So here's the challenge for NBC and its announcers on Sunday during the last race of the Nextel Cup season: You've got to watch the 20 and the 48 and the 99, even though the 2 may be in the lead - because it's all about who's going to be No. 1.
Now, if you're a NASCAR fan, you know what those numbers mean. Points leader Tony Stewart (20) is trying to clinch the Cup championship, racing against himself and his closest pursuers, Jimmie Johnson (48) and Carl Edwards (99). Meanwhile, the likes of Rusty Wallace (2) will be out to win the Ford 400 (4 p.m., WBAL/Channel 11 and WRC/Channel 4).
Should you think Stewart has the Cup in his back pocket because of his lead, think again. For one thing, do those racing suits even have back pockets? For another ...
"It's hard to run 400 miles," NBC race analyst Benny Parsons said during a teleconference Wednesday.
Just one little shimmy on the track could make the difference, so NBC plans to train dedicated cameras on Stewart, Johnson and Edwards. Cameras will be on-board with Stewart and Edwards. Johnson's crew chief declined to allow one.
Parsons' approach to calling the season finale certainly differs from that of his partner, lap-by-lap announcer Bill Weber.
"It's just another race," Parsons said.
"I look at this as a career moment," Weber said. " ... This is what you work for all your life, to call a championship event."
And Weber obviously has been practicing his lines. Describing the Homestead, Fla., track, he said: "The track has had more work done than Joan Rivers and come out looking like Charlize Theron."
Benny, it's your job to supply the rim shots.
We now join ...
If you're already inclined to be annoyed by NFL rules that require local stations to switch to kickoffs of doubleheader games at 4:15, Sunday offered another chance to be re-annoyed.
With the New York Giants-Minnesota Vikings game coming down to an exciting finish, WBFF/Channel 45 was forced to leave so it would carry the Washington Redskins game from kickoff. Local viewers were whisked away by Fox just as the Giants were about to go for a two-point conversion to tie the score with about 1 1/2 minutes left. Not that we even went directly to the Redskins game. First, commercials.
As I said, re-annoyed.
Not to add to the depressing statistics regarding the Ravens, but their 13.7 rating for Sunday's game with the Jacksonville Jaguars was the seventh-highest-rated show in Baltimore for Nov. 7 through Sunday. Meanwhile, in 19 other NFL markets, the local team's game was the top-rated show of the week. For example, in Jacksonville, the game drew a 29.3 rating.
(Ratings measure the percentage of television homes watching a program.)
And maybe this is the worst part of the ratings news: The Ravens were beaten out for No. 6 by Two and a Half Men. I mean, have you ever seen that show?
Operation Hardwood airs tomorrow at 4 p.m. on ESPN2. The hourlong program tells the story of a military basketball tournament staged in Kuwait in August. Several current and former college coaches - and ESPN's Jay Bilas and Mike Jarvis - participated. ...
Between the Guardians Classic and Maui Invitational (featuring Maryland), ESPN and ESPN2 will televise nine college basketball games Monday and Tuesday. On Monday, the games on ESPN2 start at 2:30 p.m. and run straight through to an 11:30 p.m. start. Dave O'Brien and Rick Majerus will call Maryland's first game Monday (5 p.m., against Gonzaga) from Hawaii, where the shirts often are just as good as the basketball.
If this doesn't put eyes on the Golf Channel, maybe nothing will. Starting Jan. 18, the channel will air The Daly Planet, a 13-part reality series centered on John Daly, known for his out-of-nowhere rise on the PGA Tour, his long hitting, his girth and his train wreck of a private life. We're promised a guest appearance by Darius Rucker, lead singer of Hootie and the Blowfish. I mention that just because I love typing "Hootie and the Blowfish."
College basketball: So your significant other wants you to take her to see Pride and Prejudice. Instead, you tell her the two of you can stay home tonight and watch Maryland play basketball (8, Comcast SportsNet) against Fairleigh Dickinson, the school whose name sounds like a character in a Jane Austen novel.
College football: On a day filled with rivalry games, Ohio State-Michigan (tomorrow, 1 p.m., WMAR/Channel 2 and WJLA/Channel 7) could give the winner at least a share of the Big Ten title. (Michigan would need Penn State to lose to Michigan State tomorrow.)
Rodeo: On Sunday mornings, politicians go on the talk shows to throw the bull. On Sunday afternoon, top cowboys will be riding bulls. NBC carries the Mohegan Sun Invitational from the rodeo haven of Uncasville, Conn., at 1 p.m. (WBAL/Channel 11 and WRC/Channel 4).
[Compiled by Ray Frager]
Highest-rated sports programming for Baltimore for Nov. 9-15 (ratings measure the percentage of television households watching a program):
Program Date Ch. Rtg.
Ravens-Jaguars 11/13 13 13.7
Redskins-Bucs 11/13 45 13.0
Cowboys-Eagles 11/14 2 12.0
Browns-Steelers 11/13 ESPN 7.5
NFL bonus-a 11/13 45 6.8
Maryland-UNC 11/12 13 5.2
Vikings-Giants 11/13 45 4.3
LSU-Alabama 11/12 13 4.1
WWE Raw 11/14 USA 3.7
Fox NFL Sunday 11/13 45 3.1
a-7:30 to 8 p.m.
[ Nielsen ratings courtesy of WBAL-TV]