Super-modified shovel racing helps ESPN plow new ground

THE BALTIMORE SUN

If we are to believe our friends at ESPN (and, for heck's sake, why wouldn't we?), this conversation no doubt took place in countless American homes:

Dad: "You know, Junior, while I did at first scoff at that sky-surfing and street luge in the X Games, after a week of watching those, what do you call, extreme sports, I've found that their absence has left me with an aching void that cannot be filled with mere football and basketball."

Junior: "I fully concur. But it's the middle of winter, mine papa. What are we to do?"

Dad: "Well, perhaps those smart people at ESPN will think of the winter equivalent and present them for us to enjoy in the comfort of our very own home."

Or something like that.

From their lips to programmers' ears, it's the Winter X Games, the frosty equivalent of the summer concoction of little-known, life-threatening sports that seemingly struck a chord with kids, their parents and, most importantly, advertisers.

During the next four days, starting with tonight's opening (ESPN2, 8 p.m.), college basketball takes a back seat to snowboarding, ice climbing and that super-modified shovel racing that the poor elf in the promo gave his life for.

"It's great to see these kinds of things appearing on ESPN. Taking nothing away from football or basketball, but this is a breath of fresh air," said Dan Hanebrink, a 57-year-old snow mountain bike racer and former aerospace engineer who is now known as the "Sultan of Speed."

Besides the sports and the athletes, the ESPN family of networks plans to display some really neat technology, as it did in the X Games, including point-of-view cameras on people, shovels and ponds, as well as 3-D virtual animation with live, real-time digital computer graphics.

Mike Adamle and Chris McKendry will be hosts of 17 1/2 hours of proceedings from the Snow Summit Mountain Resort in Big Bear Lake, Calif. For the cable-challenged, ABC, ESPN's corporate parent, will air 30 minutes of highlights on Saturday's "Wide World of Sports" (Channel 2, 4: 30 p.m.).

Yes! And it counts

A tip of the cap to NBC's Marv Albert and ESPN's Chris Berman, who were voted Sportscasters of the Year by the American Sportscasters Association in balloting released yesterday.

Albert, his network's voice of the NBA, was selected for play-by-play; Berman, who is host of "NFL Countdown," received his second consecutive award for studio work, in voting conducted among the ASA's membership.

In case you were wondering, Bob Costas and Dick Enberg were ineligible to win again because they were four-time winners. Albert will pick up his hardware at the ASA's dinner March 18 in New York. Berman will be there if his ailing knee permits.

Tuning in

Apparently, just watching Fox's telecast of Super Bowl XXXI wasn't enough for about 500,000 people, who also stopped by the NFL's official game site for real-time audio accounts of the proceedings on the Internet.

That number is the largest to hear any real-time audio over the World Wide Web, according to AudioNet, the league's audio server, and a mammoth increase from the 32,000 who listened in last year.

Just a thought

OK, it's a few days after the fact, but how could Fox's John Madden have left Franco Harris off his all-time Super Bowl team? Harris is the career rushing leader in Super Bowl history and was the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl IX.

Granted, Walter Payton, who was named with Larry Csonka and John Riggins, is the career rushing leader in NFL history, but he played in only one Super Bowl and his 61 yards rushing in Supe XX don't even make the top 15 in single-game performances.

Another thought

Why is it notable that Jesse Jackson is calling for Dennis Rodman's reinstatement? Yet again, Jackson, a publicity-seeker of the highest magnitude, has taken up a cause without apparently understanding all the issues involved, and on behalf of someone who doesn't have a leg or an ill-placed foot to stand on.

Let it go, Jesse. Let it go.

Pub Date: 1/30/97

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