You have to be disappointed in the so-called marketing geniuses that seem to run sports on television these days. You know, the ones that brought you quintupleheaders of NBA basketball on Christmas Day, 24 consecutive hours of college basketball when the season tips off, an outdoor hockey game on New Year's, and, even further back, a home run hitting contest the day before the MLB All-Star game. But where were they this weekend? It seems like they missed out on a golden opportunity.
This was the first weekend since September without football, the built-in bye week between the NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl next week. Even when there isn't a pandemic going on, the sports void has really not been filled over the years. Some breaking off-the-field news made things interesting this time, but we'll get to that in a moment. What was on TV was underwhelming at best, and just poor programming and lack of foresight honestly. It's something that seemed worse in 2021, but has been around for quite awhile.
ABC did give us Lakers-Celtics Saturday night and that was by far the best event of the weekend. Each franchise has 17 titles, with the Lakers the reigning champions. The Celtics are good this year, as well, so the matchup really did lend itself to the hype it received. LA came out with a one point win. Other than that, you got nothing. There was a smattering of college basketball games on CBS, ESPN, and Fox, and NBC, which has the rights to the NHL, didn't have a single hockey game. Maybe it's because of the pandemic and with it nowhere to go and nothing else to do, but you've got to think that this weekend would be the perfect time for the networks to bring out the big guns.
How about this? Both teams are down this year, but a Duke-North Carolina hoops contest? Those two teams usually duke (pardon the pun) it out in early February and then again in March, so how about moving that first date up a week or two? A classic intersectional contest like Kansas-Kentucky or UCLA-Notre Dame of yesteryear, or something equivalent to that. Top-ranked Gonzaga had its game with number two Baylor canceled earlier this year because of the pandemic. I'm sure some schedule-juggling could have been done to make that game happen, and this past weekend would have been the perfect time for it. That's just the top of the list. As they say in those informercials, “but wait, there's more.”
The least the National Hockey League could do would be a Pittsburgh-Washington game (Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovetchkin). You could throw in another game featuring northeastern teams, and maybe even convince Mike Emrick to come out of retirement for just one more day (okay, maybe that's asking too much). If you are going to have a Saturday primetime NBA game, how about another one on Sunday? Baseball's Caribbean Series got underway over the weekend in Mexico, but you can only watch it in Spanish, and only if you get ESPN Deportes. You don't have to make the last weekend in January super important, but some quality entertainment in the one-week absence of the NFL is not a lot to ask.
There was some major sports news, though. On Friday, we learned that the Colorado Rockies had reached an agreement to trade superstar third baseman Nolan Arenado and his eight-year, 260 million dollar contract to the St. Louis Cardinals. That trade became official this evening with the Rockies also shipping 50 million bucks to help pay for the trade, for five minor leaguers, including left-handed pitcher Austin Gomber. Just 24 hours later it was reported that the Los Angeles Rams acquired quarterback Matthew Stafford from Detroit for quarterback Jared Goff, two first-round draft picks, and a third-rounder. Both are mega-deals in their respective sports, but even those headlines don't really help during a weekend with not much else going on to speak of.
Trades happen when they happen, but weekend nights are not really the best time to draw headlines. The Arenado deal was reported by 'sources' Friday, and there was a good chance at the time that the deal could fall apart. Because of the money involved, some issues with opt-out and no-trade clauses, and deferral of some of the money, the Commissioner's Office and Player's Association had to get involved. At least the Saturday and Sunday radio shows had something to talk about.
The Goff deal came as an alert on my phone around 7pm Saturday. That would have made it during the third quarter of the Lakers-Celtics game, but no mention of it on ABC (they didn't even have the ESPN 'bottom line' ticker running). News of the Arenado trade likely directed a lot of viewers to the MLB Network. ESPN probably could have benefited the same way from the NFL news.
And if we can't get more marquee matchups from the NBA, NHL, or NCAA during this non-sports weekend, how about this idea? Move the Daytona 500 up a couple of weeks. It's usually the week after the Super Bowl. How about making it the week before?
And it finally just came to me what's different about this year than others besides the pandemic. In the past, we've had tennis to watch. The Australian Open championships would normally have been this weekend (on ESPN), but has been bumped back to February 8 this year (the day after the Super Bowl) because of the pandemic. So that means we would have normally been tuning out the Pro Bowl for any combination of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, or Rafael Nadal in the men's final, and checking out some young upstart that upset Serena Williams on the women's side. That's still no excuse, though, as to why the other sports, and other networks, can't step up.
Baseball update: Major League Baseball issued a statement today saying they are proceeding with their plan to start the season on time (April 1) and play a full schedule (162 games). This comes after a letter from cities and chambers of commerce in Arizona asking to delay the start of spring training, and therefore the season, by a month, in the hopes of having fans in the stands. Owners want a universal DH and expanded playoffs again this year, but the players union has rejected that idea. Pitchers and catchers are due to report in a couple of weeks, but as we learned last year, anything can change at any time. The expanded playoffs last season were announced on the eve of the delayed Opening Day.
Dodger update: The news of Arenado being traded is not a surprise to the Dodgers, but they were hoping to get the star third baseman. The Rockies practically gave Arenado away, but understandably would not give him away to a division rival. The Dodgers have not made any big splashes in the free agent market this winter but did sign relief pitcher Corey Knebel from Milwaukee, and Tommy Kahnle from the Yankees (he will miss the 2021 season). They also re-signed relievers Blake Treinen and Jake McGee, but lost Pedro Baez to Houston. The most recent news meant the loss of infielder/outfielder Kike Hernandez to Boston, and outfielder Joc Pederson to the Cubs. The Dodgers' only remaining unsigned free agent is third baseman Justin Turner. According to recent reports, the 36 year-old is seeking a four-year deal while the Dodgers are only offering two, but those same reports say a Dodger-Turner reunion is “likely”.
Did we really miss the Pro Bowl? By far the worst all-star event in all of sports, the NFL's Pro Bowl was not played this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, so it was replaced on TV Sunday with a 'Pro Bowl Celebration'. The two-hour show on ESPN and ABC hosted by Sam Ponder and Randy Moss was a combination Year in Review and Super Bowl Preview, with lots of highlights, and interview segments that were done remotely. If you are one to watch every hour of a Super Bowl pregame show, you would have loved this. If you normally tune in just before kickoff, you didn't miss much here. The show was more informative than an actual meaningless game, however.
Awards shows delayed: With the Lakers and Clippers both on long road trips, I am reminded that the reason for that in most years is because of the Grammy Awards. Usually held in early February, the Grammys this year will be held on March 14. The Oscars, which over recent decades have bounced between February and April, will be April 25. The Golden Globes, usually the first of the season in early January, will still be the earliest, but will be held February 28.
They said it: On today's episode of ESPN's Pardon the Interruption, co-host Tony Kornheiser said that the Rams' acquisition of Stafford “definitely puts them in the Super Bowl next year.” While that prediction seems outlandish, Kornheiser also made that prediction for this year after Tampa Bay signed free agent quarterback Tom Brady. With a better line at the end of the show, co-host Michael Wilbon on the Major League Baseball Players Association rejecting the owners proposal for delaying the start of the season by a month, having expanded playoffs, and playing 154 games but paying players for 162, called the rapport between the owners and players “the worst relationship since Fred Sanford and Aunt Esther.” Google it if you're under 50.
Just thinking: If I had been raised by Jared Goff's parents, I'd be Geoff Goff.
I've never been one to make a big deal about my birthday, but I'm not really looking forward to this year's at all. It's tomorrow (Tuesday), and I do hope to get a couple of phone calls and a few texts, but with the pandemic and being out of work, no parties, or lunches, or even lame Groundhog Day jokes that I've rather come to enjoy. As I complete my 57th trip around the sun, I've come to realize that once you reach a certain age, birthdays kind of become a bigger deal for parents, especially moms. I mean after all, they were there. Mom's over-the-top birthday phone calls over the years seemed just like an obligatory ritual to the annual day. You know, she meant well but it was kind of like let's just get this over with and move on. Now that I appreciate them more, and would like to have that phone ring and hear my mom's voice, she's gone. Sucks.