As the so-called "official station of the Washington Redskins," WRC-TV-4 has done a decent job in televising the preseason, considering how long it took the team to choose a broadcast partner.
Channel 4 sports director George Michael had less than a month to pull together the various elements of the broadcast--hiring the production company, picking producers and directors, choosing the announcers, getting himself up to speed on the team. And after ironing out a number of technical glitches following the first telecast, last Friday night's third game in Pittsburgh seemed to go smoothly for the most part.
The Redskins' decision to ditch the highly competent and entertaining Fox broadcast team of Dick Stockton and Matt Millen, employed last year by previous rights-holder Channel 7, initially seemed suspect. Losing the straight-shooting, often amusing Millen--clearly the man Fox will eventually use to replace John Madden--especially made no sense.
Still, this year's trio of Michael, Sonny Jurgensen and Post colleague Mike Wilbon has had its moments. Most of them have actually been pretty good considering that Jurgensen, the team's longtime radio voice, and Michael hadn't worked a football telecast in years, and Wilbon's TV experience has mostly been limited to studio work.
Nevertheless, the three have blended nicely, and Michael's decision to use former Redskins center Jeff Bostic as a sideline reporter was smart. In addition to providing quick injury updates and other news, Michael frequently calls on Bostic to deliver opinions on what he's hearing and seeing on the field. Bostic has provided keen insight on what's going on and is hardly shy in ruffling feathers.
When quarterback Casey Weldon was leveled on a blitz, Bostic said bluntly, "Brad Badger looks like he's going through the motions."
As for Michael as a play-by-play guy, he would probably be wise to keep his day/night job at 6 and 11. He has done play-by-play before on football (Cornell, 1974), baseball (Orioles, 1974-75) and hockey (Philadelphia Flyers, 1985-86), but there is still some rust, and more than the occasional mistake for a guy who does not have the luxury of spending every waking hour focusing on the Redskins.
Against the Steelers, for example, he informed listeners that defensive end Kenard Lang suffered from an inner ear infection all last season, when in fact Lang had the problem his rookie year in 1997. Stephen Davis was identified as the ball carrier on another play, when Brian Mitchell was the runner.
Michael did fine on the nuts-and-bolts stuff--down and distance, time left, yardage on runs and catches--though I wish Channel 4 would add a permanent clock, down, yardage and score box. But after all these years in the market, we should all know by now that Michael's basic shtick is bluster and occasional bombast, that he loves to stir the pot, and that he has a difficult time yielding the spotlight, or the microphone, to anyone.
And yet, to his credit, Michael knows that in Jurgensen, Bostic and Wilbon, he's got three opinionated men with far more football expertise than he has. As such, he gives all three plenty of time to expound.
Jurgensen has the knack for seemingly predicting plays even before Norv Turner gets them out to his quarterback. And not just on offense. On a Redskins punt against the Steelers, he bellowed, "Watch the block, watch the block." Sure enough, the next sound you heard was Michael saying, "Partially blocked by the Steelers."
At one point, in his pot-stirring role, Michael talked about a recent preview in Sports Illustrated that picked the Redskins to finish fourth in the NFC East. George being George, he somewhat overstated his case when he said the author had blasted new owner Dan Snyder for "destroying the franchise." Then he wondered if the story somehow had led to the team's "closing ranks" in response and was responsible for their strong showing in Pittsburgh.
Said Jurgensen, "I think they're just doing their jobs like they've done all through training camp. . . . They don't read anything into those articles. It's one guy's opinion."
Wilbon seemed to be the designated Steelers expert in the group. He spoke knowledgeably about the Steelers' problems, their change in offensive coordinators, the loss of so many top players to free agency, the emergence of rookie linebacker Joey Porter. He also had plenty to add on the Redskins, openly lobbying for a backfield of Mitchell and Larry Centers.
Two minor criticisms of Jurgensen and Wilbon. Jurgensen has a tendency to use "heckuva" a heckuva lot, as in a heckuva hit . . . play . . . throw . . . run . . . tackle. A brush-up with a thesaurus would be a heckuva idea.
As for Wilbon, there were times when he simply didn't speak loud enough and could barely be heard. If he would reach the decibel level he achieves when engaging colleague Tony Kornheiser in the Post sports department, no volume adjustment would be necessary.
Still, we'll leave the last word on Wilbon to a totally unbiased observer, former Redskins safety Brig Owens, who said, "Mike is good, he's very good. He knows what he's talking about, and every time he says something, he makes sense."