As proof that money can salve even the most substantial hurt feelings, Major League Baseball and ESPN put aside their squabbling over Sunday night baseball telecasts and announced the settlement of a lawsuit filed by ESPN.
The two parties reached agreement on a new six-year deal to run through 2005 that the Associated Press reports is worth $800 million. It will boost the number of hours of coverage on ESPN channels from about 500 to more than 800 annually, with a new package of Wednesday games, select Sunday games and a Sunday highlight show, "Baseball 2Day," on ESPN2.
It was the movement of games from ESPN to ESPN2 to accommodate Sunday night football telecasts that triggered the nastiness in the first place.
ESPN, after receiving the season rights to NFL Sunday night telecasts two years ago, attempted to move Sunday September baseball games to ESPN2, citing a clause that allowed it to pre-empt baseball up to 10 times, with baseball's approval.
MLB, meanwhile, attempted to cancel its ESPN contract, which was scheduled to run out after the 2002 season, claiming ESPN had breached the deal by moving games, and returned the broadcast rights to local stations. The decision cost a national audience a chance to see the 1998 game during which Cal Ripken's consecutive-games streak came to an end.
U.S. District Judge Shira Schindlein, who was to hear the case, asked the two sides to try to reach a settlement last week, and MLB's hand appeared to have been forced when ESPN presented a document that showed that baseball had granted pre-emptions for golf, hockey and racing.
ESPN also presented a letter in which baseball had asked for $130 million -- more than triple the $40 million ESPN is currently paying -- to permit the football pre-emptions.
ESPN, which frankly needed baseball after losing NASCAR rights last month, agreed that it will air two games for every Sunday night game that it shifts, with one of them coming on Friday nights in September to pick up meaningful pennant race games. The second of those games will air on ESPN2 on Sunday nights earlier in the season.
ESPN has also received the right to air more highlights during "SportsCenter" and will extend its radio contract through 2005.
The legend of No. 19
HBO's new documentary on the career of Johnny Unitas, which premieres at 10 p.m. tomorrow, is good, but not great, but that bears no reflection on its subject.
Indeed, the life and times of perhaps the greatest quarterback in NFL history provide brilliant material, and Unitas, who speaks for himself throughout the one-hour film, is alternately cocky and humbled.
There are laugh-out-loud moments, such as when Baltimore native Dick Jerardi, now a writer with the Philadelphia Daily News, remembered from his teen days hitchhiking home and being given a ride by Unitas, who picked him up at the corner of Charles and Belvedere.
The now de rigeur file footage from home movies that is such a staple of HBO projects is fascinating, and the honesty of the participants is honest, never mawkish.
Where things go slightly awry is the film's unwillingness to get its hands dirty with some of the more unpleasant chapters of Unitas' life.
The movie, co-produced by HBO and NFL Films, hints at some of the financial difficulties the quarterback suffered after his retirement, but shies away from detail. Unitas has never shirked from talking about the problem, so why should the film?
And even when the film delves into Unitas' contention that the league owes him benefits from a 1968 elbow injury that has severely hampered his ability to use his right arm, it makes sure to peddle the NFL's side of the story, that Unitas can still work and is not entitled to disability.
"Unitas" may not be the perfect story of a quarterback's life, but it's close enough to be worth the viewing.
Poor shot selection
That was some gratuitous shot that author and college basketball writer John Feinstein took Sunday night at former Georgetown coach John Thompson during the BB&T Classic title game telecast.
In recounting the creation of the tournament, Feinstein, who is on the tournament's board of directors, insinuated that Thompson, who was known for his reticence to schedule local teams, was somehow less committed to the welfare of children, whom the tournament benefits, than coaches who were participating.
And in case anyone missed his ham-handed point, Feinstein said with a smirk, "If that sounded like a shot, then it was."
Feinstein, whose presence on the telecasts is a clear conflict of interest, is certainly entitled to his point of view, and it may even be a valid one. But local viewers certainly didn't tune in to hear him take a swipe at Thompson, who couldn't defend himself.
It's easy to get jaded about the features, teases and opens that adorn sports programming, as many are aimed at pulling every heartstring.
But CBS producers Jim Cornell and Al Szymanski constructed a brilliant, Emmy-worthy launch to Saturday's telecast of the 100th Army-Navy football game.
Graduates of the two academies alternately discussed on film what made the game and their time at the schools so special. Then, the viewer was taken inside Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium, where the entrances of the student bodies of each school had been videotaped over a bed of Ray Charles' "America The Beautiful."
All in all, those four minutes were the best advertisements for military service seen in these parts in a long time.