For his 14th Rose, Jackson still at the top of his game

ON MEDIA

December 30, 2005|By RAY FRAGER

As we head toward college football's championship game, Wednesday's Rose Bowl on ABC (8 p.m., WMAR/Channel 2 and WJLA/Channel 7), much of the talk is about Southern California's place among the greatest teams of all time.

Few observers of college football - certainly among sportscasters - are better qualified to make that judgment than ABC's Keith Jackson. The network's authoritative play-by-play man, in his 39th year in broadcasting, will call the Rose Bowl along with analyst Dan Fouts.

So the question was put to Jackson during a conference call Wednesday. With a caveat, he answered.

"The matter of ranking teams is difficult to do and pretty much a useless exercise," said Jackson, who will be calling his 14th Rose Bowl. He cited how much college football has changed over the years, with the biggest difference being the relatively recent "freeing up of the offensive linemen's arms."

Still, Jackson said the Reggie Bush-Matt Leinart Trojans could rank with the 1972 USC (Anthony Davis, Sam Cunningham) and 1995 Nebraska (Tommie Frazier, Ahman Green) teams as the all-time best.

"If this USC team beats Texas, they're right there with them," Jackson said.

And what is the common thread that runs through these teams?

"Great teams have great character," Jackson said. "These are teams that are not distraught that they're down at halftime."

Jackson's voice has been lending character to college football for a couple of generations, so each recent season brings the question of whether it is his last. A few years ago, he cut back on his travel so he would be doing mostly West Coast games, closer to his California home. But Jackson, 77, wasn't addressing the matter this week.

"I don't want to become part of the story," he said. "I am a non-story."

Not when it comes to his partner, though.

"There are so many things I've learned from Keith," Fouts said. "He is so patient, not just with me, but also with the crew and with the fans."

Fouts referred to Jackson as "a legend," to which he replied: "When you're called a legend, you're not too far from being an ancestor."

Playoffs?

The perennial question of a Division I-A playoff system to replace the Bowl Championship Series was asked during the conference call. Jackson reiterated his preference: Leave the bowls as is, but then go to a final four for a national championship playoff. ...

ABC's pre-game coverage will include celebrity fan appearances by Will Ferrell (USC) and Matthew McConaughey (Texas). (Bewitched vs. Dazed and Confused - advantage, Longhorns. OK, no fair: Wedding Crashers vs. Edtv - advantage, Trojans.) ...

ESPN will have a float in the Tournament of Roses Parade on Monday. The float is called "The Magic of Sports in High Definition" and, according to a news release, "will celebrate the enhanced experience of high definition sports presentations." Meanwhile, it should be noted, no HD television - made of roses or otherwise - at my house.

Baby, it's cold ...

It happens each year - and not just on sports programming - but it always looks silly. For some reason, those hosting shows around Christmas are dressed in winter-appropriate clothing. For example, on Sunday's NBA studio show on ABC, Mike Tirico was wearing a snuggly-looking turtleneck. Which I'm sure he appreciated under those hot lights.

So long, Sunday

With much less fanfare than ABC's Monday Night Football farewell, ESPN ends its 19 seasons of Sunday night NFL telecasts this weekend. Play-by-play man Mike Patrick and analyst Paul Maguire move on to the network's college football coverage next season, and analyst Joe Theismann joins Al Michaels as ESPN takes over Mondays.

Does anyone remember this? When ESPN carried its first season of Sunday night games in 1987, Patrick and partner Roy Firestone worked with a series of guest analysts (including Ed Marinaro and John Matuszak).

ray.frager@baltsun.com

Read Ray Frager's blog at baltimoresun.com/mediumwell

TV highlights

Skiing: Former (and perhaps future) football player Jeremy Bloom highlights the field for the U.S. Olympic trials in freestyle skiing tomorrow (2:30 p.m., WBAL/Channel 11 and WRC/Channel 4).

Football: Next season's Sunday-Monday network changes mean the end of ESPN's NFL PrimeTime in its current form. So bid farewell Sunday night at 7:30. Though if you want to watch with the sound off, I understand.

Golf: Just like figure skating, there is always golf airing somewhere. This time, CBS takes advantage of the Monday holiday to show the Tommy Bahama Challenge (2 p.m., WJZ/Channel 13 and WUSA/Channel 9), featuring four-man teams of American and international players 30 or younger. However, with Tommy Bahama shirts going for $80 or so, maybe the real challenge is affording the clothing.

[COMPILED BY RAY FRAGER]

Top-rated sports

Highest-rated sports programming for Baltimore for Dec. 21-27 (ratings measure the percentage of television households watching a program):

Program Date Ch. Rtg.

Ravens-Vikings 12/25 13* 23.9

Seahawks-Colts 12/24 13 11.2

Patriots-Jets 12/26 2 10.6

Bears-Packers 12/25 45 9.4

Giants-Redskins 12/24 45 9.1

Chargers-Chiefs 12/24 13 6.3

SportsCenter 12/25 ESPN 4.2

NFL pre-game 12/25 45 3.9

NFL Today 12/24 13 3.4

WWE Smckdwn 12/23 24 3.4

*-plus ESPN [ Nielsen ratings courtesy of WBAL-TV]

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