ESPN's Summer Listlessness
A Sister Gets Into The Act
By Matt Bonesteel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 12, 2004; Page D02
In a 1997 episode of "The Simpsons," Lisa complains about the lackluster education she's receiving by noting that "magazine time" is among the daily activities at Springfield Elementary.
This summer, ESPN has been treating viewers to an hour of weekly magazine time with list shows celebrating the top teams, worst teams, best sports movies, biggest blunders, etc., of the past 25 years -- since the network was unleashed on the world in 1979.
It's no shock that the network chose to go this route. List shows must be cheap to produce and fun to compile, and they can be rerun endlessly, providing the network with hours of content. It's more surprising that it took ESPN so long to do them. After all, magazines have been satisfying America's consuming need to rank things for decades, and just about every network has followed suit. It's all fluff that requires a bare minimum of mental effort from viewers.
Besides, it's summer. What else are you going to watch?
In that spirit, we offer 10 observations about ESPN's Top 25s.
10. Poor Prairie View. The school's 1991 football team was named the worst team of the past 25 years, and its 1991-92 men's basketball team was No. 8.
9. Poor Leon Lett. The guy has a fistful of Super Bowl rings, yet all anyone remembers is the play on which he tried to down the ball against Miami and the play when Don Beebe stripped him of a sure touchdown in the Super Bowl.
8. What's needed: more actual highlights. What isn't needed: the lengthy, pseudopsychedelic introductions to each clip.
7. "Chariots of Fire," the only Best Picture winner on the top 25 sports movies list, was ranked No. 7, but the show devoted only about five seconds talking about it, perhaps because they couldn't secure any footage.
6. Thankfully, ESPN didn't bend to pressure from Disney to include any "Mighty Ducks" movies. Or toot its own horn by including the truly terrible "Season on the Brink."
5. When an NFL item makes the list, there isn't any actual footage. Could it be that the league has taken its film and gone home to the NFL Network (where no one can see it)?
4. Mike Tyson, who offers his take whenever a boxing highlight makes the list, is at times disarmingly funny.
3. Speaking of the top 25 blunders, perhaps ESPN should have picked up a dictionary. Many of the "blunders" simply weren't, such as when Mo Cheeks helped the young girl sing the national anthem when she forgot the words or when Tommy Lasorda was hit by a bat in the third base coaching box. They gave No. 1 "blunder" honors to the famous Cal-Stanford band play. Um, no.
That play was "the most amazing, sensational, dramatic, exciting, thrilling finish in the history of college football," as Cal announcer Joe Starkey so memorably shrieked. How is that a blunder?
2. Omitted from the top blunders list were perhaps the two biggest blunders in sports history: Fred Brown passing the ball to James Worthy instead of a Georgetown teammate in the 1982 NCAA championship game, and the ball rolling between Bill Buckner's legs in the '86 World Series. How could they miss these? And if they wanted a national anthem blunder, howzabout when Carl Lewis "sang" it before an NBA game a few years back?
1. If you want thought-provoking list television, watch the top 25 stories of the past 25 years show that airs after the other top 25 show (got that?). ESPN takes the time to flesh out each issue, and any show that Bob Ley hosts is worth your time.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company