, April 17, 2009

John Madden -- Legend and Pitchman

Say what you want about John Madden, who announced his retirement after over 30 years as a broadcaster on Thursday, but he was successful at everything he did.

As a coach, he won the Super Bowl with the Raiders in 1979. As a broadcaster, Madden called NFL games on all four major networks (CBS, FOX, ABC and NBC) and won 16 Emmy awards. His videogame series in conjunction with EA Sports is among the most successful and highest-selling franchises in the industry -- has been since the early 1990s. Then there's the gluttony of personal endorsements, ranging from Outback Steakhouse to ACE Hardware to "Boom! Tough-actin' Tinactin!"

Oh, and his distinctive voice led to the rise of comedian Frank Caliendo's career, whether Madden liked it or not. How do you think Caliendo feels today? Probably about as good as Madden felt when Brett Favre retired -- both times.

It may be true that Madden lost a bit the last couple years, when he worked with Al Michaels on Monday Night Football and again when NBC began broadcasting Sunday night games. But for so many years, the combination of Madden and play-by-play man Pat Summerall was the standard in the nidustry -- so much so, FOX gave Madden $8 million a year when they took the NFL from CBS in the mid-1990s.

Madden had a style that spoke to the masses, particularly in his prime. He broke down the game in a way that didn't seem condescending; he made football accessible for the masses, which was why everyone loved him so much. Analysts today, for all their knowledge and insight, can't match Madden's obvious love for the game and his ability to connect with the everyday person, the one who will probably never see the inside of an NFL huddle.

His act grew tired in recent years, Madden's insight giving way to statements of the obvious and cheeky sound effects. But his contributions changed the way we watch football on TV, and was a large reason he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006. Cris Collinsworth might be a worthy and competent analyst who deserves to share the Sunday Night booth with Al Michaels, but the NFL this year just won't feel the same without Madden.

No analyst -- not Phil Simms, not Ron Jaworski, not Troy Aikman -- can match the knowledge and passion Madden had for the game of football. Even in his later years, that passion was evident, and Madden didn't walk away from broadcasting because he grew tired of it or didn't enjoy it anymore -- he just knew it was time.

I heard a caller on the radio yesterday describe Madden as the "Dick Vitale of the NFL." I can think of no more appropriate description, because both men have been ambassadors for their respective sports for years, and when many sports fans think of those games, they'll more than likely think of those two figures.

Did the death of legendary Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas last week, who like Madden was 73, have anything to do with the decision? Probably. Madden's travel schedule was hectic, since he refused to fly, and he wasn't getting any younger in spite of good health. Madden even skipped a game last season due to travel reasons, and he cited on Thursday the desire to spend time with family, because his five grandchidren were getting old enough to notice when he was gone.

Regardless of any of that, Madden is one of the reasons professional football is where it is today. Whether it's his work in the booth or the fact that an entire generation knows him for a wildly popular videogame, Madden's work practically speaks for itself.

Which for a broadcaster, is all you can ever ask.