On a day that used to be dominated by the most exciting matchups in college football, the most entertaining sports on TV yesterday was not on the gridiron but on the ice -- and I mean really cold ice.
If you saw the outdoor game between Pittsburgh and Buffalo at Ralph Wilson Stadium on NBC, the Winter Classic, you know what I'm talking about. The Penguins and Sabres played in a snowstorm on a rink that more approximated an old-time frozen pond than a modern NHL arena and the results were pure enjoyment -- especially, it seemed, for the players.
The game was an end-to-end exhibition of terrific play highlighted by the league's golden boy, Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, who fittingly scored the deciding goal in a shootout after the two teams had played to a 1-1 tie.
The entertainment value of the game again showed that the NHL doesn't need to have 6-5 scoring fests to engage fans. All the league needs is good hockey where the players skate with enthusiasm and fights are held to a minimum (TV commentators joked yesterday that players were less likely to fight because it was too cold to drop their gloves). When the highlights are played of that game, what you will see is Crosby's amazing puck juggling, crisp shots, and heroic goalie saves, not brawls or some player being plastered against the boards and slumped on the ice.
The one drawback to yesterday's game was the frequent stoppages to repair the ice. It was inevitable that the temporary rink set in the middle of a crowned football field would be problematic and the game's running time was about three-and-a-half hours.
Despite being an artistic success, the outdoor game isn't likely to to duplicated often. The location has to be right, the logistics are difficult and it's not like you can just discard the indoor arenas that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build. And after a while, the novelty would wear off anyway, both for the players and the fans. But for one day, the outdoor game raised hockey to a level on the national sports radar that will stand it in good stead.
* For many fans, myself included, the most anticipated sports event, the Sugar Bowl between Hawaii and Georgia, was a dud. I had been a Hawaii rooter all season and looked forward to the previously undefeated Warriors perhaps pulling off a miracle, but the only miracle was that Warriors quarterback Colt Brennan got out of the Louisiana Superdome in one piece. Georgia sacked him eight times as the Bulldogs crushed Hawaii, 41-10. The night started badly for the Warriors -- they had two penalties before they could get their first offensive play off -- and it got worse. They failed to tackle -- at one point in the third period a graphic showed that the Warriors had 15 missed tackles to Georgia's one. And on offense, in addition to exposing Brennan to the Georgia pass rush, the Warrior receivers were unable to gain any yards after the catch, a strength of the unit this season.