John Madden, to mix sports metaphors, long ago lost something off his fastball, as the impressions by Frank Caliendo, star of TBS’s Frank TV, attest.
But the doyen of pro football analysts was dead-on last night as he described the Philadelphia Eagles moving too quickly during what could have been a game-winning and perfect-season-ending drive against the New England Patriots.
Madden also noted that the Eagles had devised blue prints for others to perhaps beat the Pats — diverse up-the-middle rush schemes and combo coverage on Randy Moss and the exploitation of the middle of the field against New England’s secondary, something Philly back-up QB A.J. Feeley did to great effect until he got greedy from the Pats’ 29 with just under four minutes remaining and hurled a second sideline interception to Asante Samuel.
Feeley’s effort and the game plan of Eagles’ defensive coordinator Jim Johnson made Philly the closest challenger to New England this season. The Pats’s 31-28 triumph played big for the Peacock, tackling a 15.6 national overnight rating, the best ever for NBC’s Sunday Night Football and the tops for an NFL primetime game since ABC’s Monday Night Football coverage of the Indianapolis Colts-Pittsburgh Steelers in 2005.
Speaking of the Steelers, members of their nation and Dolphins’ devotees notwithstanding, I can’t imagine that many casual viewers will be titillated enough to tune in tonight and see if hapless Miami can finally exit the winless ranks on MNF. Next week, ESPN will get its turn with Pats TV, when they visit the offense-less Ravens in Baltimore.
Meanwhile, another case of the NFL’s inscrutable instant replay rules was on full display right before the half. Patriots’ wide-out Jabar Gaffney made a sliding TD catch. But from living room perches it wasn’t immediately clear if he had one foot or both feet in bounds, a knee on the chalk, and/or possession of the ball.
Yet, there was no review. Coaches can’t challenge in the last two minutes and all that. But it’s a go-ahead score for Goodell’s sake. Why didn’t the booth deem it worth a look? Oh, and what about the flag thrown on the play for a phantom pass-interference call. Guess, the refs were just hedging their bets. God forbid, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady could be down at the half, or maybe the zebras just felt the need to keep the threat of a New England second-half cover against a 24-point spread alive a little longer.
And not to forget, the replay debate still rages over the 51-yard field goal that the Cleveland Browns’s Phil Dawson pin-balled off the left upright against the support stanchion beyond the goal post on Nov. 18. One robotic official, who never looked up and only saw the ball drop at his feet, signaled the kick was short as the Ravens ran into the locker room on the right end of 30-27 decision. But that rebound ruling was overturned, a tie produced and Romeo Crennel’s crew came away with a 33-30 OT triumph.
Field goals, by NFL edict and in this case, a game-deciding play, are not reviewable. Naysayers argue that more cameras would be needed and even then when the ball sails above the upright, the view wouldn’t necessarily be conclusive. Well, what about the league rebating some of its rights fees so network carriers could invest in more cameras or technology — perhaps a vertical yellow line that could help distinguish whether a kick had crossed the appropriate plane.
Disney’s audible. Okay, West Virginia was really laying the lumber to UConn in the de facto Big East title game late Saturday afternoon, when ABC imported the more competitive Georgia –Georgia Tech contest. Problem was the Peach state rivals remained on ESPN2 as well. Hence, Mountaineers’ fans didn’t get to see all the carnage in their school’s 66-21 demolition of the Huskies.
By that time, though, fans should have already turned the dial to CBS, where Tennessee earned a trip to the SEC title game against LSU with a rousing 52-50 win over Kentucky in quadruple OT.
Curb his enthusiasm. Larry David was courtside, two seats from the Los Angeles Lakers’ bench — as he was in the ‘Shaq’ episode of his HBO comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm – when they squared off against the New Jersey Nets Sunday night.
As YES Network cameras panned the court, there was the Seinfeld creator sitting with legs folded most of the time—good news for Lakers players reporting to the scorer’s table. As the game turned into a three-fest led by Kobe Bryant down the stretch, David apparently never clapped or stood up as the action tightened, before the Nets held on in dramatic fashion.
Then again, David told Michael Kay on YES’s Center Stage that he was a Knicks fan. Maybe, the clown princes of the NBA, Isiah Thomas, Stephon Marbury and James Dolan and their Globetrotters routine, would have evoked some enthusiasm from David.
Slamming anyone? If a young version of Jack Nicklaus had beaten Tiger Woods in an exhibition match, the golf community and sporting world in general would be abuzz. In essence, the same thing happened Nov. 24 as Pete Sampras, retired from the ATP tour since 2002, defeated world’s No. 1 Roger Federer and the prime contender to eclipse the American as the sport’s all-time Grand Slam titlist, in the finale of their three-match exhibition series.
Sampras faced nary a break point in Macau as he took out the 26-year-old Federer, 7-6 (8) and 6-4. The win came after Federer topped Pistol Pete 6-4, 6-3 in Seoul on Nov. 22 and then won a pair of tie-breakers on Thanksgiving in Kuala Lumpur.
But since the matches unfolded half a world away during a holiday week and only 20 million receive Tennis Channel (replays of the three matches will be available on www.TennisChannel.com beginning Dec. 5,) Pete’s feat didn’t really capture much media attention.
Rest assured, though, others on the men’s circuit took notice and can only hope that Sampras, 36, holds true to his word and keeps his still blazing serve holstered in retirement.