Summerall may have lost step but still keeps pace

MEDIA WATCH

January 21, 2000|By Milton Kent

The day comes for every great athlete, when the fastball becomes a little more hittable, when the usually easy save becomes more challenging or the 65-yard spiral tops out at 55 yards or less.

It's true about broadcasting too. For 19 years, Pat Summerall and John Madden have reigned as sports broadcasting's top announcer pair, but now come the whispers that perhaps Summerall has lost a few miles off his fastball.

A number of television columnists and radio talk show hosts have, in less than genteel terms, noted that Summerall, who will be 70 in May, made some noticeable mistakes during last weekend's playoff game, and wondered aloud if it wasn't time for him to retire.

As a conference call to promote Fox's coverage of Sunday's NFC championship game wrapped up yesterday, Madden delivered a passionate defense of his longtime partner, pointing out that the fast pace of today's game makes it difficult for anyone to keep up with every change.

"I don't like it [the criticism]," said Madden. "When you go out and you do live TV for three hours, everyone is going to make mistakes. You can pick and nitpick any way you want. After it's all over, it's easy to talk, but when you're doing it, it's difficult."

Madden said he and Summerall haven't discussed the criticism.

"He won't bring it up. He won't say a word about it," said Madden. "We have never discussed it and I'm sure we never will."

From this perspective, Summerall, whose contract expires after next season, still brings more to the table than just about any other NFL announcer.

He may not be what he was in 1981, but that's still better than anyone else on Fox's roster and it's enough so that CBS Sports President Sean McManus' observation yesterday that Greg Gumbel and Phil Simms are the best team in the business is a bit premature.

Just like other greats, Summerall has earned the right to determine when he will leave the spotlight on his own terms.

Gumbel and Simms will work the Tennessee-Jacksonville game, following the "NFL Today" Sunday (Channel 13, noon), while Summerall and Madden will be in St. Louis for the Rams-Buccaneers game, with coverage beginning at 3: 30 p.m.

New Knoche in town

A radio basketball analyst has roughly the same challenge that a defensive tackle suiting up in a phone booth encounters. Namely, both have to get a big job done in a limited amount of space.

In that vein, Maryland color man Chris Knoche is off to a fine start in his new job, mixing intelligent analysis with a good, self-deprecating sense of humor.

Knoche, the former coach at American, has done a good job in staying away from coach-speak, providing technical points in clearly decipherable language.

Knoche is a decidedly urbane and more witty change from longtime Terps analyst Greg Manning -- who took his more homespun style to Georgia State, where he is the athletic director.

Consequently, Knoche's ability to thrust and parry has energized play-by-play man Johnny Holliday, who is having one of his best seasons in recent memory.

A couple of peeves: Knoche's consistent carping about officiating, even if it isn't serious, is wearing thin, and he and Holliday appear to be privy to some very inside jokes that they aren't letting us listeners in on, which is not a good thing.

And we wish that Holliday would tell us more often, say on every possession change, how much time is left and the score, as well as where the ball is, as in left or right side of the court and how far it is from the basket.

Homecoming

Ravens director of broadcasting Lisa Levine has announced that she will leave the team, effective next week.

Levine, who was known as Lisa Bercu when she came to Baltimore with the Browns four years ago, is returning to her native Cleveland to be closer to her family, while her husband, David, pursues a new business venture.

"I've made some great friends here and worked with some really quality people, both with the team and outside the organization," said Levine. "The team is heading in the right direction and that makes it really hard to leave."

Levine, who coordinated the team's radio and television operations as well as appearing on camera on the pre-game and coaches' shows, is a solid, straight shooter, whose infectious laugh and professionalism will be missed.

Enberg's journey

Now that it has Dick Enberg in the fold, CBS is wasting no time in attempting to retro him back to the 1970s and '80s, when he worked with Billy Packer on college basketball.

Packer and Enberg will do the St. John's-Ohio State game tomorrow (Channel 13, 4 p.m.). Then the two will really re-create history when they meet up with former partner Al McGuire for the Connecticut-Michigan State game.

It will mark the first time in 19 years that the threesome -- perhaps the best trio in sports broadcasting history -- has worked together.

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