'Tis the Season ...

By Leonard Shapiro
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, December 2, 2008 12:20 PM

With your turkey carcass now simmering in the soup pot and the Black Friday shopping frenzy mercifully out of the way, we're officially into the Christmas season. What better time than to offer some cheery merry-merry broadcasting best wishes and a few cheerless lump-a-coal bad thoughts, as well.

Merry-Merry: For a change, let's give Redskins owner Daniel Snyder credit for allowing legitimate freedom of expression among the local sports talk show hosts he employs at ESPN980, the flagship station in his Red Zebra radio operation.

So far, there have been no signs of any sort of the ham-handed censorship on all things pertaining to the Redskins many of us anticipated when Snyder purchased the old WTEM from Clear Channel last summer. To the contrary, there have been plenty of heavy shots aimed at the Redskins weekdays from noon to 7 p.m. on the three locally produced shows, and many more on mornings following gamedays, particularly after a Redskins loss.

Afternoon drive-time hosts Andy Pollin and Steve Czaban were particularly critical of the decision to give VP/GM Vinny Cerrato his own two-hour show on the station twice a week and recently lit into the club for shamelessly trying to manipulate Pro Bowl voting, among many other strong opinions voiced on their Sports Reporters show. Former Redskins and current show hosts Doc Walker and Brian Mitchell also have pulled few punches, and we're told that none of the above has ever been warned to tone it down.

Of course the true test will come at contract time over the next year or two, but for now, if you want straight radio talk on the Redskins (everywhere but on Cerrato's worthless show, at least), ESPN980 is not a bad place to start.

Lump-a-coal: For Fox's coverage of Sunday's Redskins-Giants game. While broadcasters Kenny Albert and Daryl Johnston were delivering their standard pre-game analysis, a ceremony honoring late Redskins safety Sean Taylor on the anniversary of his murder in a South Florida home invasion armed robbery was taking place in the background.

Fox easily could have deviated from its typically routine opening and shown a few live minutes of that tribute to Taylor. At the very least, they might have interviewed Taylor's best friend, Clinton Portis, during the week and aired his comments during the telecast. Instead, there were a few taped snippets of the Ring of Honor ceremony during the broadcast, including Portis running out of the tunnel carrying a flag with Taylor's No. 21, but Fox clearly dropped the ball on what would have been some riveting must-see live TV.

Merry-Merry: Good for ABC/ESPN assigning Pam Ward, our favorite female college football play-by-play broadcaster, to the Maryland-Boston College game on Saturday. Aired in a split national window on ABC in a prime, late afternoon viewing spot, BC-Maryland went to 16 percent of the country on ABC while the other 84 percent could view the same game on ESPN2. The Florida State-Florida game was seen on ABC by 84 percent of the country, with 16 percent watching on ESPN2.

Still, Ward made some history on Saturday. An ESPN spokesman said she had become the first woman to do a national college football game on ABC, though she had handled national WNBA games for the network.

A Maryland graduate, Ward paid her broadcasting dues locally doing sports updates on the old WTEM sports talk station back in the '90s. She's now the only woman on television currently doing big-time football play-by-play, handling Big 10 games for ESPN all season. She's very good, and surely there are other women out there also deserving a chance to follow her classy and yes, pioneering act.

Lump-a-Coal: Why does Fox continue to use Tony Siragusa as a so-called sideline reporter/analyst during game telecasts teamed with Albert and Johnston. The former Ravens defensive tackle adds almost nothing to the broadcast. On Sunday, he offered brilliant observations such as "great job by the defensive line of pushing" or "that's a little chess game going on in the middle of the game."

Unlike Pam Oliver, the savvy, solid sideline reporter on Fox's A-Team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, Siragusa hardly does any reporting at all on key injuries or other in-game developments he should be observing. Like any 300-pound-plus defensive tackle, he takes up a lot of space on the field, but his on-air performance is more worthy of Fox's waiver wire than the network's starting lineup.

Here's another former defensive tackle we could live without. Warren Sapp may be light on his feet on "Dancing with the Stars," but he's easily the weakest link on the otherwise sterling cast of Showtime's "Inside the NFL" or even The NFL Network's gameday shows.

The other day on the NFL Network, he insisted that in the two years he played for Norv Turner in Oakland, Turner never once had the offense practice the two-minute drill. Sorry Warren, I just don't believe that, and I bet the Raiders have the practice tape to prove otherwise, as well.

Merry-Merry: To Johnny Holliday, Washington's broadcasting version of The Energizer Bunny with more than 50 years on the air in one medium or another, not to mention appearances in more than 25 musical productions in theaters around the area.

At a 70-something age when most broadcasters have long since started resting the weary pipes in their golden throats, Holliday just keeps going, and going and going. The Voice of Maryland football and basketball for the last 30 years also spends most evenings from April through September hosting Nationals baseball pre- and post-game shows for MASN, and offers no sign that he won't be yakking on the air for many more years to come. Good for him, better for the rest of us.

Lump-a-coal: To ESPN and Fox, for giving former Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz (ESPN) and former Oklahoma head coach Barry Switzer (Fox) a national podium to comment on anything to do with the universities that once employed them.

Holtz, a man who never met a head coach who deserved to be fired, had no business defending embattled Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis this past Saturday. And Switzer should have recused himself Sunday from discussing Oklahoma's ascension to the No. 2 spot in the BCS ratings, ahead of a Texas team that beat the Sooners in October. Regrettably, there are countless conflicts of interest all over the broadcasting landscape, but these two seemed particularly blatant.

Merry-Merry: Silly me, but I just can't get enough of those doctored Coors Light NFL coaching press conference commercials. I also would suspect that Jim Mora, Dennis Green and Brian Billick, now all unemployed NFL head coaches, like them, as well (cha-ching). And by the way, would someone, anyone please spare us from the constant airing of the spots featuring that golden-oldie straightening out his fork with his teeth or the kid encased in a Whopper costume saying "I wish I'd never been broiled."

Dumb, and dumber.

Lump-a-coal: To moi, for incorrectly reporting in a recent column that Michael Weisman was the producer for NBC's Sunday night football telecast. Weisman produces NBC's lively pre-game show, "Football Night in America." Fred Gaudelli, obviously one of the very best in his business, produces the game telecast. Silly moi.

Leonard Shapiro can be reached at Len.Shapiro@washingtonpost.com.

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