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THE INSIDE TRACK | THE HOT CORNER

A consumer's guide to the best and worst of sports media and merchandise. Ground rules: If it can be read, played, heard, observed, worn, viewed, dialed or downloaded, it's in play here.

December 31, 1996|MIKE PENNER

What: Dueling Year in Review Magazines,

National Sports Review vs. ESPN

For 11 years, the National Sports Review has handily served as a sort of Cramped Man's sports almanac--thinner, cheaper and much easier on the home bookshelf space than the annual cinder block-sized volumes produced by Information Please and Sports Illustrated.

It used to be a neat, unchallenged trick--wrap up the just-concluding sports year in about 150 magazine pages, peppering them with memorable quotes, copious statistics, best and worst rankings, humorous asides and a generally healthy irreverence.

But it's no longer a one-mag market, not with ESPN launching a frontal assault with full-color graphics blazing and a $3.95 newsstand price, one dollar less than the National Sports Review.

ESPN delivers exactly what you'd expect--118 pages you can breeze through during a single sitting of "SportsCenter." Heavy on double-truck photo spreads and headlines borrowing on ESPNese ("Going Yard," "Zapped," "Shaqywood"), this is style-over-substance epitomized. Among the bylines included on these pages: Chris Berman, Robin Roberts, Charley Steiner, Mike Tirico, Dan Patrick.

Behind-the-desk TV talent moonlighting as sports scribes?

About as advisable, I'd say, as Sports Illustrated writers moonlighting as behind-the-desk TV talent.

Quirks? Both magazines have a few. ESPN selected Dwight Gooden's no-hitter as the No. 3 top moment of 1996--ahead of the Chicago Bulls' 72-10 regular season, Evander Holyfield's upset of Mike Tyson, Kerri Strug's vault and Greg Norman's Masters collapse. The National Sports Review's top newsmaker of 1996? Lawrence Phillips, followed by Scottie Pippen, Steve Spurrier and--at No. 6--Phillip Fulmer. (Time's up. He's the head football coach at Tennessee.)

ESPN has one notable advantage over the National Sports Review: Deadlines. ESPN has features on the Yankees' World Series triumph and such 1996 NFL story lines as Ty Detmer, Eddie George and the Baltimore Ravens. The National Sports Review's 1996 baseball coverage ends with the playoffs, and its NFL wrap-up is sorely dated, focusing almost entirely on the 1995 season.

Put them together and you'd have one handsome, informative, up-to-date retrospective. But if you can buy only one for the home library, go with the National Sports Review. More stats, more text, less Berman.

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