Goodman sets tone for ESPYs

THE BALTIMORE SUN

For tonight's ESPY Awards on ESPN (9 o'clock), you won't need to have your senses tweaked up too high, as host John Goodman figures his discomfort will be on full display and will be easily detected.

"The smell of fear is in the air. You'll see buckets of flop sweat," Goodman said last week. "I have no idea why they chose me. I have a tuxedo and I don't have to rent one. I guess that's it."

Unlike many celebrities who are athletic wannabes (see Spike Lee, Bill Murray and Hammer), Goodman actually played on the offensive and defensive lines for his high school in suburban St. Louis.

Goodman, taking over ESPY hosting chores for Dennis Miller, who ran the first two editions, isn't your typical pretty boy/comedian/award show host, but his "lovable lunk" persona from movies such as "The Flintstones" and "Raising Arizona," as well as his ongoing stint as the onscreen husband of TV's "Roseanne," should play well for this presentation, which isn't your typical awards show.

Nominations were fielded from a committee of current and former athletes and coaches, journalists and broadcasters from all networks, and placed into, in some cases, bizarre categories that were voted on by the athletes' peers.

For example, the New York Rangers, Houston Rockets, San Francisco 49ers, San Diego Chargers, Nebraska football team and the Marlboro/Team Penske racing squad are all nominated for outstanding team of the year. Nolan Richardson of the defending NCAA men's basketball champion Arkansas Razorbacks and the coaches of the other teams are nominated for best coach/manager of the year.

The ESPYs also offer "awards" for athletes who act in sitcoms or movies, and plays of the year, which were voted on by the viewing and computing public.

The stars came out

NBC once again did itself proud with superior coverage of last night's NBA All-Star Game, clearly surpassing ABC's Pro Bowl telecast of a week before. In fairness to the alphabet network, though, the hardwood contest always has been a superior product to the gridiron version.

Sure, there's no defense in the NBA game, but everyone knows that. What you look for in these games are stars and how they perform among their peers. NBC gave us those in sufficient quantities.

Of particular note was Peter Vecsey's pre-game feature on Detroit's Joe Dumars, an unheralded player who had an interesting story to tell and was led there nicely by Vecsey.

Sideline reporters are usually useless for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the inanity of their questions and comments (see Ahmad "I Talked To Michael Jordan" Rashad). However, Hannah Storm, who has had her moments of irrelevance on the NFL sidelines, demonstrated some moxie with a rather tough round of questioning for Shaquille O'Neal about his getting frozen out of last year's All-Star Game.

Dollars and sense

Anyone who is making a big deal out of last week's announcement that Fox will lose an estimated $350 million from its four-year, $1.58 billion NFL contract is missing a very important point: The network and its owner, Rupert Murdoch, didn't grab pro football to make money, but to earn credibility.

With the purchase of NFC rights and the 1997 Super Bowl, Fox was able to pry away affiliates in large markets such as Atlanta, Phoenix, Detroit, Dallas and Cleveland, something it never could have done without football. The 8-year-old network is closer to being on equal footing with the Big Three (ABC, CBS, NBC) than it ever could have been. As long as Fox can build on that success, Murdoch will look at the $350 million and laugh.

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