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Sunday, December 28, 2014
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Published: Thursday, 10/11/2001

This couch potato now a professional

The remote control is in my hand.

ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Classic, CNNSI and Fox Sports are stations programmed among my remote favorites.

As The Blade's new sports media critic, I'm obligated to watch and listen to sports events and sports-related programming on a regular basis. I'm duty-bound to tune in to sports-talk radio stations around the clock.

What an obligation!

Are you kidding me? Telling a sports fan to watch sports is like handing a shopaholic an American Express card with an unlimited credit line. It's a slice of heaven.

From now on, whenever I'm sitting in front of a television and my wife asks, “Is there anything else on besides sports?” I have a legitimate comeback when I say, “It's my job to watch sports.”

Viewing sports on TV for me dates back to the 1970s while growing up in Gary, Ind. Recalling wobbly kneed Chicago Bears legends Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers playing out Hall of Fame careers on Sunday afternoons comes to mind as some of my first TV moments. Then there was ABC's Wide World of Sports and its thrill of victory and agony of defeat intro that drew me in front of the tube for a few hours most weekends.

And Monday Night Football probably was the kicker that ultimately made me a lifelong sports fan.

During a time when there was no such thing as a 24-hour, all-sports channel, nor any all-sports radio stations, watching an NFL game on Monday night was special. Hearing Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford and Dandy Don Meredith broadcast the NFL's featured game of the week is something millions of Americans looked forward to while winding down from the first night of a normal school/work week. MNF's ratings proved as much.

Watching the likes of Terry Bradshaw and the Pittsburgh Steelers or Roger Staubach and the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night offered a chance at seeing some of the NFL's best in prime time. Top talent and top teams drew in most of the national television audience.

But it wasn't just the talent on the field that lured me in front of our floor model, 25-inch color screen Quasar.

Watching MNF also meant seeing some of the best television broadcast production. As much as I enjoyed viewing Bradshaw, Staubach, O.J. Simpson and Franco Harris, I was faithfully tuned in to MNF because of how the game was presented by ABC.

Thanks to MNF innovations such as multi-angle camera shots, watching football and most other sports on TV became as enjoyable as attending an event.

Watching replays of a spectacular catch or kickoff return from various angles in-between downs or leading into a commercial break may not seem like much, but it kept you tuned into the action. And when they didn't show the replay of a key play during the game, it even led to talking to the TV - a request for a replay.

The broadcasting personalities, Cosell in particular, drew my attention to the game. His abrasive but intellectual approach was a style of its own. You either loved him or hated him; I leaned more toward the former.

In fact, if it was a dog of a game and homework had to be completed, I looked forward to at least watching the halftime show featuring Cosell's two-minute recap of Sunday's NFL action. The inflection of his voice while narrating the highlights was classic.

The early experiences of watching sports on television left an indelible mark. Nearly 30 years later I still watch sports with an eye fixed on the game and an eye tuned into the production aspects behind televising the game. When the product on the field is good and the production behind the broadcast is good, that's a formula for successful sports programming.

In the weeks and months ahead, we'll praise the good stuff, blast the bad - and hope to have some fun as well.

Donald Emmons is a Blade sports writer.



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