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ON SPORTS MEDIA

Cowboys continue to have hook on U.S. sports viewers

December 26, 2008|DIANE PUCIN

According to the numbers that come in to Nielsen Media Research, which measures what people are watching on television, the Dallas Cowboys are still America's Team.

Really.

"I'm not surprised," said Tom Ziangas, senior vice president for sport at Nielsen. "No. 1, the Cowboys are still very competitive on the field. No. 2, it's always a soap opera.

"I'm not a big Cowboys fan, but I do understand the Cowboy phenomenon. There's been the mystique of Gil Brandt, Tom Landry, now a flamboyant owner, Jerry Jones, a line of coaches who are personalities. The numbers don't lie. People love it."

For example, the Sept. 15 "Monday Night Football" game on ESPN in which Dallas beat Philadelphia, 41-37, had 18.6 million viewers, the most ever for a cable program.

The Cowboys' 20-8 victory over New York Giants on Dec. 14 was seen by 23 million, making it the most-watched game in the three years of Sunday night football on NBC. The Cowboys-Green Bay Packers game Sept. 21 and the Cowboys-Washington Redskins game on Nov. 16 are, so far, the second- and third-highest-ranked Sunday night games this year.

The Dec. 20 NFL Network Saturday game (usually the NFL Network games are on Thursdays), in which the Baltimore Ravens beat the Cowboys, 33-24, drew 5.76 million viewers, the highest-rated NFL Network game this season and second-highest NFL Network numbers in two years. What's No. 1? The Packers-Cowboys game in 2007 which had 10 million viewers.

"The NFL may be the best-marketed professional sports league there is," Ziangas said, "and the Cowboys are one of the best-marketed teams there is. It's a pretty potent combination."

So there's no use complaining when we get blanket coverage on any Terrell Owens controversy or about whom Tony Romo is dating. The Cowboys play the Eagles on Sunday. It's televised nationally on Channel 11. I don't have to tell you to tune in. You already do.

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Slam-dunking away

The Orlando Magic's Dwight Howard will defend his NBA slam dunk title Feb. 14 at US Airways Center in Phoenix as part of the NBA All-Star Saturday night festivities that will be broadcast on TNT and also in theaters across the country in 3-D.

Also competing will be Rudy Gay of the Memphis Grizzlies and Nate Robinson of the New York Knicks, the 2006 winner.

The fourth competitor will be picked from a list of three rookies in an online vote. The candidates are: Russell Westbrook, former UCLA guard now with the Oklahoma City Thunder; Joe Alexander of West Virginia and the Milwaukee Bucks; and Rudy Fernandez of Spain and now the Portland Trail Blazers.

Fans can vote at NBA.com/dunk.

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Walking away

If anyone has the need to gain some sports perspective, take a look at ESPN's "Outside the Lines" show Sunday (6 a.m. PST, rebroadcast on ESPN News at 9 a.m.).

It is the story of 2008 Naismith National High School female player of the year Elena Delle Donne, a 6-foot-4 guard who had earned a scholarship to top-ranked Connecticut. Delle Donne went to Connecticut over the summer but walked away from the scholarship and basketball.

She told her parents she hadn't had fun playing basketball since she was 13 even though her talent was enough that she has been called the female version of LeBron James.

Because extremely talented female players don't have that golden future of multimillion dollar contracts, maybe they have more freedom to walk away.

After checking out Delle Donne's story, see whether you wonder how many equally talented males might have wanted to quit basketball but can't leave behind the possibility of extreme financial success.

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Good to watch Saturday

The Washington State at Louisiana State basketball game at 11 a.m. on ESPN2 is the intriguing kind of nonconference matchup that is just fun.

How is former Stanford coach Trent Johnson doing at LSU? How is Washington State freshman Klay Thompson, son of Lakers radio broadcaster Mychal Thompson, doing?

If you have time to watch only one of the three college bowl games, try the Emerald Bowl with California against Miami at 5 p.m. on ESPN. That way you don't waste the whole day watching bowl football.

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Good to watch Sunday

You'll be glad to have skipped a couple of those Saturday bowl games so you can give complete attention to the daylong NFL feast. If it's on, it has playoff implications (or offers a chance to watch Brett Favre maybe for the last time).

The schedule:

New England at Buffalo (Channel 2) and New York Giants at Minnesota (Channel 11) at 10 a.m.; and Dallas at Philadelphia (Channel 11) and Miami at the New York Jets (Channel 2) at 1:15 p.m.

Then it's Denver at San Diego in the NBC "Sunday Night Football" big finish.

Is that too much? Maybe.

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diane.pucin@latimes.com

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