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'Breaking' news? Before kickoff?

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The TV Repairman:

The real meaty stuff of ABC's coverage of Super Bowl XXX minus I will come at 5 p.m. Sunday when Brent "You are looking live at Joe Robbie Stadium" Musburger and Dick Vermeil move in for "Countdown to Kickoff," a program name dating back to the days of kinescope.

The network says some of the first hour of its two-hour pot-boiler leading up to the 6:18 p.m. kickoff will be devoted to "late-breaking news." Reporters who have been to scads of these grid festivals insist they can not recall anything of any consequence happening in the stadiums just prior to kickoff, aside from maybe Thurman Thomas misplacing his helmet.

Everybody who has ever worked for ABC Sports seems to have an assignment, but their efforts will likely pale into insignificance once Dan Dierdorf lets us in on just how big this event is.

In case you just can't get enough of football talk prior to the game Sunday, ESPN puts the ball in the air at noon for 90 minutes on "GameDay" and Channel 2 has an hour-long special, locally produced, beginning at 12:30. Scott Garceau will be in the studio with Ernie Accorsi, Peter Angelos and, probably, Mel Kiper while Keith Mills will be reporting live from Joe Robbie Stadium.

Remember those tournaments where they fed a bunch of information into a computer and came up with a 1/4 what-would-have-happened script? A strong feature prior to the heavily-favored 49ers taking on the Chargers would be to have these Prospectors take on the 1963 AFL Chargers in make-believe.

Those Bolts could do it with Tobin Rote and John Hadl at quarterback, Paul Lowe and Keith Lincoln running both inside and outside, Lance Alworth catching everything in sight and running back punts, Ron Mix and Walt Sweeney blocking up a storm and Ernie Ladd, Earl Faison and a dynamite pass defense handing out zeros. The Chargers won their conference and the title games by a combined 109-30.

Too bad there wasn't a monumental 87-85 struggle between Maryland and North Carolina State interesting fans right up until kickoff as there was back in '73.

* Today is not a bad day to be couch-ridden or just plain off if you're a sports fan. There's golf, the Phoenix Open; tennis, a men's semi and the women's final from the Australian Open; a decent NBA game, the Hornets vs. the Knicks; the Eclipse Awards (horse racing); figure skating, the World Pro Championships (taped at USAir Arena last month); and even a movie, "Wrestling Ernest Hemingway."

Speaking of wrestling, TBS put on a "Clash of Champions" show live out of Las Vegas Wednesday night and, in hopes of establishing a beachhead in that market, the athletes produced handsomely in name matchups.

Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage partnered to a win, then smacked Vader so hard the pants of the 520-pounder split and he rolled out of the ring. Vader challenges in "SuperBrawl V" at "the beautiful Baltimore Arena," according to Mean Gene, Feb. 19, in case you hadn't noticed. Sting beat Avalanche, and Harlem Heat lucked out against Stars & Stripes, their mascot Sister Sherri being sent for a loop.

* You say you're sick of the Skins Game and all its offshoots? It doesn't show up in the ratings. When Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and Ray Floyd go head-to-head tomorrow (2:30 p.m.) and Sunday (1:30 p.m.) in a $540,000 putting contest, they're likely to maintain their position as the second most-watched golf program.

In three of the last four years, Skins or Seniors Skins has finished runner-up to the Masters in ratings, and the other consistently beat out the British Open and PGA. The ultimate was achieved in 1986 when Skins beat out the four "majors" by a bunch.

It's a relaxing five hours, watching guys who have combined for $26 million in career earnings sweat over an 8-footer for a tie.

* If your office pool entry is a goner Sunday and you want to chance slipping away from the game, check out a figure skating exhibition in Japan running on ESPN at 9 p.m. Despite horrendous commentary by the well-meaning Terry Gannon, this the best women's skating you'll see this side of the Olympic finals. Kristi Yamaguchi skates well and she finishes up the track.

* Hopefully, ESPN will find time to work in some of the highlights of the quarterfinal five-setter between Pete Sampras and Jim Courier Tuesday at the Australian Open. It's of classic proportions, top-seeded Sampras recovering from a two-set deficit to prevail.

* Best college hoops of the weekend has to be Kentucky and Arkansas going at it Super Sunday on ABC (2 p.m.) and, tomorrow, Kansas and Connecticut staging a men's and women's twin bill starting at 1:30 p.m. on CBS. Channel 54 sends along Maryland's visit to stumbling Duke tomorrow (4 p.m.).

* Don't you just love surveys? One uncovered the fact that a quarter of women contacted said they won't watch the Super Bowl, as opposed to less than 9 percent of men. Astonishing! Here's one advertisers are happy with: Nearly 50 percent of viewers say they'll watch a Super Bowl commercial, up considerably from the third who watch ads during the regular season.

* Too bad Bruce Lietzke didn't take part in a few more PGA Tour events. The sometimes golfer, after losing a playoff at the Mercedes Championships following a period in which he barely touched his clubs for more than a month, was reminded of an old Ben Hogan theorem: "Every day you miss practicing, it will take you one day longer to be good." Lietzke deadpanned, "Who's this Hogan guy? What's he ever won?"

* Didn't the NFL show mountains of class, zapping irascible old Andy Rooney's contribution to a 75th anniversary program on ABC last night?

* Unbeaten Derrell Coley puts his USBA welterweight title on the line at the Washington Convention Center next Tuesday, taking on Ray Lovato, also undefeated. Completing the USA Network show is Reggie Green challenging Rocky Balboa for his NABF 140-pound crown.

No, it's not Sylvester Stallone, but a guy who has had the name longer than the movie star judging from his career record of 62 wins and 15 losses.

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