Sports Illustrated took up two hours of prime time on CBS Thursday night for an awards show honoring the athletes of the century. If Jim Thorpe, Babe Ruth or Bobby Jones had shown up, it may well have been worth watching. But the prospect of Susan Sarandon and LL Cool J handing out silly statuettes to retired or deceased jocks was not going to rip me away from the Jacksonville-Pittsburgh football game, with an occasional surf to "Frasier" or "ER."

Earlier in the week, there was a telephone message from a PR person touting some of the stars of the show: Muhammad Ali, Wayne Gretzky and Bill Russell, all on the same stage.

Sports awards shows of any ilk--the over-hyped Heisman, the awful ESPYs and now this knockoff of ESPN's fabulous athletes of the century series of documentaries--ought to be permanently banned from the airwaves.

The only place I want to see the three aforementioned superstars these days is on ESPN Classic, formerly known as The Classic Sports Network, doing what they have always done best. It doesn't matter that the film is grainy and in black and white for the epic duels between Russell and the late Wilt Chamberlain and that super slo-mo and a beach ball glow over pucks are missing from Gretzky's glory days in Edmonton.

It's enough to see greatness on the only stage that matters--the arena, the rink, the ring. Anything else involving these men--especially in an awards show setting--is superfluous.

By the way, Sports Illustrated went overboard in the promotion of this production on the pages of the magazine. Last week's issue had a cover entitled "Looking Back: A 20th Century Celebration." Among the first six pages was a full page ad for the awards show. Eight pages later came a full page editor's note on the show, describing it as "the sports party of the millennium" and later adding "it really will be a night for the ages."

Nine pages after that, SI gave it another fat paragraph in its summary of TV highlights for the coming week. Inside, there was a nine-page spread listing the nominees in every category. Oh yes, there were four more ads in the back of the magazine promoting the show or related products, including a collector's edition book.

By the way, if you missed the awards show, you could have caught the so-called highlights at 11 on CNN-SI. ESPN passed.

ESPN Down to Count of 10 Speaking of ESPN and its subsidiary, ESPN Classic, Mark Shapiro, no relation and the person who developed and oversaw ESPN's SportsCentury project, has been named vice president and general manager of the division, a good move by the Disney-owned operation.

Shapiro has devoted most waking moments (and some while sleeping, as well) over the last two years to the series of 50 documentaries that have been running every week on the top 50 athletes of the century, as well as various supplementary specials and vignettes.

The series' countdown has reached the top 10, and only Shapiro and a select number of staffers and ESPN executives know who is No. 1. A personal preference would be Thorpe, a man who dominated the many sports he played. Best guess, though, would be Ali in the top spot, followed by Babe Ruth, Thorpe and Michael Jordan.

Appearance Is All It may be the season to be jolly, but for many local TV sportscasters, it's also the season to watch what they eat and to not even think about shaving off that mustache or altering their hair style.

Many local TV people have specific clauses in their contracts concerning changes in appearance. Part of it has to do with promotional concerns. All those house ads designed to promote the news include pictures and tape of the on-air personnel. If the promo shows a man in a beard, they expect him to show up at 6 and 11 with a hairy face.

The dicier issue has to do with the waistline. Although there are no specific clauses in contracts saying a certain weight must be maintained, several sportscasters said in recent discussions that they have been told at some point in their careers by higher-ups either in the newsroom or the executive office that they would be wise to shed a few pounds, the better to maintain job security.

One sportscaster in another market interviewing for a job here was informed by one station that if he lost 50 pounds, he would probably be hired. Never mind that he produced a terrific show in his current market and had a lot of potential. Weight was the issue in this case, not talent.