`Glory' days again for Butkus

ON TELEVISION

September 23, 2005|By RAY FRAGER

Imagine you're a teenage football player and into your locker room walks a man who embodies the ferocity of the sport at its highest level. And this man is going to be your coach.

What would you do? For starters, you'd probably shut up.

Which is exactly what happened during the first episode of Bound for Glory, ESPN's eight-part docu-reality show, which debuted Tuesday at 10 p.m.

The players at Montour High School in McKees Rocks, Pa., were chattering away until their new coach walked in - Dick Butkus, perhaps the NFL's greatest linebacker.

Butkus didn't exactly deliver a fire-and-brimstone speech, but with a reputation that preceded him, he could get away with some coaching bromides ("As you think, so shall you be").

The term "reality show" carries a certain pejorative quality, but maybe it's best just for viewers to keep in mind that Bound for Glory is operating in the alternative reality of individuals who agree to have cameras trailing them all around. (How many parents would agree to let the cameras come along as they take their son to the hospital because of a concussion?)

Yes, the setting is an actual high school football team, rather than the unreality of, say, The Real World, but Butkus didn't just happen to become the coach, any more than Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger just happens to drop by in next week's episode.

Still, the show can draw you in. Will Montour, once a Western Pennsylvania powerhouse but now a perennial loser, turn it around? Can the talented but underachieving running back come back from a thumb injury? Will the kids feed off the energy of another new coach, ex-NFL defensive back and Super Bowl-ring-flashing Ray Crockett? Will the team leader, a linebacker and fullback sidelined by a concussion, come back too soon?

And being that the team is the Spartans, could we get a guest appearance by those old Saturday Night Live cheerleaders, Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri?

Can U see?

Tomorrow's Maryland-Wake Forest football game will be floating out in the television ether, but most of you won't be able to reel it in. ESPNU, the college sports channel launched this year, is carrying the game, but unless you have DirecTV or the Dish Network, you'll be Terp-less.

ESPNU has yet to work out a deal with any of the big cable carriers. With its satellite TV arrangements and agreements with smaller cable companies, ESPNU has a potential audience of about 7.5 million nationwide, according to Burke Magnus, vice president and general manager of ESPNU.

(CSTV, a longer-established college sports channel, can reach more than twice the audience size.)

Magnus said deals with the likes of Comcast "will be sooner rather than later." ESPNU likely would be part of digital basic service.

While arrangements are being worked out, however, "oftentimes, the programming is ahead of the distribution."

(No, I haven't forgotten that when last mentioning Burke Magnus, I noted his name sounded like something out of Boogie Nights. For that, I apologize, because if I don't, next time I call, I'll have to deal with his assistant, Chest Rockwell.)

Listen up

We take so much of the technical innovation in sports TV for granted these days. For example, during part of Sunday's Ravens game, CBS didn't have the first-down line superimposed on the field, and it was notable by its absence. Of course, the network might have just decided to turn it off when the Ravens had the ball, but that's another story.

During yesterday's Presidents Cup telecast on TNT, the coverage was enhanced by sound quality. It used to be golf fans would hear the crowd cheering, the swoosh of the club off the tee and the occasional bird chirping, but that was about it.

The Presidents Cup had an intimate feel about it. After each hole was decided, we could hear an official shouting out the score of the match. Microphones also caught International team player Adam Scott getting advice from his caddie on an approach shot.

We didn't hear, however, what Scott said when his shot went over the green into the surrounding rough.

School daze

ABC and ESPN are touting the fact that they are in the midst of 20 straight days of football telecasts on various channels - which is a cause for celebration if you enjoy watching colleges prostrate themselves before the video god by staging games on the traditional Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

ray.frager@baltsun.com

TV highlights

Golf: Presidents Cup - today, noon to 6 p.m., TNT; tomorrow, 8 to 9 a.m., USA Network and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., chs. 11, 4; Sunday, noon to 6 p.m., chs. 11, 4. "Match play really exposes your character," NBC's Johnny Miller said. Look for lots of character exposure over the hours and hours of golf from Gainesville, Va.

Fishing: Busch Shootout, tomorrow, 10 a.m. ESPN2. Take 13 of the top Bassmaster competitors and drop them in the water somewhere. You'd like to? What, are you a fish or something? Actually, this competition puts the anglers into a "previously unknown fishery" to compete for a $100,000 prize.

College football: Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech, tomorrow, 3:30 p.m. They're both ranked (Yellow Jackets No. 15, Hokies No. 4), but Virginia Tech is an 11 1/2 -point favorite in this Atlantic Coast Conference matchup. Gary Thorne calls the game, so you may want to have the volume control handy.

[COMPILED BY RAY FRAGER]

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