Thursday, September 28, 2006

TV: Inside The NFL

I will watch baseball games to the bitter end. Last night I flipped back and forth between two extra inning match-ups with playoff implications, Astros/Pirates and Phillies/Nationals. Heaven.

But football? I’m strictly a highlight man. Which is why my interest in the sport has waned precipitously this season.

ESPN’s NFL Primetime was the undisputed master of the highlight. This Slate article explains why, and also why the show was shunted aside. In short: legal mumbo enforced by NBC in order to give primacy to their truly lousy Football Night in America. (I can’t even type that title without laughing.)

I figured my highlight jones would be covered by HBO’s Inside the NFL. Yes, the show doesn’t debut until Wednesday night, and includes unfunny “comic” commentators and way too many schmaltzy feature stories. But its highlights come from NFL Films, complete with lush cinematography and voice-of-God announcer.

When the show debuted for its 30th season, host Bob Costas said there would be changes in the way games were recapped. At that very moment, a pair of crows flew in through my window and fell dead atop my universal remote. I should have known something was up.

Sure enough, the show got all personality on the highlight reel’s ass. In week one, we watched a Steelers game through the eyes of coach Bill Cowher’s daughter. In week two, we followed around the 49ers team photographer, dressed for some reason like Freddy Kreuger, and then saw twin defensive coordinators square off in the Raiders/Ravens game. Last night the Seahawks/Giants showdown was viewed through the prism of the Hasselbecks, conflicted because son Matt is Seattle’s QB while son Tim, a back-up for the Giants ... never came close to taking the field.

The new format means several games a week get short shrift. It’s not quite, “Oh, yeah, and the Lions won,” but it’s close. The dearth of quality highlights is almost enough to make me abandon football in favor of another sport, like Norwegian women’s curling. The calendar makes a compelling case. (Thanks to ESPN’s Gregg Easterbrook for the link.)

I don’t know why I’m so cranky about this. Maybe it’s because I’m not in Madison, Wisconsin for Bouchercon this weekend meeting some of my favorite novelists and bloggers in person. At least there I’d get highlights from the Green Bay game.