Page 2 of 3   <       >

From Len Shapiro: Many thanks and countless memories

I planted myself outside the ABC booth at RFK Stadium that evening and, as he came out the door at the end of the broadcast, I asked Cosell about what he'd said. At first, he actually denied using the term, at least until I pointed out that millions of viewers nationwide had heard it. He clearly was not happy with the question, but said if he had indeed uttered those words, he surely had only meant it as a term of endearment toward Garrett. It was an expression he often used to describe his own grandchildren, he said that night.

Fair enough. I wrote the story, quoting Cosell and Garrett, and it was buried on an inside page the next day. After all, anyone familiar with Cosell's history in championing the cause of Jackie Robinson as the first African American to break baseball's color line, or his long-standing relationship with Muhammad Ali, also knew that Cosell was no racist. I wrote that in a follow-up column, but Cosell was furious with me over that piece because I also quoted Garrett as saying he'd been the butt of all manner of locker room jokes in the days following the game, including finding bananas in his dressing stall at Redskins Park. Cosell, who had always answered my telephone calls pre-Garrett and affectionately called me "that Trotsky-ite from Wisconsin" (my alma mater), never spoke to me again.

Five years later, Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder, the man who made gambling synonymous with the NFL during a controversial 12-year stint on the CBS pregame show, came to Washington for a lunch at the old Duke Zeibert's restaurant on Connecticut Avenue. A local television reporter pointed a camera at Snyder and got far more than he bargained for when the wine-fueled Greek offered a racially inappropriate lecture on the so-called "superiority" of the black athlete. Two days later, he was properly fired by CBS and never returned to national TV.

There were countless other broadcasting controversies over the years that made it so easy for a media critic to earn his keep. Remember Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" induced by Justin Timberlake at halftime of Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004? I was in the press box that night, writing for the front page, and certainly will never forget some slightly frantic scrambling to report on the bizarre incident. Football was definitely not the only focus of my story that night.

Readers of this space also may recall a wide variety of issues national and local that became frequent fodder for this column.

For years, I've ranted about so-called sports journalists becoming paid pitchmen for products; about the hypocrisy of college athletic programs and the networks who televise their games accepting advertising revenue from beer companies, even as binge drinking has become rampant on campuses across America; about women being pigeonholed as sideline reporters, with only a handful of African American network play-by-play broadcasters and not a single woman calling games in all the major professional sports. In 2011, in the ongoing era of Tiger Woods, how does CBS possibly justify not adding a black or female analyst to its golf coverage, for example?

Maybe it's the old editor in me, but I've also railed for years about the constant mangling of the language on sportscasts, with ESPN clearly leading the way. A catchphrase now and then-"en fuego," for example, or "as cool as the other side of the pillow" - were fun for a while, until beaten to death and often copied by wannabe pretenders. I absolutely hate it when a home run is described as "going yard," when an interception return for a touchdown is a "pick six," when a "hammy" is not a sandwich but a hamstring injury.

Cliches abound, with one Booyah!!! per decade more than enough for me. And I'm begging you Chris Berman, cease and desist with "Rai-duhs," with "back, back, back" and "he . . . could . . . go . . . all . . . the . . . way." They weren't yours to begin with, and enough is really enough. Dick Vitale? Oh please. Lou Holtz? Take Vitale with you and don't let the door smack you in the back.

But enough assassin talk. There has also been plenty to like, as well. Technology has made it far more enjoyable to stay home and watch a game on television, particularly in high-def, rather than deal with traffic jams, outrageous ticket prices and $8 beers at the stadium. When I recently asked long time CBS Sports executive producer Lance Barrow what he thought the greatest technological advance of his lifetime had been, No. 1 on his list was color television and that he couldn't even imagine producing the Masters in black and white.

Instant replay, minicams, blimp shots, that super-imposed yellow first-down marker in football, super slo-mo on golf swings and slap shots, telestrators, microphones in the huddle and on the helmet have all added to the enjoyment of watching games.

So, too, have so many skilled broadcasters. Vin Scully, Ernie Harwell, Red Barber, Howard Cosell, Al Michaels, Al Maguire, Bob Costas, John Madden, Dick Enberg, Brent Musburger, Pat Summerall, Jim McKay, Jon Miller, Marv Albert, Jim Nantz, David Feherty, Johnny Miller, Keith Jackson, Curt Gowdy, Tony Roberts, Phil Simms, Cris Collinsworth and James Brown, to name just a few, clearly set the gold standard. The late Roone Arledge at ABC was the smartest executive in the history of sports television. NBC's Dick Ebersol, one of his protégés, is the current titleholder.

On the local front, how fortunate have we all been to have the likes of pioneering Warner "Let's Go To The Videotape" Wolf and the late Glenn Brenner and George Michael in our midst for so many years when sports at 6 and 11 actually was must-see TV. Frank, Sonny and Sam on Redskins radio, Ron Weber, Joe Beninati and Craig "Biscuit in the Basket" Laughlin on the Capitals, Johnny Holliday on all things Maryland and long suffering Steve Buckhantz on the Wizards were also must-listen, have-to-watch. And behind the scenes producing and directing countless televised events, sportscasts and sports specials was Ernie Baur, a pioneering local production whiz himself.


<       2        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company