There's no lack of sports on Christmas Day now

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The TV Repairman:

For some reason, known only to them, the folks at "Inside Stuff" are scooping themselves tomorrow (noon, Channel 2) by providing a sneak preview of the special "NBA Below The Rim: The Little Big Men," which will run Sunday as part of NBC's six-hour (3-9 p.m.) NBA Christmas doubleheader. The Sonics will play the Nuggets at 4 p.m., the Knicks and Bulls going at 6:30 as the network finally recognizes one of its prized possessions.

As opposed to a few years ago when Christmas was treated with respect, devotion and solemnity, the telly going virtually dark as far as sports were concerned, there's an all-star game and a bowl among the collegians, three figure skating shows, an NFL game, golf, enough Washington International Horse Show segments to make even the horsey set head for the barn, swamp buggy racing, volleyball, arm-wrestling and the BASS Masters Classic, taped July 28-30. This is progress?

* HBO is justifiably proud of the specials it has produced this year, including shows on the late Arthur Ashe, the tradition that is Wimbledon's and a tribute to the great coaches and managers in American sports history. And its latest, "In This Corner: Boxing's Historic Battles," certainly lives up to the lofty standards.

Debuting the other night and slated for several showings in the weeks to come, the Jack Johnson vs. Jim Jeffries, Joe Louis vs. Max Schmelling (II), Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston (II) and Ali vs. Joe Frazier (I) confrontations are examined in great detail. And the actual fighting seems almost inconsequential to everything else that surrounded these bouts.

* Remember Australian Rules Football, the rage of off-hours viewing in ESPN's formative years? It's back and better than ever, today (noon) on Home Team Sports.

* It's good to see the competing networks carrying the message of the NFL -- Fox and NBC -- back to staging schoolyard arguments about which is doing the better job and so on, brought to us in minute detail, compliments of USA Today. Will McDonough is serving as the Peacock's hatchetman, zapping Fox for the mileage it attempted to get with the "Will Jimmy Johnson Return to Coaching?" business.

McDonough would have had a case to argue were it not for the fact NBC invented the coach/commentator thing with former employees Bill Parcells, Pat Riley, Mike Fratello and Bill Walsh returning to the sidelines and current studio analysts Mike Ditka and Joe Gibbs biding their time. The whole big Sunday announcement campaign was shot dead the Thursday before, the Dallas Morning News having the answer in print. Ho-hum.

* There's still this last weekend of pro football to go, of course, but it's a pretty good bet that the Buffalo Bills have annexed this year's "run-for-the-bus" award for giving up in the face of boredom, blowing a 17-3 lead to the Patriots by allowing 38 unanswered points.

* Yet another poll, this one commissioned by Business Week and conducted by Lou Harris, says sports fans favor pro football (25 percent) over baseball (11) and college football, figure skating and pro hoops (all 9). Three months ago, Money magazine said the same thing. Hey, gang, people don't change their allegiances quickly and the NFL has held the upper hand for years, so stop crowing about it.

* The bartender at the Emerald Tavern out Harford Road way gets a speaking part in this week's "This Is The NFL" show produced by NFL Films. Bill Saul, former Colts and Steelers linebacker, was wired for a game 27 years ago and, afterward, is seen and heard brushing off a kid who apparently is asking for an autograph. Saul finally explains what happened: "The kid was asking for a piece of equipment. I want to go on record that I never refused a kid an autograph." Aw, we knew that, Bill.

* Don't forget, HTS has its "Year in Review" Christmas night (7:30), Orioles and Capitals general managers Roland Hemond and David Poile taking about their sports being on strike, Redskins GM Charley Casserly talking about his 2-13 team and Bullets GM John Nash talking about his woebegone bunch. Who's the producer of this epic, Marquis de Sade?

* Agreed, it's a tough job ESPN has filling up all those hours with sports (or close) activity, but "Gaters," a show it runs daily at 4 p.m., wouldn't even get a failing grade in Film Making 101.

* There's something very warm, cuddly and safe about the broadcasting crew on "Monday Night Football." After watching the Cowboys stage a multi-play drive for a touchdown that required about a half-hour the other night, Dan Dierdorf assured, "That's a championship drive." Not to be outdone at getting to the heart of the matter, Frank Gifford assured us, "There's a lot of pride in that team."

* Tape of the Roy Jones-James Toney fight on ESPN tonight at 9. Don't tune in expecting a lot of action. . . . Bullets and Clippers on HTS at 10:30. Hey, they should beat these guys, don't you think? . . . No word yet on what outfit is going to hire on Martina Navratilova as a tennis commentator. No doubt she'll be exceptional. . . . ESPN is bringing in Terry Bowden to expert a few games on its bowl lineup and you have to ask yourself if this is a good idea, hiring a coach from a school (Auburn) currently under sanctions by the NCAA?

* TV Guide cartoon shows a meteorologist forecasting for New Year's Day on the Weather Channel, "Mostly football with 20 percent chance of parades."

* Drew Bledsoe did a nice job reciting "'Twas The Night Before Christmas," accompanied by the Boston Pops Orchestra on PBS the other night. No, the New England quarterback didn't make it sound like an audible. . . . One of the stars of Bud Greenspan's terrific "Lillehammer '94: 16 Days of Glory," Manuela DiCenta, just got named European sportswoman of the year. She won five Olympic medals in cross country skiing. . . . Good line from the guy on ESPN2 who said, "Dennis Rodman looks like a 6-9 Chia pet."

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