CBS Sports comes out of doldrums


To the list of recent big-time comeback stories that includes Michael Jordan and Monica Seles, add CBS Sports, which took a big step toward rebounding from a nearly two-year football-induced stupor with a pretty impressive effort at last night's Fiesta Bowl national championship game.

The Eye network was in sharp focus from the top of the broadcast to the end, hitting all the story lines and providing clear, crisp pictures in a manner that would make you forget that it had been out of the big-time football business for almost two years, since it lost the NFC package to Fox after the 1993-94 season.

There was no shortage of stars for CBS on the evening, from pre-game and halftime host Pat O'Brien to guest analyst Boomer Esiason to play-by-play man Jim Nantz, who at times seemed a bit ill at ease but was usually high-quality.

Esiason was bright and full of energy, and served notice that he will be a valuable commodity either in the studio or the booth, when he decides to retire.

The occasionally slick to the point of oiliness O'Brien was more than manageable, setting a mood and moving the telecast along nicely.

The game, the Super Bowl of college football, was as big a blowout as the NFL version usually is, but the CBS technical crew, led by producer Craig Silver and director Mike Arnold, did a splendid job of capturing Nebraska's dominance, particularly with the best picture of the night, a field-level replay of Cornhuskers quarterback Tommie Frazier's 75-yard, third-quarter touchdown run in which he broke at least six tackles.

The evening's one disappointment was analyst Terry Donahue, who seemed to trot all the coaching cliches right off the UCLA sidelines, which he left last week, right down to a reflexive defense of Nebraska coach Tom Osborne's handling of the Lawrence Phillips situation.

CBS, which returns to a heavy-duty college football schedule next season with Big East and Southeastern Conference regular-season games, would do well to swap Donahue and Pat Haden, who was the top analyst when the network last did college football.

As for the Phillips matter, in which the running back pleaded no contest to charges that he beat up Kate McEwen, a Nebraska women's basketball player, CBS, which has had a couple of highly publicized problems with its commentators and their attitudes about women (see Ben Wright and John McEnroe), did a solid, if not spectacular job in presenting the issue.

O'Brien jumped right on the matter in the pre-game show, pointedly asking Phillips if he escaped serious punishment and if another African-American student at Nebraska would have received the same treatment.

Likewise, O'Brien picked at Osborne, tellingly photographed in shadow, with tough but fair questions, while Nantz rebuffed Donahue's suggestion that the entire university shared in the blame for the outcome of the Phillips case.

The Nebraska fans at Sun Devil Stadium serenaded the CBS personnel with an audible obscene cheer, suggesting the network had been too tough on the school with its coverage, but CBS had nothing to apologize for.

Aparicio revisited

It's not our usual policy to get into a hissing match with Nestor Aparicio of WWLG (1360 AM), but one remark, made during the 5:30 half-hour of last night's show, was of such poor taste that it deserves a clarification.

Aparicio condemned this column yesterday for not criticizing Stan "The Fan" Charles last August when Charles verbally attacked him on the air, saying that Charles had "pulled down my [Aparicio's] pants and raped me."

To set the record straight, Charles' original criticism came after Aparicio had accused him on the air of, to phrase it delicately, kissing up to this columnist to get a favorable review. Even if Aparicio's view of history were correct, whatever Charles said that night did not warrant yesterday's inflammatory analogy.

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