Leonard Shapiro, Sports Columnist
Sports Waves

Collins's Last Breakfast at Wimbledon

By Leonard Shapiro
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, July 3, 2007; 11:41 AM

It's going to be a very difficult final week of Wimbledon for Bud Collins, because apparently it's also going to be his final week working for NBC Sports at the most revered tennis championship in the world.

Collins, now 78 and completing his 35th year in the booth for NBC, also happens to be the most revered, recognized and yes, even occasionally reviled tennis broadcaster on the planet. But his imminent departure from the network's Wimbledon and French Open coverage is yet another sign that network sports executives often need to have their heads examined on a regular basis.

NBC will spin this as Collins moving on to pursue other interests, even if his only interest is to remain covering tennis' mega-events for the network. They'll say that in recent years his role had been shrinking, that he was doing fewer and fewer post-match interviews and features and that after 35 years it seemed like the right time to cut the cord. So they'll do a schmaltzy video sendoff to honor his grand work and outrageous wardrobe selections in its Sunday broadcast, and don't let the door hit you in the rear end on the way out of the broadcast booth.

Better they should put that fluffy feature on hold, cancel the press release announcing his departure and do an about-face by bringing him back next year, and for as long as he still wants to ask tennis players questions after their matches.

There also have been published reports, which NBC sources deny, that Collins essentially has been let go in yet another company-wide cost-cutting move, not unlike the way the NBC Universal, a subsidiary of General Electric, has decimated the sports staff at Channel 4 in Washington and bid an unceremonious goodbye to George Michael.

If there's any truth at all to those reports, the network ought to be ashamed of itself. His salary for his work at Wimbledon and The French Open surely wouldn't even equal the price of a 30-second commercial during NBC's signature Breakfast at Wimbledon telecasts this weekend.

And if keeping Collins on the payroll would mean NBC had to clutter the telecast by selling an extra minute or two of advertising, who could possibly object to a little more interruption of the action if it would allow him to stay on, perhaps in perpetuity?

Collins began his career as a sports writer for the old Boston Herald in 1955, and this is not the first time he's been linked to a media cost-cutting ax. After a distinguished 35-year career as a sports columnist for the Boston Globe, by the late 1990s Collins essentially had become a part-time contributor to that newspaper, writing 50 or 60 columns a year, most of them on tennis, his true sporting passion. It was a love and love match, as he might say himself.

The Globe was looking to save some money and a newspaper-wide edict went out saying part-timers would no longer be used. But when word got out that Collins' would no longer be writing in the paper, his colleagues at the Globe and all over the business were outraged, and many of us even wrote blistering pieces about the unfairness of it all.

Collins also had been an occasional guest on Don Imus's nationally syndicated radio show, reporting from all the major tennis events, and the I-man was similarly incensed over Collins pending dismissal by the Globe.

Imus made it a regular cause celebre, sparking even more protests from around the country, and after weeks of being inundated by angry phone calls and letters, Globe management finally realized the error of its ways and kept Collins on the payroll, and part-time be damned.

Not long after that, the Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) honored Collins by making him the 1999 recipient of the prestigious Red Smith Award for his long and distinguished service and his contributions to the art of sports writing. After all, this was the man who once called Steffi Graf "Fraulein Forehand" and dubbed the great Bjorn Borg "The Angelic Assassin" in print and on the air, with countless player monikers spicing up his copy and his commentary over the years.

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