They are celebrating 20 years of Breakfast at Wimbledon this weekend on NBC, a tradition that began with some trepidation back in 1979 when network executives wondered if enough tennis aficionados would get up and tune in to watch live tennis from London.
They did, catching a thrilling five-set Bjorn Borg victory over Roscoe Tanner that lasted through lunch. And one of the reasons the show became so successful over the years was Bud Collins.
With his rapier one-liners and nonsensical nicknames (Borg was the Angelic Assassin, Steffi Graf was Fraulein Forehand), he was a key part of the broadcast team back then. He is a significant contributor this year and, we hope, for as long as he can still find those multicolored pants.
Collins also has toiled as a newspaper man, starting with the Boston Herald in 1955 and spending the last 35 years with the Boston Globe as a columnist who for many years covered all sports, with boxing a specialty.
Last week, the 70-year-old Collins was presented the coveted Red Smith Award by Associated Press Sports Editors, an organization of sports editors from around the country. He couldn't attend the dinner in Phoenix, but appeared on screen via satellite from Wimbledon.
In his presentation speech, Los Angeles Times sports editor Bill Dwyre quoted Boston Globe sports editor Don Skwar as saying, "We expect Bud will be with us ad infinitum." That is very good news, because earlier this year, Collins was told by the Globe that his time at the paper would be over after the U.S. Open in September.
Collins has been a part-time contributor to the Globe over the last few years, turning out about 50 to 60 columns annually as he traveled the wide world of tennis, and breaking news stories along the way.
According to Skwar, the paper was looking to cut some costs by eliminating part-timers. Still, when word got out among the Globe staff, which spread the news through the nationwide sports writer grapevine, outrage was the most common reaction.
That was communicated in print, over the air waves via Don Imus, who uses Collins on his national radio show for reports from all the major tennis events, as well as by angry letters and telephone calls to Collins's editors. And so, the Globe, according to Skwar, has decided that Collins can keep going for as long as he would like.
I've known Bud for most of the last 25 years, first as an editor who handled his occasional columns for The Post, then as a fellow "tennis writer" when I covered my first and last Wimbledon in 1994.
Collins couldn't have been more gracious, giving me a guided tour of the facility, introducing me to players and officials and telling them, "You really should talk to this man." I will forever be grateful for his help, and I'm sure countless other novice tennis scribes -- not to mention longtime veterans -- can say the same.
In his speech last week, Dwyre said Collins "fell in love with a game that he wrote about and talked about into a microphone. It's a love affair that remains lusty today, and is best described in his own written words, from the preface of his tennis encyclopedia: `For me tennis is a pitcher of lemonade,' Collins wrote. `Sweet and piquant, altogether tasty. The lemons, freshly picked and squeezed, yield something a little different each time. Delightful. Refreshing. Satisfying. I never tired of the flavor. Pour me another glass, another match.' "
The Redskins' new deal with Channel 4 to air the team's four preseason games also has provided several intriguing plot twists.
For one, Ken Stephens, station manager at WJFK, the rights-holder for the team's radio package, says Sonny Jurgensen is under contract to his station and must be a part of any broadcast it airs. That will make it rather difficult for Jurgensen, announced as Channel 4's broadcast partner with George Michael, to be in two booths at the same time.
Stephens and Michael already have discussed the possibility of a simulcast, meaning the TV audio would also be heard on the radio, leaving Frank Herzog and Sam Huff out of the radio mix, at least until the regular season. Stephens says Jurgensen's presence has been guaranteed to advertisers, and a deal is a deal. He also says he is willing to do a simulcast, as long as high quality audio can be produced.
Another twist: Mark Burdett, the Redskins' new senior vice president, with broadcasting under his purview, as recently as three weeks ago was the number two man at WJLA-7, in charge of sales and also involved in Channel 7's negotiations with the Redskins for the preseason package that went to Channel 4.
Apparently new team owner Daniel Snyder liked Burdett's style so much, he decided to hire him, with Burdett then helping to negotiate the deal with Channel 4. Burdett said in an interview this week that his superiors at Channel 7 were informed immediately about Snyder's job offer and his decision to accept, and that the deal with Channel 4 would have been consummated with or without him.
Other local broadcasting sources, as well as some people at Channel 7, said the timing of Burdett's hiring clearly raised some interesting issues. For instance, wouldn't he know Channel 7's bargaining limits, and if so, couldn't he use that knowledge to get a better deal from Channel 4?
Channel 7 General Manager Chris Pike said yesterday he preferred not to comment on any aspect of the Channel 4 deal. He did say the station would still be interested in exploring other Redskins programming, including the possibility of continuing with "The Norv Turner Show."