Maybe there is a TV Santa Claus. CBS Sports televised the Baltimore Ravens against the Cleveland Browns on Christmas Eve, and the network didn't force local viewers to endure Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf in the booth.
Happy holidays to you, too, Sean McManus, former Baltimore resident and current president of CBS Sports. Thanks for having a little mercy on us.
I'm not saying the broadcast team CBS gave us, Spero Dedes and Rich Gannon, was great guns. But it was better than we have been getting lately on the home of "Hawaii Five-O" and the 10,000 other prime-time shows I saw endless promos for on Saturday afternoon.
Here's what I liked about the Christmas Eve coverage from CBS of the Ravens 20-14 victory over the Browns.
Dedes brought energy to the play-by-play compared to Gumbel or even Bill Macatee, the other CBS play-by-play guy we have been cursed with lately. On TV, energy can make up for a lot of broadcasting sins.
The general pace and tone of his call of the game was crisp and confident. And best of all, he never wavered in terms of intensity , even when the game started to feel like a yawner at 20-0, before the Browns made a fourth quarter comeback that left the game in doubt right up to the final two minutes. Gumbel defines late-game drift at the microphone.
I also enjoyed the way Dedes continually re-capped the game narrative as CBS returned from timeouts and commercials – many, many commercials for CBS shows. In fact, he did more than-re-cap; he often re-set the game narrative.
"And what a turn of events," Dedes said, for example, as the Ravens came up over the ball first and goal early in the game after a pass interference penalty. "Cleveland had been driving down the field. And then, the interception. And now, it will face a first and goal from the Ravens."
As for Gannon, he was not so much an improvement.
On the plus side, he was a bit more plugged into the flow of the game than someone like Tasker or Dierdorf. But, I'm sorry, after Cris Collinsworth's performance last week on the Ravens NBC game, where he offered something after virtually every play, Gannon gets at best a grade of C-.
He had one theme that he hit over and over: "The Browns don't have good enough talent" to overcome the kinds of "penalties, turnovers and mental mistakes" that they make.
He's right; I'm not criticizing him for that, but he never went deeper than that, and so, he was never able to take viewers inside the games within the games on the field the way Collinsworth and NBC do.
My biggest frustration with Gannon was his soft and largely out-of-focus comments on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. When Flacco seemed to lose concentration late in the game, and the Ravens went into an offensive skid, I thought, "OK, here's a former quarterback who can take me inside Flacco's head and tell me how it is that he can look like an all-pro for one stretch of the game, and then complete only 2 out of his next 11 passes."
But Gannon never came close to offering any insights on Flacco's up-and-down performance. I don't know if he is just lazy or does not have the ability to deconstruct the play of others and explain it to a general audience.
Whatever the case, he didn't offer us any insights Saturday on Flacco's uneven performance. He defines superficial.
As for the overall production, I had the sense that the producers were trying a little harder than has been the case with some other Ravens games on CBS. And they offered one camera perspective on a couple of occasions that I really enjoyed.
It's what you would see if you were standing in an end zone behind the home team as it started to huddle, and you looked out toward the field. The feeling is that of being in a bowl, with your line of vision going only as far up as the lights at the other end of the stadium.
CBS Sports used to use this point of view repeatedly with its coverage in the 1960s, and it transported you to the stadium, making you feel as if you were there. Now, they rarely use it. I saw it twice Saturday, and loved it.
I also liked the effort – small as it was – of someone capturing images of toy trains and Christmas trees in Baltimore and using them as CBS came back to the game from commercial.
I would have liked to see more Christmas dressing for this December 24th telecast. But I guess that would take more commitment than CBS Sports had been making to the Ravens games this year.