Musburger 'looking live' at WLAF won't hurt fledgling league in least

Phil Jackman

March 22, 1991|By Phil Jackman

The TV Repairman:

After the World League of American Football (WLAF) has its inaugural game on the USA Network tomorrow (8 p.m., Montreal at Birmingham), the big boys (ABC) move in Sunday to, in effect, decree the latest spring football experiment officially under way.

Never has a fledgling operation had so much going for it from the git-go, the main pluses being the blessing and full backing of the NFL and, in the announcing booth, Brent Musburger.

When, come 1 p.m., the familiar voice of CBS past intones, "You are looking live at Barcelona Stadium," the league will have come at least twice as far as many thought possible as late as 20 minutes ago.

Brent, who can stoke the fires as well as anyone, has been the very picture of neutrality so far, stating, "I'm not sure what we can expect on the field. But I know one thing. The league office and the NFL have looked over all their options, checked out the markets and if anyone knows what it's doing when it comes to television, it's the NFL. They're optimistic."

As for football being able to grab a substantial audience in the face of baseball starting in two weeks and the pro basketball and hockey playoffs looming, Musburger cites the NFL's conclusion that the USFL would have been a viable product today if it had stayed in the spring.

"There are huge sections of the country that will always watch football and, for the most part, the league isn't going head-to-head against baseball in hotbeds like Los Angeles, Chicago and Detroit. That should help," he said.

"We're not going to walk up and beat the NBA or the [NCAA] regionals this week, but that's not the expectation. ABC signed a pretty good [two-year, $25 million] deal that dictates it doesn't have to get big ratings to make a little money, and that's what television sports is all about these days."

Dick Vermeil joins Musburger as analyst for the New York/New Jersey vs. Barcelona game and the always upbeat one says in checking out all the training camps in Florida recently, he was "pleasantly surprised by the quality of play."

"All the guys had been to pro camps with the NFL or in Canada, so they knew what they were doing," Vermeil said. "The players all showed great enthusiasm."

All ABC hopes is that you out there in TV land not only have your eyes open but trained on the Knights and Dragons until they start hooping them up.

* Tomorrow night, 10 o'clock, Showtime, see for yourself what all the hollering was about after referee Richard Steele stopped the Mike Tyson-Razor Ruddock bout in the seventh round Monday night. Take note of Steele not even looking at or speaking to Ruddock after Tyson pummels him into the ropes, but simply jumping in and halting it.

All the men involved have been invited into a New York studio to tell their side of the story, which means Ruddock will be there, the referee might and Tyson won't. Next replay of the show next Wednesday will include highlights of the Simon Brown-Maurice Blocker and Julio Cesar Chavez-Johnny Duplessis bouts.

* Program note: The night of the NCAA title game, April 1, Stan Charles and Paul Baker will be on WCAO-AM with their "Hoops" show at 7 p.m., not three hours later.

* It's uncanny how the folks calling the shots in TV know just what the public is clamoring for. Aware of how big the "John Madden's All-Pro Team" special has become, making it to prime time, ESPN Video is producing "Dick Vitale's Superstars of College Basketball." The Bald Balladeer will pick his top players from the '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s topped by his (drum roll) all-time Rolls Royce team. "Tommy Gola, bay-bee, he did it all for the Explorers back in the mid-'50s."

* Don't go hunting for the Lipton International tennis tourney on Channel 13 tomorrow (1 p.m.). WJZ is picking up one of those Robin Leach specials about the swells. It will rejoin the net set on ABC Sunday (4 p.m.).

* ESPN is doing the four NCAA women's regional finals tomorrow at noon, 2, 6:30 and midnight while the men's Southeast and West finals are scheduled for 4:40 and 7:03 p.m. on CBS . . . On Sunday, the men's East and Midwest showdowns go at 1:40 and 4 p.m.

* Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, whose team lost in the opening round of both the Big East and NCAA tournaments, on his lot in life: "People expect you to win in Syracuse . . . all the time. If we were playing the Lakers they'd expect a win." But Villanova and Richmond, Coach?

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