Sports ready to offer respite from war


January 18, 1991|By RAY FRAGER

Bomb, blitz, trenches -- the language of war and football normally is so intertwined, but probably not this weekend.

The National Football League is planning to go ahead with its conference title games Sunday, and NBC and CBS are planning to televise them. The first guy to talk about "war in the trenches," though, might end up getting tossed out on his earphones.

"I've never used those words," said John Madden of CBS, which will carry the National Football Conference championship between the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers (channels 11, 9, 4 p.m.).

But Madden said if he'd try to muzzle himself, he might as well not show up behind the microphone at all.

"If you start thinking, 'I can't use this. I can't use that.' . . . you can't react," Madden said in a news conference a few hours before war started in the Persian Gulf on Wednesday evening.

"The whole thing is peace is threatened, and games become a very small part of it."

Terry Bradshaw of CBS' "NFL Today" said Wednesday afternoon: "If we declare war, I would have a hard time seeing any reason for any football. The most important thing would be the men and women who are dying."

If the games go on, though, Bradshaw said he'll be there.

"I'll work them," he said. "I'm under contract to CBS. I'm not going to protest."

"Naturally, there is [a pall on the game]," said Dick Enberg of NBC, which has Sunday's American Football Conference title game between the Los Angeles Raiders and Buffalo Bills (channels 2, 4, 12:30 p.m.). "Obviously, NBC News has first priority.

"We will conduct the game as we would any other game. There will be a more somber tone."

Such a tone also will be evident in sports segments of local newscasts. Each is being cut by one to three minutes, back to about two minutes.

"I think for me to go out and do a full-blown sportscast would be an intrusion," Channel 13's John Buren said. "No one's going to care who wins or loses games."

Scott Garceau said Channel 2 would have "rather truncated" sports reports. Like his colleagues at channels 11 and 13, Garceau plans to report on how events in the Gulf relate to sports -- such things as scheduling, security and the impact of having teammates or relatives in the service.

"We'll be just very much in the background," Channel 11's Vince Bagli said, "weave ourselves into the machine of the newscast as unobtrusively as possible."

WBAL Radio's Jeff Rimer also is giving way to war coverage, with his nightly sports talk show yielding to news and news talk for the time being.

At ESPN, where sports can't be unobtrusive, because that's all the network does, spokesman Dave Nagle said: "I think you'll notice a different tone to our telecasts, stating the relative importance of sports. But, as long as games continue, it's our job to cover them."

ESPN's Dick Vitale was scheduled to cover a game Wednesday night, but the North Carolina-North Carolina State basketball matchup was postponed. And that was just as well with the normally irrepressible announcer.

"A guy like me who's usually up, up, up was in no mood to talk basketball," Vitale said yesterday. "Last night [Wednesday], vintage Vitale -- or whatever you want to call it. . . . I wouldn't have been myself."

But Vitale said: "I think you have a responsibility to do your job. I guess I'll just have to play it by the moment."

As sportscasters continue to play it by the moment throughout the war, they would do well to remember what Bob Ley of ESPN's "SportsCenter" said this week: "We offer games not as an escape from events, but as a respite."

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