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After remarkable America's Cup, Jobson laments event's 'unfortunate' timing

Gary Jobson is not only a Hall of Fame sailor. He is also something of a history buff when it comes to a sport that has been a big part of his life since childhood.

Which is why Jobson, of Annapolis, was happy to witness this year's America's Cup competition in San Francisco Bay up close, as someone who could both enjoy the event and appreciate its historical context.

For those who were busy following the Ravens, Orioles or even Maryland, Oracle Team USA came back from the largest deficit in the competition's history to win and retain the cup.

Trailing 8-1 to Emirates Team New Zealand, Oracle took the last eight races to win the 17-race competition and put Jimmy Spithill, the Australian skipper who headed Oracle's crew, in the company of the sport's legendary figures.

It might have been among one of the greatest sporting events to which few paid attention.

"It was unfortunate that the regatta had to take place exactly when college football and the NFL were starting and baseball season was coming down the stretch," Jobson said in an interview Thursday. "All that didn't help the visibility, and it was buried. However, it became quite the compelling story."

Initially, the story seemed to be that little New Zealand was going to beat the United States — badly. Then came another story. With his team facing a seemingly insurmountable deficit, Spithill emphatically predicted a victory for Oracle.

"It was Joe Namath guaranteeing victory in the Super Bowl," said Jobson, who served as a television analyst for the NBC Sports Network.

Jobson, the tactician on Ted Turner's winning boat, Courageous, in the 1977 America's Cup, compared Spithill to another famous, if fictitious, sailor.

"I described it at the time as he walked into the press conference like Popeye eating a can of spinach. If he lost two more races, he would have looked like Y.A. Tittle in the end zone, sitting on his knees," alluding to the Hall of Fame quarterback whose agony was captured in an iconic 1964 photograph.

Jobson will interview Spithill on Friday in Annapolis during the 44th United States Sailboat Show.

"He won another race and then another, and it became a huge story," Jobson said. "It was a compelling turnaround based on some bravado, but really the big story was that the design team came up with some changes, adjustments, techniques that turned the boat from being a little slower to faster. That was really the secret of Spithill's success. To get everyone to believe, and then having the goods to back it up."

Jobson said the way the NBC Sports Network covered the event — cameras aboard the boats, mics attached to the respective skippers — differed from most sporting events.

"In no other sport do you live and breathe this turnaround, hearing both sides of the equation and the body language and how they're reacting," Jobson said. "That was really something to be part of. You don't get into the huddle to hear what the coach's saying. The television element was ready for a good story, and it sure became one."

Despite the success, Jobson believes the America's Cup needs to undergo changes itself before the next competition. The biggest issue is timing.

"When they met with ESPN, ESPN recommended that they do this in August, conclude before Labor Day, before college football kicks off, and you'll own the airwaves," Jobson said. "The argument against that is that the weather in San Francisco tends to be better in September than in August, but what we learned was that August was fine."

don.markus@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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