Must See TV: Ryan, Lupica and the Sports Reporters

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Top Ten Sports News TV Shows


   1.  Sports Reporters, ESPN, Sunday morning

John Saunders hosts a lively half-hour roundtable discussion that usually includes Bob Ryan, who is the ultimate authority on basketball, and Mike Lupica, who is the ultimate authority on just about everything else.  Each Sunday morning on ESPN or one of its offshoot channels, this panel explores in some depth and lots of humor the four or five main sports issues of the week.  The clever “parting shots” – as well as a few openers — deal with what isn’t discussed in depth.

These superstars of sports media describe the key moments so vividly you feel like you never missed them even if you did.  If only the Sunday morning news shows had comparable talent.


  2.  Inside the NFL, Showtime, Wednesday night

This show lives up to its billing.  It really does take you inside, to places only credentialed reporters get to go:  the locker rooms, the sidelines.  NFL Films mikes up players and coaches so you see and hear the violent thumping, the quarterbacks reprimanding their receivers and arguing with their coaches.  Watch this show and you will see why Bill Belichick is a great coach and Jason Garrett is at the other end.

But even more compelling than the film footage is the thoughtful commentary and merciless banter of Phil Simms and his nemesis Cris Collinsworth.   Surely they do not dislike each other as much as they seem to.  Collinsworth is a lawyer who’s very logical and measured, while Simms is more the gunslinger who Bill Parcells refused to let sling.  Free at last, he takes his shots again and again.


  3.  Rome, CBS Sports Network, Weeknights, early evening

Jim Rome, the sharpest, wittiest and edgiest of all talking heads, sallies forth with bold commentary that seamlessly links sports with pop culture.  Thankfully, he avoids most of the jungle lingo he developed for his national radio call-in show.

Rome has guests who are not as well known as the Sports Reporters listed above but are just as knowledgeable and prone to worthwhile opinion.  Still, this is a one-star vehicle for the host.  Don’t miss the start, which features his daily “bullets.”


  4.  NFL Monday QB, CBS Sports Network, Monday evening

For those of us who can’t get enough of Phil Simms, here he is again, appearing with such other candid and articulate ex-quarterbacks as Rich Gannon and Steve Beuerlein.  These guys hold nothing back, offering incisive and detailed critiques of today’s quarterbacks.  They bring the X’s and O’s alive with descriptions of what the players are doing and trying to do.


  5.  Tim Brando Show, CBS Sports Network, weekday mornings

The best talk show on college football.  Tim Brando is opinionated, with opinions you can trust.  His show, like Rome’s on radio, does a good job of screening callers.  Of course, the nonentities who call in tend to be not nearly as interesting as the coaches and reporters Brando interviews.  His folksy charm masks a shrewd and probing intellect.  A regular guest, Tony Barnhart, may be America’s best reporter of college football.


   6.  Colin’s New Football Show, ESPN 2, Sunday 8 a.m. CST

This show can be hard to track down because it moves around.  But it deserves a prominent and consistent slot, because Colin Cowherd has interesting guests and ideas.  One highlight is a segment on how Las Vegas “sharps” forecast the day’s NFL games.

Such as Sunday’s AFC West showdown between Denver and Kansas City:  “The sharps like Denver.  This game opened at 8, ticked up to 8 ½, and now you’ve got 56% of the action from the public coming in on Kansas City.  . . .  The sharps are really off of Kansas City. . . because they haven’t played anybody.”

There’s also interesting information on college games.  In Sunday’s show a forecast was issued for Alanama-Auburn:  “This line is two weeks away and it’s probably going to be Alabama -14.”

Here’s a dire prediction by Cowherd on Texas A&M:  “Kevin Summlin’s leaving and Johnny Football’s leaving, and it’s going to be a much different program in one year.  . . . I think Sumlin will be great wherever he goes.  I don’t think Johnny Football will be as great, where he goes.”


   7.  Pardon the Interruption, ESPN, weekday afternoons 4:30 CST

Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon cover the entire sporting front but often seem to be arguing just to be arguing.  Not a vast amount of insight here, and they rarely do interviews.  But for a half-hour go-round on the sports issues of the day, it can’t be beat for coverage that’s concise, accurate and surprisingly ample.


    8.  NBA Gametime, NBA TV (weekday mornings, multiple times)

Wide-ranging commentary on pro basketball.  Shaquille O’Neil is the main attraction, and he does manage, for the most part, to avoid mumbling while issuing some pointed evaluations.  Kenny Smith is more eloquent and more often on target.  You yearn for a guest appearance by Charles Barkley.


    9.  Playbook AFC and NFC, NFL Network (Friday evening)

These game previews are designed for the fan who wants to see how the X’s and O’s play out from the way they’re designed.  Sterling Sharpe, Brian Billick, Brian Baldinger, Matt Millen and other experts explore key matchups, breaking down the film in detail to show how plays succeed and fail.  Surprisingly, for a network owned by the NFL, the commentary is highly critical of individual players and coaches.

     10.  Inside College Football, CBS Sports Network (Tuesday 6 p.m. CST)

Randy Cross, former Pro Bowl guard of the 49ers, is the star of a group that provides reliable evaluation and commentary on college football teams.  Adam Archuleta, former NFL safety, is also sharp with his analysis.


Close – and getting better

       Fox Football Daily, Fox Sports Network (multiple times)

This one is a work in progress.  Randy Moss, Brian Urlacher and Ronde Barber were all playing pro football a year ago, and now they’re making the difficult transition into pro media.  So of course they’re not as relaxed and forthcoming as their fellow ex-jocks who are experienced analysts.

Moss has a sense of humor that occasionally breaks through his icy reserve.  Urlacher, one of  the smartest middle linebackers who ever played, and Barber, a hugely underrated and perceptive cornerback, are likewise struggling to break free of the shackles the coaches and organizations put on them for so long.  But if the network is patient, these guys will prove to be fast learners.




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