NBC gets delay-of-game penalty for sitting on Harbaugh-Kelly tiff

Media Watch

November 04, 1997|By Milton Kent

What a touching milieu was to be presented Sunday during NBC's NFL pre-game show when Jim "Warrior Quarterback" Harbaugh and Jim Kelly, he of the armor-piercing tongue, kissed and made nice before the nation.

There were just two problems with the scene. The first was that Harbaugh -- who broke a bone in his right hand after supposedly taking a poke at Kelly the weekend before for remarks the former Buffalo quarterback-turned-commentator made about Harbaugh's toughness -- had the good sense not to show up for the staged event.

The second is that it should have happened a week earlier.

Kelly would not elaborate on what took place between himself and Harbaugh during an NBC production meeting the day before the Oct. 26 telecast of the Colts-San Diego game, except to say that the entire encounter lasted "about 10 seconds" but no punches were thrown. "We had a little altercation," said Kelly.

In a rather bizarre twist, studio analyst Sam Wyche, who spoke to Harbaugh during the week, recounted what the Colts cruiserweight told him: that Kelly and Harbaugh went into a separate room to discuss what Kelly had said and a brief scuffle ensued.

The important thing, from the perspective of Wyche and all the other NBC studio analysts, who each took a turn patting Kelly on the back for standing up for his convictions, was that the matter was settled and it was time to move on.

Sorry, guys, but the important thing here is that somebody, whether it was Kelly or some NBC producer or executive, sat on this for a week.

Now, depending on how conspiratorially your mind operates, one of four things happened:

If you accept the story that the scuffle took place out of the view of others, then (1) either Kelly, who looked sincerely embarrassed by the whole proceeding, truly didn't believe the matter was important and didn't say anything, or (2) he did tell someone from NBC and they didn't think it was a big deal or (3) they didn't know that Harbaugh was hurt or (4) they tried to milk it.

Of the choices, the last frankly seems the least likely, especially given NBC's bent for self-promotion. It's hard to believe that if someone at the network had a true sense that Harbaugh had hurt himself fighting with an NBC commentator they wouldn't have made total hay of it that day. Indeed, after ESPNEWS broke the story last Monday, NBC not only discussed the topic during the pre-game show Sunday, but at halftime of its Navy-Notre Dame telecast Saturday.

The upshot of it all is that Kelly, who wasn't, shall we say, on the A-list of commentators, probably had his profile raised by the whole incident. Still, it is interesting that NBC's credibility is such that many in the industry believe they deliberately sat on the story.

By the way, we found it interesting last week that Brent Musburger, during an ESPN Radio commentary, referred to Kelly's booth work as "mediocre." While that might be true, it was entirely inappropriate for Musburger, who, frankly, would have to rise a couple of levels to get to mediocre, to pass judgment on another announcer, particularly someone who works for a competitor.

The Florida Room

ESPN will be getting some use out of its Disney World facilities over the next couple of nights with a couple of interesting telecasts.

Tonight, it will air an "Outside the Lines" special centering on a perceived decline of sportsmanship at 7: 30 with a town meeting to follow at 8 from the Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, with a number of athletes and executives discussing the topic.

At 9 p.m. tomorrow, the channel presents, for the first time, the Major League Baseball Players Choice awards, again from the Disney complex. The awards, voted on by players, will be handed out to the outstanding player, pitcher, rookie and comeback player in each league, as well as to the overall player and man of the year.

In a related subject, Hyperion, a publishing subsidiary of Disney, will begin publishing a line of ESPN-related books, starting this fall with the release of the Information Please Sports Almanac, and continuing into the spring with guides to the X-Games, pro football and a look at the best things ever said on ESPN.

In case you've forgotten, Disney has an 80 percent stake in ESPN, through its ownership of ABC.

Peak performance

Maybe because they've been so good together for so long, it's easy to just take the work of Fox's Pat Summerall and John Madden and their production crew for granted, but they were simply fabulous during Sunday's Dallas-San Francisco telecast.

While the booth duo were up to their usual excellent standards, producer Bob Stenner and director Sandy Grossman went above and beyond with terrific pictures and telling replays, particularly on a hotly disputed non-pass interference call late in the game involving Dallas' Michael Irvin and Rod Woodson of the 49ers.

Meanwhile, Fox, with a significant amount of giddiness, announced yesterday that it had secured the rights to the Cotton Bowl for three years, starting in 1999. The broadcast wing of Fox got the rights from its cable arm, Fox Sports Net, for the Cotton Bowl, which pits a Big 12 team against a team from either the Pac-10 or the WAC.

Pub Date: 11/04/97

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