Arrogant NFL vs. cable giants: Does anyone deserve to win?

November 23, 2007

Presenting the Black Friday version of sports media notes while wondering whether America ever would have heard of turkducken if not for John Madden:

As the NFL and the nation's cable giants go at each other over access to the NFL Network, it's hard to know whom to cheer for. The league that seems to always get its way and exudes a certain arrogance while doing so? Or the corporations that have had a monopoly on running television into your home and raising your rates after you're hooked?

You know, it's kind of like when two New York teams play each other. Can both of them lose?

Make a half-hour of your time tomorrow and watch Every Man a Tiger: The Eddie Robinson Story (1:30 p.m., WBAL/Channel 11 and WRC/Channel 4). And if you can find someone who has not really heard the story of the great Grambling football coach, get him or her to sit on the couch with you.

Even for those familiar with the story of Robinson and Grambling, what is most striking about this program - being telecast commercial-free immediately before the Bayou Classic between Grambling and Southern - is to see the roll of former Tigers. Robinson produced so many terrific players - Tank Younger, Buck Buchanan, Willie Davis, Doug Williams - from this Louisiana school born in the days of legal segregation. (The other striking thing? Narration by the wonderful actor Andre Braugher.)

And if the program deifies the late Robinson a bit, after all those years he operated outside of mainstream media attention, he probably deserves it.

On the other hand, there's no need to make a half-hour to watch Frank TV. The sketch comedy vehicle for hilarious impressionist Frank Caliendo, a fixture on Fox NFL Sunday, debuted this week on TBS and lived down to its bad advance reviews. Forget the quality of the impressions - the material coming out of Caliendo's mouth just was flat.

I really wanted to like the show because Caliendo is so funny in small doses of his Madden or Jim Rome. But nothing in the first episode of Frank TV approached his chuckle-inducing recent appearance on TNT's NBA studio show, where he did his Charles Barkley for Charles Barkley and unveiled a masterful Bill Walton.

Remember when The Skins Game was at least something of a golf curiosity? This year's version will air on ABC (WMAR/Channel 2 and WJLA/Channel 7) tomorrow (1 p.m.) and Sunday (3:30 p.m.), and it's packing less juice than your turkey after a weekend in the refrigerator. Yes, the field includes Fred Couples, but he's joined by surprise Masters champion Zach Johnson, Stephen Ames and Brett Wetterich. Sounds like thin Skins.

NBC's Madden on how the undefeated New England Patriots rank: "I think offensively, they are right there. The best offensive team that won was the San Francisco 49ers. In my mind, this team, the way they're playing right now, is probably better. I would say that this is the best offensive team that I've ever seen."

Is it just me, or was there a certain incongruity during yesterday's halftime show during the Dallas Cowboys-New York Jets game? Of course, the Salvation Army is a worthy cause, but to see the Cowboys cheerleaders gyrating their barely covered hips while Kelly Clarkson sang on a stage flanked by two huge Salvation Army signs just didn't seem right. And I don't think it would have helped if the cheerleaders had been ringing bells.

ray.frager@baltsun.com

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