ESPN frees Patrick of his `SportsCenter' anchor

MEDIA WATCH

September 14, 1999|By Milton Kent

BRISTOL, Conn. -- From his perch at the "SportsCenter" desk, Dan Patrick is the cool, calm, authoritative anchor personified, a guy who looks not to have a care in the world.

And, in a certain sense, he really doesn't have a concern. Patrick, probably the lead "SportsCenter" anchor as the core of the signature 11 p.m. show, has had his appearances trimmed to twice a week -- at his own request.

In addition, ESPN officials have also created a daily radio talk show for Patrick, again at his request, to take his career in a different direction after 10 1/2 years here.

"I never wanted to take this chair for granted. Never. And I thought I was running the risk of taking it for granted and that I was going through the motions," Patrick said to a group of writers gathered here recently for ESPN's 20th anniversary observances.

Patrick said he felt a victim of his own success, and that of "SportsCenter," in that ESPN management had him locked into one role -- 11 p.m. anchor.

"I kept saying, `How do I get to do something else?' and I kept waiting for them to say, `Well, don't be good at this.' That's about the only way I can get off this," said Patrick, host of the channel's "SportsCentury" countdown of the top athletes of the century.

Eventually, Patrick got his wish, and in exchange for doing 120 "SportsCenters" a year, he, like Mike Tirico, Robin Roberts and Chris Berman to name a few, got a measure of freedom from the desk.

"They became flexible, and they needed to," Patrick said of ESPN management. "You can keep everybody under the same umbrella as opposed to [their] saying, `I'm getting out altogether. They had to [be flexible], but thank goodness they did."

Patrick, for the first time since coming over from CNN, has found himself on the receiving end of media criticism, catching heat for a series of commercials he has done for Coors beer.

In the spots, a series of tributes to John Elway, Patrick, who said he did them as a favor to the retired Denver Broncos quarterback, does not hold a beer and does not mention the Colorado brewer by name.

Nonetheless, Patrick has caught flak in some media circles, including in this column, for doing the spots.

Patrick defended his right to do the ads, calling them classy and responsible.

"I did something for a major sponsor, for a Hall of Fame athlete, and I would do it again," Patrick said. "I don't want to be told I shouldn't do something. I'm a grown man."

Patrick, who added that he didn't want to embarrass ESPN, said he was particularly upset by suggestions that his own moral integrity had been compromised by doing the spots, adding that he has done public service announcements against drinking and driving.

He also challenged writers who had criticized him without calling to get his side of the story.

"I thought there were some people [who] would at least have some give and take to understand it or at least call me. If you call me and dissect me, that's one thing. But a hit and run? That's not fair," Patrick said.

On that part of the issue, Patrick is entirely right, and it won't happen here again.

Weekend wanderings

Some random thoughts off a wild weekend of viewing:

CBS' second year of NFL coverage got off to a slightly shaky start Sunday, with a few visual and audible gaffes during the "NFL Today" and a bumpy ride during the Ravens-St. Louis Rams telecast.

Things were much better for the network during its U.S. Open coverage. John McEnroe and Mary Carillo were simply terrific in their commentary of both the men's and women's finals.

McEnroe, who is very much an acquired taste to these ears, was better than he has been previously because he had to be more succinct, what with the presence of the sublime Carillo, who is among the five best analysts in any sport on television.

And viewers apparently caught on, giving the network ratings for Saturday and Sunday that, in both cases, more than doubled last year's numbers, though one could suspect that the high drama of the respective matches and the star quality of the participants contributed to that.

Hey, Matt Millen: Shut up every once in a while, huh? Fox producers and executives are doing Millen a disservice when they don't tell him to stop talking over Dick Stockton. John Madden never talks over Pat Summerall, and Madden is the best.

Do we really need the soundtrack over the highlights on the Sunday night "SportsCenter"? So what if other outlets do it, too; it's a bad idea for them as well. What's next? A disco ball, and Rich Eisen's shirt open to the navel with gold chains?

Coming up

Ravens coach Brian Billick launches his weekly radio show tonight at 7 on WJFK (1300 AM), which also broadcasts defensive lineman Tony Siragusa each Thursday from the Barn on Harford Road at 7 p.m.

And though we'd like to tell you that this month's "Real Sports" is up to the usual excellent vintage, the feature pieces on New York Jets coach Bill Parcells and on Joe Morgan's allegations that baseball is coming up short on its promises to increase minority involvement at the highest levels fall flat. Only Carillo's chilling segment on youth coaches also involved in pedophilia makes you sit up and take notice. The show premieres at 10 p.m. Thursday on HBO.

Pub Date: 9/14/99

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