Just What America Needs: The Riveting NFL Playoffs
As we wonder about Mahomes, marvel at Brady and bid adieu to Brees, this is a postseason where #HenneThingIsPossible, with Rodgers and the Bills Mafia ruling social media and America talking … football, like the old days.
Dare I say this country, just for a moment, felt normal again? That we were whisked away from the inauguration violence awaiting us, and the vaccines eluding us, by a dose of majestic postseason football? By a day that prompted shouts from the couch, texts to our sports friends and passionate analysis of play calls and penalties … the way life used to be?
Tom Brady’s midlife crisis continues to thrive — not with a clandestine affair or a Lamborghini but a 14th trip to a conference title game. Drew Brees’ career ends abruptly, with tears and blown kisses, amid dismal interceptions in the city he helped rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. All after the disturbing sight of Patrick Mahomes, supposedly not human, wobbling cross-eyed into the arms of a teammate after his head had been smacked hard into the turf by Cleveland’s Mack Wilson.
Was Mahomes also limping on an injured toe that must function, along with his brain, if he is to win another AFC title and Super Bowl? Ruled out with a concussion, was he setting an absurd stage for Chad Henne, a 35-year-old relic who represents the anthesis of All Things Mahomes, to save the season by scrambling like a rodeo bull and diving head-first for 13 yards on 3rd-and-14 … then playing a role in one of the ballsiest play calls in football history?
Dare I say the NFL playoffs feel … commonplace? Aaron Rodgers heaving the football into the Lambeau stands, through snow flurries, as Packers fans belted out their bang-on-the-drum-all-day anthem. Hearts breaking again in New Orleans, where Brees beat himself and Brady played a smart, mistake-free game in his ongoing defiance of age, health and Bill Belichick. The Bills welcoming the NFL commissioner and his wife to the game as their raging fans rattled Lamar Jackson, who suffered his own wooziness.
Nothing is normal in America. Nothing will be normal for a very long time, if ever. To even utter the word “normal” is to foolishly ignore the madness that awaits us — I’m surprised Dana White isn’t in Washington promoting 25,000 National Guardsmen vs. Right-Wing Extremists — while expecting vaccines to be distributed equitably and efficiently. But at least the NFL is striving to make January as traditional as possible. And if it all seems force-fed and dangerous and still vulnerable to a Super Bowl virus outbreak, the league has succeeded like no other in deflecting our thoughts from COVID-19 to Championship 55.
“Take care,” Brady said to Brees at midfield after a warm embrace as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, not the New England Patriots, advanced.
Said Brees, mercifully off to the NBC studio, asked if playing at age 42 was worth it after breaking 11 ribs this season and losing the final game: “I would never regret it. Never. No complaints. No regrets. Man, I’ve always tried to play this game with a great respect and great reverence for it. I appreciate all that this game has given me. From the injury to all this COVID stuff, It was worth every moment, absolutely.”
At one point, we thought Henne, a QB who succeeded Brady at Michigan, and Jameis Winston, the skittish QB who preceded Brady in Tampa Bay, were going to win as he lost. Lining up wide, then taking a pitch from Alvin Kamara, Winston came off the Saints bench and threw a 56-yard scoring pass against the team that dumped him. Turned out that was a desperation ploy by coach Sean Payton, who had lost faith in Brees. Brady marches on as a modern miracle in a show aired not on the History Channel, but Fox.
“We’ve got to go beat a great football team,” he said of the next matchup against Rodgers and the Packers in frigid Green Bay. “Aaron is playing incredible. We’re going to have to play great to beat him.”
Our collective troubles vanished all day. Such as when Henne, after his right tackle slapped himself on the butt to signal the play, rolled right in the shotgun formation — on 4th-and-inches at his own 49-yard-line, 1:16 left in the fourth quarter, Chiefs leading 22-17, Baker Mayfield salivating on the Cleveland sideline — found Tyreek Hill open in the flat for the game-ending play. Wasn’t this the moment that will define Andy Reid as the ultimate gambler in a high-rolling sport? Was Tony Romo screaming so madly in the CBS booth that we couldn’t hear Jim Nantz — never a bad thing, actually?
“#HenneThingIsPossible,” tweeted Mahomes, apparently coherent enough in the Kansas City locker room to locate an accompanying GIF of basketball great Kevin Garnett famously chanting the same message.
Cracked Henne, an 11-year journeyman with his third NFL team: “I don’t think a #HenneGivenSunday or #HenneThingIsPossible hashtag is going to be on LinkedIn. … I’m always a competitor. All through the years, if it went my way or didn’t, I’ve always loved the game. This is why I play: Prepare each week to be the best me.”
As for the conspiracy theorists in Cleveland, who never will forget a killer fumble in 1988, why didn’t officials see a violent hit to the head late in the first half, helmet to helmet, that should have resulted in first-and-goal instead of a Rashard Higgins fumble being ruled a touchback? If the Browns had scored there, might they be going to Buffalo for the title game?
Somehow, Reid would have found a way to win anyway. How prepared is this man? He made sure Henne played in Week 17 against the Chargers, sitting Mahomes and other starters. Saturday night, he went though every possible option with Mahomes — and Henne — in that scenario. “Fourth-and-1 to win the game? What do you want? And that play happened to be there,” said Reid, the only coach in creation who would have taken a chance with a backup QB who’d just thrown a bad interception.
Did Reid even hesitate about the gamble? “No doubt. My coaches were on board,” he said. “There’s no tomorrow. Let’s go.”
And how is Mahomes doing? “He kinda got the wind knocked out of him and everything else with it. He’s doing great now. So that’s a positive,” reported Reid, not noting the five-step concussion process this week. “He passed all of the deals he had to pass.” Meaning, Bills Mafia can stop the Labatt’s toasts for now. Mahomes won’t be missing the game.
How fitting, in a country where older and younger factions rarely have been more divided, that two conference title games will be defined by a generational chasm. At the most important and glamorous position in sports, Gen Next is trying to shove aside Gen Legends in a transitional quarterbacking drama. The NFC will be represented in Tampa by either the incomparable Rodgers, who is 37 and wears black cleats that make him look older, or Brady, who would be trying to win his seventh Super Bowl. Countering for the AFC will be Mahomes — who continues to challenge another senior citizen in his world, LeBron James, as the Face Of American Sports — or Josh Allen, who, at 24, has become such a commanding presence and unifying force that he made people forget about those racist high-school tweets that surfaced on draft night.
Roger Goodell doesn’t need Nickelodeon to engage young audiences when he has such a compelling story line, for all demographics. Seems everyone has a QB to root for in the Final Four, and seeing how Rodgers and Mahomes have mastered the art of throwing a touchdown pass and immediately starring in another State Farm ad, they will garner the most attention. They’re also most likely to advance to Super Bowl LV — LV should be marketed as Live or Love — because the Packers and Chiefs are playing at home as No. 1 seeds who were the only teams allowed rest via bye weeks. It isn’t a format the league should embrace beyond this year, because we’d see only top seeds winning titles, but it’s a byproduct of Pandemic Ball that works.
After all, Rodgers and Mahomes rule the sport and should face each other as the reigning playmakers of their respective age classes. But here’s what you need to know about their 12-year difference: Rodgers is trying to wipe it out and prove, like some sort of football Benjamin Button, that he’s still the coolest kid. You’d think a hardened veteran who has seen it all wouldn’t be fazed by 8,456 fans who, for the first time this season at the venerable Green Bay stadium, were allowed to socially distance and drink Wisconsin’s finest Saturday. Rodgers grew teary-eyed and said the Packers were inspired by the small but raucous crowd that brought back, well, a sense of normalcy.
“Just thinking about what we’ve been through got me emotional with the crowd out there today,” he said after the 32-18 victory. “Talk about just pure joy running out of that tunnel. It felt like 50,000 when we ran out of the tunnel, it really did. It was such a special moment. Forgot how much you truly, truly miss having a crowd there. It felt like 50,000, 60,000.”
The fans used signs and snow boots to bang on Lambeau’s steel foundation, not typically audible when 81,500 are in attendance. It created a home-field advantage that will continue Sunday in Rodgers’ first NFC title game in Green Bay, against Brady and the warm-weather Bucs, with an afternoon forecast of snow showers and highs in the mid-20s. “Hopefully, it’s a little colder,” said Rodgers, aware of the narrative at work. As the Packers were riding a robust running game and Rodgers’ quick strikes for 484 yards of offense against the Rams’ top-rated defense, did you see the game’s signature moment? Rodgers, looking 25, raced toward the end zone, pump-faked, deked Leonard Floyd out of his pants, then won the race to the pylon. He whipped the ball into the stands, then stared at the heavens and shouted something. This will sound Boomerish, probably, but Rodgers has been channeling the 2002 movie “Austin Powers In Goldmember” during end-zone celebrations as a tribute to Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, who likes the movie.
“I love gold!” he shouts.
The red zone, you see, has become known as the gold zone in the Packers’ locker room, befitting a team that leads the league in scoring efficiency inside the 20-yard line. “One of my New Year’s resolutions is definitely Mike Myers in a gold suit in Green Bay or Zoomed into Green Bay,” Rodgers said.
As for Mahomes, Rodgers is growing weary, in a half-joking sense, about constant references to his no-look passes and similar on-field magic. “Late in the game, I had — they wouldn’t show it because I play for the Packers — but I had a pretty sweet no-looker to Davante (Adams) in the last drive that kind of set up for a few plays,” he said on a recent radio appearance.
“I’m so thankful Patrick Mahomes brought that into the NFL,” said host Pat McAfee, oozing sarcasm.
“Yeah, I know,” Rodgers said. “Since none of us have been doing it for a long time.”
Damn right there’s a friendly rivalry that should extend beyond their TV commercials, though Mahomes has enough problems with now to taunt a boomer. And damn right Rodgers doesn’t want anyone telling him that he’s culturally obsolete, just because he’s 37. He can reclaim the world by beating Brady, then winning his second Super Bowl a full decade after winning his first and only. “It’s been a long time,” Rodgers said. “There’s been a lot of ball between now and February 6, 2011, which was a beautiful day.”
If a city has claimed the nation’s allegiance this season, it’s Buffalo. Who doesn’t feel for a place that dealt with four consecutive Super Bowl losses in the 1990s, then sunk into NFL oblivion when the Bills are their identity and reason for being? A small market, characterized by a rowdy and surprisingly generous fan commune called Bills Mafia, is enraptured by Allen, a small-town kid from Firebaugh, Calif. — 45 miles west of Fresno, middle of nowhere — who played college ball at Wyoming and became a fireball in western New York. He could have been a quick NFL bust if those ugly tweets, which he dismissed as being “young and dumb,” had been followed by more immaturity. But after struggling with on-field inconsistency in his first two seasons, Allen has emerged as a dual-threat badass who is such a central part of what the Bills do, they abandoned their running backs Saturday night in beating the Ravens.
He won’t win the league MVP award this year. That’s going to Rodgers, with Mahomes a close second. Nor will he go to Kansas City and beat the Chiefs, despite Mahomes’ issues. But Allen, at 6-5 and 240 pounds, is a monster who will win trophies of all sorts the next decade. He has become a popular leader who dances with his teammates before practices and loves the fans. Noting how Bills Mafia members literally jump through tables, Allen vowed on a radio show to jump through several tables if the Bills win a Super Bowl.
“And light them on fire. Let’s do it,” he said.
The Mafia, meanwhile, continues donating to causes that wouldn’t cross the minds of fans in other cities. It’s understandable when they raised tens of thousands to a children’s hospital — Allen’s favorite charity — after the death of his grandmother. But now they’re donating to a Jackson-related charity after the Baltimore quarterback suffered a concussion that forced him out of the game, assuring the Bills’ first AFC title game appearance since 1994. This after 6,700 fans, after documenting negative tests for coronavirus, had tormened Jackson with noise that resulted in offsides flags on a wickedly windy night.
“What a great environment. I know all of our fans couldn’t be in the building, but it was loud again. Great atmosphere,” said head coach Sean McDermott said, who has changed the culture in four years when so many predecessors could not. “We came here with a vision, and seeing it move forward in the right direction feels good.”
The Bills can’t take the fans with them to Kansas City, where the Chiefs have their own unique home edge in a pandemic. But the matchup will be no less fascinating — Mahomes vs. a Bills defense trying to knock him out — as Brady tries to rekindle the New England blood on the frozen tundra. Chances are, we’ll be seeing a three-hour State Farm ad in Raymond James Stadium, sandwiched around a Weeknd concert at halftime.
But the very fact we’re discussing such football matters, when no one knows what this country resembles or whether it exists in a few days, is a throwback blast we needed. I would thank the NFL with a handshake, except, the league still might infect me.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and regular sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.
Is There Still a Place for Baseball Talk on National Sports Shows?
“Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.”
Last week at the BSM Summit, I hosted a panel focused on air checks. I wish I could say we covered the topic thoroughly, but we got derailed a lot, and you know what? That is okay. It felt like real air checks that I have been on both sides of in my career.
Rob Parker of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio was the talent. He heard thoughts on his show from his boss, Scott Shapiro, and from his former boss, legendary WFAN programmer Mark Chernoff.
Baseball was the topic that caused one of our derailments on the panel. If you know Rob, you know he is passionate about Major League Baseball. He cited download numbers that show The Odd Couple’s time-shifted audience responds to baseball talk. To him, that proves there is not just room for it on nationally syndicated shows, but that there is a sizable audience that wants it.
Chernoff disagrees. He says baseball is a regional sport. Sure, there are regions that love it and local sports talk stations will dedicate full hours to discussing their home team’s games and roster. National shows need to cast a wide net though, and baseball doesn’t do that.
Personally, I agree with Chernoff. I told Parker on stage that “I hear baseball talk and I am f***ing gone.” The reason for that, I think, is exactly what Chernoff said. I grew up in Alabama (no baseball team). I live in North Carolina (no baseball team). Where baseball is big, it is huge, but it isn’t big in most of the country.
Now, I will add this. I used to LOVE baseball. It is the sport I played in high school. The Yankees’ logo was on the groom’s cake at my wedding. Then I had kids.
Forget 162 games. Even five games didn’t fit into my lifestyle. Maybe somewhere deep down, I still have feelings for the sport, but they are buried by years of neglect and active shunning.
Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.
Me, and millions of sports talk listeners like me, look at baseball like a toddler looks at broccoli. You probably aren’t lying when you tell us how much you love it, but damn it! WE WANT CHICKEN FINGERS!
A new Major League Baseball season starts Thursday and I thought this topic was worth exploring. I asked three nationally syndicated hosts to weigh in. When is baseball right for their show and how do they use those conversations? Here is what they had to say.
FREDDIE COLEMAN (Freddie & Fitzsimmons on ESPN Radio) – “MLB can still be talked nationally IF there’s that one player like Aaron Judge or Shohei Ohtani can attract the casual fan. MLB has definitely become more local because of the absence of that SUPER player and/or villainous team. I wonder if the pace of play will help bring in the younger fans that they need, but the sport NEEDS that defining star that is must-see TV.”
JONAS KNOX (2 Pros & a Cup of Joe on FOX Sports Radio) – “While football is king for me in sports radio, I look at baseball like most other sports. I’m not opposed to talking about it, as long as I have an angle or opinion that I am confident I can deliver in an entertaining manner. A couple of times of any given year, there are stories in baseball that are big picture topics that are obvious national discussions.
“I think it’s my job to never close the door on any topic/discussion (except politics because I don’t know anything about it).
“But also, if I’m going to discuss a localized story in baseball or any other sport for that matter – I better have an entertaining/informed angle on it. Otherwise, I’ve let down the listener and that is unacceptable. If they give you their time, you better not waste it.”
MAGGIE GRAY (Maggie & Perloff on CBS Sports Radio) – “While I was on WFAN there was almost no amount of minutia that was too small when it came to the Mets and Yankees. On Maggie and Perloff, our baseball topics have to be more centered around issues that can be universal. For example, ’Is Shohei Ohtani the face of the sport? Is Ohtani pitching and hitting more impressive than two sport athletes like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders? Do you consider Aaron Judge the single-season homerun king or Barry Bonds?’ Any baseball fan or sports fan can have an opinion about those topics, so we find they get great engagement from our audience.”
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Who Can Sports Fans Trust Once Twitter Ditches Legacy Verified Blue Checks?
The potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
As of April 1, Twitter will finally make a dreaded change that many will view as an April Fools’ prank. Unfortunately, it won’t be a joke to any user who cares about legitimacy and truth.
Last week, Twitter officially announced that verified blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that have not signed up for a Twitter Blue subscription. Previously, accounts whose identity had been verified were allowed to keep their blue checks when Twitter Blue was implemented.
But shortly after Elon Musk purchased Twitter and became the social media company’s CEO, he stated his intention to use verification as a revenue source. Users would have to pay $8 per month (or $84 annually) for a Twitter Blue subscription and blue checkmark verification. Paying for blue checks immediately set off red flags among users who learned to depend on verified accounts for accredited identities and trusted information.
The entire concept of verification and blue checks was simple and effective. Users and accounts bearing the blue checkmark were legitimate. These people and organizations were who they said they were.
As an example, ESPN’s Adam Schefter has faced criticism for how he framed domestic violence and sexual misconduct involving star NFL players, and deservedly so. But fans and media know Schefter’s tweets are really coming from him because his account is verified.
Furthermore, Twitter took the additional step of clarifying that accounts such as Schefter’s were verified before Twitter Blue was implemented. He didn’t pay eight dollars for that blue checkmark.
The need for verification is never more vital than when fake accounts are created to deceive users. Such accounts will put “Adam Schefter” as their Twitter name, even if their handle is something like “@TuaNeedsHelp.” Or worse, some fake accounts will create a handle with letters that look similar. So “@AdarnSchefter” with an “rn” in place of the “m,” fools some people, especially at a quick glance when people are trying to push news out as fast as possible.
Plenty of baseball fans have been duped over the years by fake accounts using a zero instead of an “o” or a capital “I” instead of a lowercase “l” to resemble Fox Sports and The Athletic reporter Ken Rosenthal. That trick didn’t get me. But when I covered Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report 10 years ago, I did fall for a fake Jim Salisbury account that reported the Philadelphia Phillies traded Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants. Capital “I,” not lowercase “l” in “Salisbury.” Pence was, in fact, traded to the Giants two days later, but that didn’t make my goof any less embarrassing. I should’ve looked for the blue checkmark!
But after April 1, that signifier won’t matter. Legacy blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that haven’t paid for Twitter Blue. Some accounts that were previously verified might purchase a subscription to maintain that blue check. But those that were deemed legitimate prior to Musk taking over Twitter likely won’t. (There are also rumors that Twitter is considering a feature that would allow Twitter Blue subscribers to hide their blue check and avoid revealing that purchase.)
That could be even more true for media organizations, which are being told to pay $1000 per month for verification. Do you think ESPN, the New York Times, or the Washington Post will pay $12,000 for a blue check?
We’ve already seen the problems that paying for verification can cause. Shortly after Twitter Blue launched, accounts pretending to be legacy verified users could be created. A fake Adam Schefter account tweeted that the Las Vegas Raiders had fired head coach Josh McDaniels. Users who saw the “Adam Schefter” Twitter name went with the news without looking more closely at the “@AdamSchefterNOT” handle. But there was a blue checkmark next to the name this time!
The same thing occurred with a fake LeBron James account tweeting that the NBA superstar had requested a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers. There was a “@KINGJamez” handle, but a “LeBron James” Twitter name with a blue check next to it.
Whether it’s because fans and media have become more discerning or Twitter has done good work cracking down on such fake accounts, there haven’t been many outrageous examples of deliberate deception since last November. But the potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
If that seems like an overstatement, it’s a very real possibility that there will be an erosion of trust among Twitter users. Media and fans may have to take a breath before quickly tweeting and retweeting news from accounts that may or may not be credible. False news and phony statements could spread quickly and go viral across social media.
Even worse, Musk has announced that only verified Twitter Blue accounts will be seen in your “For You” timeline as of April 15. (He can’t claim it’s an April Fools’ Day joke on that date.)
Obviously, that carries far more serious real-world implications beyond sports. Forget about a fake Shams Charania account tweeting that Luka Dončić wants to be traded to the Lakers. It’s not difficult to imagine a fake Joe Biden account declaring war on Russia and some people believing it’s true because of the blue checkmark.
We may be nearing the end of Twitter being a reliable news-gathering tool. If the accounts tweeting out news can’t be trusted, where’s the value? Reporters and newsmakers may end up going to other social media platforms to break stories and carry the viability of verification.
When Fox Sports’ website infamously pivoted to video in 2017, Ken Rosenthal posted his MLB reporting on Facebook prior to joining The Athletic. Hello, Instagram. Will someone take their following and reputation to a fledgling platform like Mastodon, Post, Spoutible, or BlueSky, even if it means a lesser outlet?
If and when that happens, Twitter could still be a community but not nearly as much fun. Not when it becomes a matter of trust that breaks up the party.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at email@example.com.
There’s a Lesson For Us All in Florida Atlantic’s Elite 8 Broadcast Struggle
“It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.”
Ken LaVicka and Kevin Harlan probably don’t have a ton in common. Both of them were announcing an Elite Eight game over the weekend, that is one thing tying them together, but their experiences were wildly different. Harlan is on CBS with a production crew numbering in the dozens making certain all goes smoothly. LaVicka, the voice of the Florida Atlantic Owls, is a production crew himself, making certain those listening in South Florida heard the Owls punch their Final Four ticket. At least, that was LaVicka’s plan.
The Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Men’s Final Four. Even while typing that sentence, it still seems odd to say. Do you know how many college basketball teams are thinking “how can Florida Atlantic make the Final Four and we can’t?” These are the types of stories that make the NCAA Tournament what it is. There is, literally, no barrier stopping any team from this tournament going on the run of their life and making it all the way.
Everyone listening in South Florida almost missed the moment it all became real for the Owls. With :18.6 to go in Florida Atlantic’s Elite Eight game against Kansas State, the Madison Square Garden Ethernet service to the front row of media seating went completely dark.
It was on that row that Ken LaVicka was painting the picture back to South Florida. Well, he was until the internet died on him.
Nobody does a single show away from their home studio anymore without trying to avoid the nightmare of Ethernet failure. Gone are the days of phone lines and ISDN connections, all the audio and video is now sent back to the studio over the technological miracle that is the internet. It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.
Take that anxiety and multiply it by 1,000 when that Ethernet line is connected to a Comrex unit for the most important moment of your career. LaVicka had the great fortune of a Kansas State timeout to try something, anything, to save the day. In his quick thinking, he spun around and grabbed an ethernet cable from row two which, as it turns out, still had internet access flowing through it’s cables. That cable, though, was the equivalent of an iPhone charging cord; never as long as you need it to be.
One of LaVicka’s co-workers from ESPN West Palm held the Comrex unit close enough to the second row for the cable to make a connection and the day was saved. LaVicka was able to call the last :15 of the Florida Atlantic win and, presumably, get in all the necessary sponsorship mentions.
It was an exciting end to the FAU v. Kansas State game, a great defensive stop by the Owls to seal the victory. LaVicka told the NCAA’s Andy Katz he tried to channel his inner Jim Nantz to relay that excitement. The NCAA Tournament excitement started early this year. In the very first TV window 13 Seed Furman upset 4 Seed Virginia with a late three pointer by JP Pegues, who had been 0-for-15 from beyond the arc leading up to that shot. It is the type of play the NCAA Tournament is built upon.
It was called in the manner Kevin Harlan’s career was built upon. Harlan, alongside Stan Van Gundy and Dan Bonner, called the Virginia turnover leading to the made Furman basket with his trademark excitement before laying out for the crowd reaction. After a few seconds of crowd excitement he asked his analysts, and the world, “Did we just see what I think we saw? Wow!” Vintage Kevin Harlan.
One reason we are so aware of what Harlan said, and that he signaled his analysts to lay out for the crowd reaction, was a CBS Sports tweet with video of Harlan, Van Gundy and Bonner in a split screen over the play. It gave us a rare look at a pro in the middle of his craft. We got to see that Harlan reacts just like he sounds. The video has more than six million views and has been retweeted more than 6,000 times, a lot of people seem to like it.
Kevin Harlan is not in that group. Harlan appeared on Richard Deitsch’s Sports Media podcast after the video went public and said he was embarrassed by it. Harlan added he “begged” CBS not send the tweet out but to no avail. Harlan told Deitsch “I don’t know that I’m glad that they caught our expression, but I’m glad the game was on the air. I think I join a chorus of other announcers who do not like the camera.”
There’s a valuable announcer lesson from Harlan there; the audience is almost always there for the game, not you. Harlan went on to describe the broadcast booth to Deitsch as somewhat of a sacred place. He would prefer to let his words accompany the video of the action to tell the story. Kevin Harlan is as good as they come at his craft, if he thinks that way, there’s probably great value in that line of thought.
We can learn from LaVicka, as well. You work in this business long enough and you come to accept technical difficulties are as much a part of it as anything. They always seem to strike at the worst times, it is just in their nature. Those who can find a way to deal with them without everything melting down are those who can give their audience what they showed up for. Those who lose their mind and spend time complaining about them during the production simply give the audience information they don’t really care about.
The Final Four is an unlikely collection of teams; Miami, San Diego State, Connecticut and Florida Atlantic. You all had that in your brackets, right? Yep, the Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Final Four and Ken LaVicka will be there for it. Now, if the internet will just hold out.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.