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MIKE PENNER

NHL Polishes the Stanley Cup for Network TV

April 19, 1993|MIKE PENNER

Today's unconventional wisdom . . .

Hockey On ABC: The noble experiment begins, and maybe Gary Bettman's "Pucks Across America" campaign has a fighting chance, no pun intended. For the first of its five Sunday playoff telecasts, ABC brought out its first line--Al (Miracle On Ice) Michaels at play-by-play, insightful John Davidson at the color slot, John Saunders in the studio with ESPNesque cutaways to other games, interviews with Wayne Gretzky between periods and slick filler features. Funny, it looked like a prime-time sport to me. ABC got lucky and got a high-scoring, high-energy game--the only thing better: sudden death--but even at its worst, hockey always moves . So why can't it make it on network TV? This isn't the sport frantically enacting legislation in order to speed up its games.

Gary Bettman: He met ABC halfway on this, and then some. ABC wanted Gretzky but the Kings were scheduled to open Monday night in Calgary. Solution: Move Game 1 to Sunday afternoon, even if it meant increasing the lag time until Game 2 on Wednesday. The Kings can probably handle the inconvenience; they're spending the two off-days in Banff. Meanwhile, the sport gets to sell its biggest, if most fragile, star to a national audience. It should have happened years ago, long before Gretzky's back went out, but years ago, this was John Ziegler's league.

Wayne Gretzky: Has a charley horse ever been covered with such gravity? "Gretzky's Thigh Hurts, Kings In Disarray, Updates On The Hour."

Bob Miller: Lost amid the sheen of the NHL-ABC merger--and lost is the word for it--was the regular-season TV voice of the Kings, the Chick Hearn of hockey. Except Chick would have never been tactlessly booted out of the broadcast booth for a playoff game just because ABC was temporarily moving in, replacing local television coverage for a day. The Kings could have easily moved Miller back to the radio booth for Game 1--he and Nick Nickson were a team that never should have been divided--but instead did nothing, except to incense and embarrass the man who did as much to pioneer hockey in Los Angeles as Marcel Dionne.

Robb Stauber: Goaltenders, play-by-play announcers--the Kings treat them all the same.

The Mighty Ducks: Hope they're taking notes. By the way: If "Pretty Woman," a movie glamorizing prostitution, can get the gleeful rubber stamp from Disney, keeping the Ducks' minor-league affiliate out of Las Vegas for appearances' sake is utter nonsense/blatant hypocrisy/the height of arrogance, take your pick. For years, a West Coast baseball team has peacefully and gainfully coexisted with a triple-A club based in Las Vegas. That team calls itself "the Padres."

Darryl Strawberry: Why Baseball Is Losing Its Fans, Case No. 3054. The furor over one man in the right-field stands attempting to catch a home run ball hit into the right-field stands showed Strawberry to be mistaken about many things, but for brevity's sake, we'll stick to two. 1) That ball was "catchable" if the right fielder's name is Devon White, maybe, but a 50-1 longshot if the name is Darryl Strawberry. 2) Strawberry crossed the line between his territory and the fan's, not vice versa. When an outfielder dives into the crowd, anything is fair play. To single out and humiliate a fan for simply acting like a fan is a quick way to keep more fans away from your turnstiles.

Barry Bonds: Case No. 3055. He's the Magic Johnson of baseball, minus the personality. What's left is an immensely gifted outfielder who is immensely difficult to warm up to, be it teammate, sportswriter or potential fan. Baseball's problem is that Bonds is not alone; too many of the game's "stars" turn bush league once they lay down the bat and glove. A recent survey of fans voting on their most popular athletes left baseball with one name--Bo Jackson--in the Top 20, with Nolan Ryan at No. 21. One is a limping pinch-hitter with an artificial hip, the other retires in October. The game's in great shape.

Charles Barkley: By comparison, positively charming. Borrowing a page from Bo, commercials have made him nearly lovable.

Eric Lindros: Just a major league baseball player in disguise.

Teemu Selanne: Hockey's greatest newest star. Just hockey's luck: He plays in Winnipeg.

Joe Montana: His imminent Chiefdom would be good for all involved, save those 49er fans now clamoring at the gates of DeBartolo Manor. Montana gets three more years and all of Missouri on bended knee for the duration of the contract. The Chiefs get their first real quarterback since Len Dawson. The AFC gets a new preseason favorite, making it safe to watch the Super Bowl again. Steve Young gets a break, finally. And the Rams, once more, can play the 49ers in Anaheim without breaking out in hives every time they glance across at the visitors' sideline.

Steve Young: Of course, he'll only believe it when he sees it--and as of Sunday, the 49ers were talking about coaxing Montana back to camp this summer as the team's "designated starter." Face-saving rhetoric? A negotiating ploy to jack up the compensation from Kansas City? Young would like to believe as much. A man's got to sleep.

David Cone: Then again, from the Kansas City standpoint, there's always a risk in placing too much faith in a free-lance savior imported from the big city.

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