A Weekend Well Spent Surfing

By Leonard Shapiro
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, October 28, 2008; 2:15 PM

With 22 college football games available in the Washington television market on Saturday, with the World Series, the Breeders' Cup and a full slate of NFL games also broadcast over the weekend, the three hours I spent in the gym over those two days were totally nullified by at least a dozen hours on the couch, mostly in the prone position. Still, I took lots of notes.

Wisconsin vs. Illinois: My Badgers ended a four-game losing streak, but the only reason for a non-alum of either school to pay attention was the presence of Pam Ward handling the play-by-play on ESPN's Big Ten game of the week.

Ward is a Maryland graduate who cut her sports teeth doing updates for the original WTEM sports talk radio station in Washington long before Daniel Snyder bought out the previous ownership last year.

These days, she's also the only woman broadcaster doing big-time college football play-by-play on a regular basis. Based on her performance last week and any week I ever catch her act, at some point she's going to get a meaningful gig, maybe even a chance to become the first woman to do weekly NFL games for a network. She's always prepared to the max, knows her Xs and Os inside and out and sets up her analyst partners beautifully. She's a pro's pro and deserves better assignments, the sooner the better.

By the way, loved the little in-game feature on the ice-cream making operation run out of Babcock Hall on the UW campus, a Madison institution for decades. Nice touch to a fine broadcast, sort of a cherry on top of the "Berry Alvarez" flavor of the month, named for former Wisconsin head coach and current AD Barry Alvarez, of course.

Virginia Tech vs. Florida State: When your son goes to Tech, you have to pay attention to all things Hokie, though ABC/ESPN play-by-play man Ron Franklin kept calling Frank Beamer's team "Texas Tech" during the broadcast.

Franklin and analyst Ed Cunningham also pulled their punches when talking about Tech's lack of depth at running back and wide receiver. Both ranks have been thinned not only by graduation, but also serious off-the-field problems that included several top players essentially being kicked off the team for various transgressions over the last two seasons.

That was never really talked about by the broadcasters, and Franklin also used some questionable judgment in his choice of words when he said of Frank Beamer, "if anyone has some excuses for not having all the bullets in the pistol" it was the Hokies head coach. Considering the tragic campus massacre in Blacksburg two years ago, he should have known better.

Breeders' Cup: I channel surfed all over the dial Saturday, and caught most of the races on the card from Santa Anita.

I also caught a dreadful feature from ESPN's Kenny Mayne, who was trying to get some cheap laughs by importing three USC cheerleaders -- no, make that "song girls" -- to the race track for a totally ridiculous feature that made absolutely no sense.

That piece was offset later in the show with a moving story reported by Tom Rinaldi on Travers champion Colonel John, one of the entries in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

The horse was named for an Army officer friend of the horse's owners, Bill and Susan Casner, under tragic circumstances. Their daughter, Karri Casner, then only 23, had been killed in a terrorist bombing in Bali in 2002, and Lt. Col. John Geider, a long-time family friend, had accompanied them when they went to Indonesia to try to identify her remains. Colonel John finished well back in the pack, but Rinaldi's compelling story was a big-time winner.

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