Networks are giving us more Ditka than we can bear

When is someone at the network level going to get the idea that the Chicago Bears are about as interesting to watch as Jack LaLanne peddling those vegetable-pulverizing machines at 3 in the morning?

ESPN takes the Sunday night handoff from TNT this weekend and, wouldn't you know it, the 8 p.m. contest pits Da Bears against the equally dreary Zinzinnati Bengals. Part 1 of "Sinatra" on CBS, here we come.


True, the ratings will probably be decent because the huge Chicago market tunes in to watch the team no matter what, but is that really in the best interest of the national viewership? What's that got to do with it, you ask?

Just four days ago, Da Bears were on ABC's "Monday Night Football" against Minnesota and, in no time, trailed by scores of 17-0 and 31-3, freeing Al Michaels, Frank Gifford and Dan Dierdorf to discuss more germane things. Like Mike Ditka.


Time was when Ditka was a good coach and a fairly interesting character as sideline scions go. These days, he's a weak parody of himself, seemingly more intent in doing tough-guy commercials and chewing and spewing tobacco than in working a football game.

Even when Chicago hasn't been on nationally, Ditka has found his way clear to make a sufficient fool of himself on the sidelines to make it onto all the highlight packages. Recall the award-winning fit he tossed Jim Harbaugh's way when the quarterback called an audible and tossed an interception against Minnesota.

Fortunately, Dierdorf was there to straighten the whole thing out for us the other night, declaring that "too much was made of the incident." Which begged the question, why was ABC still discussing it a month later?

* Pretty fair slate of football games on television tomorrow, beginning with Maryland-Florida State at noon on channels 45 and 7. Terps are 27-point underdogs . . . N(D)BC then checks in with the Irish playing host to Boston College at 1 p.m. with Washington and Arizona squaring off on ABC at 3:30. . . . Kansas at Nebraska on ESPN at 7:30 p.m. should be good for at least a half.

* Showtime has an interesting matchup tomorrow (10:15 p.m.), Azumah Nelson (35-2) defending his super-featherweight (130) crown against Calvin Grove (41-4). This could be one of those don't-blink jobs because the challenger is very active but doesn't hit very hard, and Nelson has been known to want to finish his fights yesterday.

* NBA hoops will hardly slip onto the stage unnoticed this evening, Channel 20 sending along the Bullets opener in Charlotte (8 p.m.) while TNT is going with a double dip: Bulls at Cavaliers (8 p.m.) and Sonics vs. Rockets (10:30 p.m.) from Japan. . . . Keep the channel-switcher at the ready, because over on Home Team Sports, the Baltimore Spirit is going against the Milwaukee Wave (8:30).

* Speaking of hoops, Channel 2 must have run out of "Wonder Woman" episodes because it not only signed up for "NBA Inside Stuff" at 11:30 a.m. Saturdays, but "Jam Session," a half-hour show detailing the exploits of the Bullets (Saturdays at 12:30 p.m.).

* The Centel Championship golf tourney on CBS the next two afternoons (3:30 tomorrow and 2:30 Sunday) is for players between 40 and 49 years old. What will they think of next, players born in months containing 30 days?


* George Michael, who gives every indication of not having a sense of humor, bombed completely the other night when he decided to get his "Sports Machine" involved with the presidential campaign. Stick to the stuff you do well, Georgey, like wild west shows and that.

* With John McEnroe, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras zapped out of the Paris Indoors early, ESPN's hope for a decent audience tomorrow (4:30 p.m.) and Sunday (5 p.m.) went south.

* PolyGram Video is marketing a terrific tape called "Rivalries," detailing six of the great head-to-head team competitions in NFL history.

* Hopefully, the pay-per-view fight between Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe next Friday, a veritable steal at $38, will be as good as some of the ads. A favorite is a deadly serious Bowe

saying, "Boxing is simple: Hit him. Him him again. Knock him out. And leave. I'll be the champ." With Holyfield answering, "Really."

* Fortunately for the NHL, none of the neutral-site games this season has made it to ESPN so far. The turnouts have been embarrassing, averaging about half-capacity.


* One of the good things about TNT's Sunday night NFL series ending is no more Gary Bender. The announcer says after losing jobs at two networks he took stock and got rid of a lot of his cliches. But he must have forgotten the trunk upstairs. In every game, Bender inevitably gets around to saying that such-and-such "doesn't get the credit he deserves." And when a guy drops a pass, he alibis, "can't get it."

Then there's, "He's such an intense competitor . . . it's tough coming back after a Super Bowl season . . . that shows the courage of guts of so-and-so . . . he'll be in Canton someday." Ad nauseum.

Meanwhile, play-by-play partner Pat Haden certainly will be missed. He says a guy should have had it when he misses a pass and mixes in humor liberally with his assessments. He described a Wilber Marshall sack as "performing the Heimlich Maneuver" on the quarterback."

* Good line from Marty Liquori during ABC's coverage of the New York City Marathon. "It's [Jim] McKay's Rule," said the commentator. "Generally, when a guy makes his move to victory, it's during a commercial." As if on cue, Willie Mtolo stepped away from the opposition at 23 miles with the network in the middle of a two-minute break.

* Here it is years later and still a sure-fire way for a guy to get on camera during an NFL telecast is the simple removal of his shirt.

* Queries: What is it with Van Earl Wright who does the sports updates on CNN, is he pandering to the martian audience? . . . By the state of Arizona approving a Martin Luther King holiday during Tuesday's election, it seems very likely that Phoenix will be falling heir to the 1996 Super Bowl. Question is, will there be an NFL team in the Valley of the Sun by then?


* The athlete's quote of the week award goes to Orlando's Shaquille O'Neal who, in all seriousness, stated on ESPN, "By the time I get established in this league I think I'll be pretty good." Hmmm, $40 million worth?