The TV Repairman:
A decade ago, when the Breeders' Cup sprang out of the fertile mind of someone, two guys named Tom, Hammond and Durkin, host and race caller, respectively, for NBC's coverage, gasped in unison, "We're on for four hours, how are we going to fill that much time?"
The network went in with lots of features, which, according to Hammond, "we never got to. Right off we thought, hey, we don't have enough time." So the 11th edition tomorrow will be four hours, 30 minutes in length, from 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
"The way it works out," says Durkin, "a great race finishes and you want to digest and savor it. Lo and behold, you have another one coming up that'll probably be just as good."
The biggie is the $3 million Cup Classic and, as Durkin put it, "for that kind of dough, you expect a lot and the Classic has come through. Very first year, the owner of the winner, Wild Again, put up $360,000 as a supplemental entry just to run as a 35-1 shot. He wins, so the owner gets 7-2 on his money with a purse of The audience size isn't staggering but, as one of the Toms reminded, "there are now 800 simulcasting locations across the country, they'll be packed with fans expected to bet $80 million on the seven races and those people don't even show up in the ratings."
Everybody has a favorite among the 70 races run to date and you're a cold fish if the pulse doesn't quicken recalling the magnificent stretch duel by Easy Goer and Sunday Silence a few years ago. Ferdinand-Alysheeba wasn't bad, either.
Art Sinclair has been at Churchill Downs most of the week, sending back reports to WCBM Radio, but he has studiously avoided making early predictions. That's about to change.
* Given his druthers, Joe Theismann probably would choose the ESPN studio over checking out games from a telecast booth every Sunday night from now until the end of the NFL regular season. There are more games to comment on.
Since early September, Joe has been in heaven watching every game played in the league (and probably Canada, too) via monitors back in Bristol, Conn. Now, starting with the Raiders' visit to the Chiefs Sunday night at 8, he'll be restricted to commenting on just that game.
Perhaps it's why the analyst always gives the impression he has a million things to say, all of them pertinent, and a three-hour telecast just doesn't provide enough time. Theismann says it will be worth it, though, if only because of what he has been subjected to so far.
"The officiating is getting worse," he contends. "Game after game the cameras have caught referees in the act, blowing call after call. It's been unbelievable. Horrendous.
"What's particularly bad is the mistakes haven't been inside, in the line play which often goes undetected. The mistakes are being made right out in the open. What we're seeing is blatant.
"It's the old-boys network at work. An official right on the spot and in good position makes a call and he ends up overruled. By whom? A senior official comes up and says, 'Well, I've got more experience than you and I saw it this way.' That's bull."
Phil Simms finally gets out of his isolation booth in the studio and moves into Theismann's spot two seats to the left of Chris Berman on "GameDay" Sundays as Joe joins play-by-play man Mike Patrick.
ESPN's move into the Sunday night arena means, of course, that TNT's package has ended, and that's too bad. Commentator Pat Haden had a heck of a year, mixing insight with just the right amount of humor and relaxation.
Lines like his describing the Pittsburgh Steelers' throwback uniforms as including "Grey Poupon pants," an ultra-conservative play by Phoenix as "a George Will call," and "more than 30,000 people were born in mainland China during that [nine-minute] drive" are much appreciated when the hour is growing late and the game is dawdling.
* TNT kicks off its Tuesday-Friday hoops package tonight at 8 with the Hornets and Bulls showing off the new United Center in Chitown. It's nice, but certainly no Chicago Stadium. The late game is Trail Blazers vs. Clippers from Japan.
* TBS sends along the Grand Slam of Golf from 6 to 10 p.m. next Tuesday and Wednesday. This is the one where winners of the game's "majors" go head-to-head: Nick Price, Jose Maria Olazabal, Ernie Els and Greg Norman. The latter gets the call despite not having won one of the biggies because he's the defending champ and, well, he's very popular.
Viewers will have a decision to make next Wednesday because opposite the golf will be the first night of "Ice Wars," a team competition pitting the best U.S. figure skaters against the world at 8 p.m.: Nancy Kerrigan, Brian Boitano, Oksana Baiul, Katarina Witt, etc.
* Don't forget, ABC will do an hour wrap-up of the 25th New York City Marathon run Sunday (10:50 a.m.) at 3.