If getting through the Sunday bloat of NFL football and the relentless public relations machinery that goes with it is a chore, it's good to know that, at least for half a season, there's TNT, whose Sunday night package provides all the detail of the other NFL carriers, but with an insouciance and charm that no one else delivers.
From this perspective, Sunday's Baltimore-Indianapolis game, seen locally on TNT and Channel 54, was easily the best presentation of a Ravens contest seen so far this year.
TNT's Verne Lundquist and Pat Haden, in their second season together, are a serious challenge to Fox's Pat Summerall and John Madden as the best football pair going and would probably supplant them if not for the fact that their season ends in early November. You certainly need a thesaurus to listen to them, but there's nothing wrong with smart television.
Regular readers of this space know that Lundquist is a longtime favorite. Few announcers, if any, adapt to a change-of-game situation or match their voice to the surrounding crowd better, and no one has a better sense of humor than the wry Lundquist.
At the top of the broadcast, Lundquist took note of the irony attached to the game, with a matchup of past and present Baltimore franchises and a past and present Baltimore coach, Ted Marchibroda, and said, "There's more baggage involved in this one than a Louis Vuitton outlet store." A darned funny line if we've heard one.
Haden, an attorney and former Rams quarterback, is just as bright and clever as Lundquist, and, unlike a lot of football analysts, doesn't overanalyze, saving the key points for key moments.
Early in the fourth, Haden, who had pointed out Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde's inconsistency, jumped all over him for underthrowing a sure touchdown pass to Michael Jackson on a play-action throw. Two plays later, when Testaverde was intercepted by Jeff Herrod, who returned the pass for the eventual game-winning score, Haden rightfully pointed to the underthrow as the setup for the play.
TNT's production, headed by veteran Mike Pearl, is informational, with telling statistics delivered in a pleasing graphics package.
TNT's "Pro Football Tonight," airing just before the game telecast, is a breath of fresh air from the regular pre-game shows, not just because it airs at 7 p.m., when all the afternoon action is completed, but because of the deliciously wicked wit of host Vince Cellini and analyst Mark May.
Cellini, a staple of CNN Sports, walks the fine line of being clever and hip, without being too self-congratulatory or smug, though Ravens owner Art Modell, who tangled with him in an interview earlier this season, might beg to differ.
In delivering Chicago-New Orleans highlights, Cellini mockingly said to Bears linebacker Bryan Cox, who gave an official the bird last week and sharply criticized his teammates for lack of effort in the Green Bay game, "Point the finger at yourself before flipping it at others. I think Aesop said that."
And you know what? He probably did.
May, a former Washington Redskins tackle, is already one of the most insightful studio analysts in his second year on the job, showing a willingness to go out on a limb with bold pronouncements that usually prove correct.
Former Philadelphia quarterback Randall Cunningham still appears to be searching for his role in the studio, and humorist Norman Chad's essay on the similarities between Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda and comedian Bill Cosby sounded like a bad idea that just wouldn't stop itself.
By the numbers
Sunday's Game 5 of the American League Championship Series got a 22.5 rating and 41 share of the available local audience for Channel 11, according to Sharon Walz, that station's ratings researcher.
The five-game average for the series was a 28.7/51 and, given the market's increased size since the Orioles' last postseason appearance in 1983, the 1996 ALCS was probably seen by more Baltimoreans than any other baseball series in local history.
In other ratings highlights, the Ravens-Colts game did a 9.1/14 on Channel 54. Ratings for TNT's coverage were not immediately available.
Pub Date: 10/15/96