With the phrase "bowl eligible" becoming the most meaningless words in sports and with the college bowl season now stretching for nearly three weeks, New Year's Day no longer belongs exclusively to the college kids.
After all, after you've seen mediocre teams clash on such traditionless stages such as the Beef O'Brady's Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla., the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl in Detroit and the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., how much passion can you muster for New Year's Day?
The first day of the year has become just another day in a seemingly endless bowl season, although the 100th annual Rose Bowl featuring Michigan State and Stanford should carry some weight since it is still in the same time slot and has the same conferences it has almost always had.
But the watering down of the bowl season has created an opening for NHL's Winter Classic to carve a New Year's Day niche, and Wednesday's contest between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs from the Big House — Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor — should be well received.
This is the sixth Winter Classic and will likely offer the biggest crowd (100,000 are expected) and the most wintry atmosphere.
Sometimes the temperature is around freezing or above and that creates slushy ice and choppy play.
That won't be the case this time, and NBC is excited about capturing what figures to be a much-anticipated return of the Winter Classic after last year's game was a victim of the NHL lockout.
The Winter Classic, which was created by NBC Sports and the NHL, has produced five of the six most-watched NHL regular-season games in the past 38 years with no less than 3.7 million and as many as 4.5 million watching.
Adding to the uniqueness of this year's coverage is that announcers Mike "Doc" Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Pierre McGuire will be broadcasting from ice level.
Sam Flood, NBC's executive producer, said that to set up a separate structure just for the announcers would have taken up "a ton of seats" and would not have been fan-friendly.
"We think this is going to work out pretty well," Flood said of having the broadcasters right off the ice. "Doc might need a little help occasionally when the guys are at the far end of the ice on the near boards, but that's why they created monitors."
Emrick, who is to ice hockey what Al Michaels is to football on NBC, said it's going to be "fascinating."
"The speed of the game at that level is going to be very quick," he said. "I did some Rangers games on radio at Madison Square Garden and at that time you worked two rows above where the Rangers came out onto the ice. It was like being on the front row of a 500-mile face. They came at you and they left you pretty quick. This is going to comparable to that and it's going to be thrilling to be that close."
The first Winter Classic at Buffalo's Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2008 captured the imagination of the sports world because it snowed during the third period and the "snow globe effect" became part of our television lexicon.
NBC wouldn't mind a little snow Wednesday afternoon, but not a blizzard, which would hinder play and everyone involved with the broadcast.
"The success of the Winter Classic started in Buffalo because of that snow," Flood said. "People started talking about the game immediately. Social media is so much more active today, and if we got another snow globe effect in Michigan, we're going to have a lot of people pushing traffic to NBC because I think word will get out in a different way than it did in 2008, which was remarkable."
Of course, what happens on Wednesday could set the stage for the first Super Bowl played in the snow on Feb. 2.
That game doesn't need any help from Mother Nature to become an instant classic, but Flood thought it would be neat to see, even if the game is on Fox this year.
"If there's snow at the Super Bowl, it would be a cool visual," he said while noting he'll be watching the game from Sochi, Russia in the middle of the night.
As soon as the Super Bowl ends, NBC's coverage of the Winter Olympics from Sochi will take center stage beginning on Feb. 6.
Eagles, Cowboys drew eyes
The Eagles' 24-22 victory over Dallas on Sunday night posted a 16.8 overnight rating and 28 share to give it the seventh-highest Sunday night overnight ratings in the eight-year history of NBC's prime time package. The game ranks third this year behind Peyton Manning's return to Indianapolis on Oct. 20 (17.3) and the Manning-Brady Bowl on Nov. 24 (17.0).
The "Sunday Night Football" 16.8 overnight rating more than doubled the top regularly scheduled primetime program (7.4 for 60 Minutes).
The Eagles move to Saturday night this weekend for their playoff game against the Saints, but will again be on NBC for the third straight week after not being on NBC's original schedule.
To ESPN for recognizing the interest in MMA and for leading Saturday night's "SportsCenter" with updates from UFC 168 in Las Vegas, where Anderson Silva vs. Chris Weidman and Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate provided two blockbusters on the same card. Silva's fractured leg provided UFC with its Joe Theismann moment and was so gruesome that the anchors didn't even want to describe it.
To Fox's NFL insider Jay Glazer who totally missed the firing of Cleveland Browns coach Rob Chudzinski.
Glazer is a hustler with tremendous contacts, but during his pregame segment on "Fox NFL Sunday" running down the list of coaches who would be fired or who would stay, Chudzinski wasn't even mentioned as being on the bubble.
Glazer was correct on the Redskins' Mike Shanahan, the Vikings' Leslie Frazier and the Lions' Jim Schwartz being out, but wrongly said Tampa Bay's Greg Schiano was safe.
KEITH'S CAN'T MISS … Judging by the lack of the cars on the road Sunday night, the entire region is transfixed by this improbable run by the Eagles. Can it continue against the Saints? Traffic should be very light again on Saturday night while NBC has the broadcast from Lincoln Financial Field at 8:10.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun