A rush to judge value of big games

ON MEDIA

The Kickoff

November 17, 2006|By RAY FRAGER

Once upon a time, a big college football game could exist without some kind of apocalyptic label. Its bigness was so self-evident, the game didn't need to be labeled as The Duel of the Schools with No Rules or it didn't fall on Saturation Saturday.

But now it's not enough merely to describe tomorrow's Ohio State-Michigan game on ABC (WMAR/Channel 2 and WJLA/Channel 7, 3:30 p.m.) as a renewal of one of the nation's most heated rivalries, this time being contested by the top two ranked teams in the country, with a berth in the national championship game at stake.

No, it's Judgment Day.

(So is Judge Judy in the replay booth? Judge Reinhold reporting from the sidelines?)

Still, this game has been a big deal for a long time, even without No. 1 vs. No. 2. Let Kirk Herbstreit, the former Buckeyes quarterback-turned-ESPN commentator, describe some of the feeling.

Herbstreit, who will call the game tomorrow with Brent Musburger and Bob Davie, this week talked about growing up in Centerville, Ohio, when Cold War concerns still dogged children, but not so much as Buckeyes vs. Wolverines.

"I used to go to bed praying to hold off on the nuclear bombs until I got to play in the Ohio State-Michigan game," Herbstreit said in a conference call.

As for the intensity of the rivalry, Herbstreit said: "I think the fan bases hate each other's guts."

And they apparently aren't really high on grudges not carrying over to those who have been on the field.

"What pains the fans is to see former players treat each other with respect," he said.

That's how the game has been played, Herbstreit said.

"It's the hardest-hitting game, but the least trash-talking."

Fellow ESPN college analyst Paul Maguire will be working the Southern California vs. California game tomorrow, but he made it clear where all the focus should be.

"If you don't watch [Ohio State-Michigan], there's got to be something wrong with you," Maguire said. " ... I can't imagine anyone who likes the game of football not watching this game."

Tell the boss that. "You don't even have to work," Maguire said, extending permission for weekend employees to stay home by adding, "Kirk Herbstreit will pick up the check."

His objective

As a former Ohio State player, Herbstreit will be under the microscope for any signs of Buckeyes bias tomorrow. He didn't sound concerned.

"When I get up in the booth, I'm not looking at what school I attended," he said. " ... My job is to tell why things are happening the way they are."

He has received what amount to rave reviews.

"When Michigan fans come up to me, they say, `I can't believe, for an Ohio State guy, how objective you are."' ...

Maguire has been just about everywhere, it seems, but in the broadcast booth this season. He has worked games from the production truck, up in the end zone stands and riding along the cart carrying the sideline camera. He'll be back on the cart tomorrow (channels 2 and 7, 8 p.m.) and said he'll be on the lookout for Cal's mascot. "If there's a live bear, I'll take it up in the booth with me. [Analyst Bob] Griese will love it."

More bounce

The Mid-Atlantic Sports Network yesterday announced its schedule of 150 NCAA basketball games, heavy with Big East schools, but also featuring some MASN-produced telecasts of area teams. Loyola and UMBC already appeared this week, and Towson, Morgan State, Mount St. Mary's and Navy also will get on MASN this season.

ray.frager@baltsun.com

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