Don’t touch that dial, Except to start the VCR

Jul 30, 2002 8:06 AM

Last weekend, I was sprawled comfortably on the living room floor, getting my pants beat off in chess by my four-year-old son, and happily watching the UCLA-USC football game.

Yes, you read it right, football game. No, I hadn’t fallen through a time warp and landed in the Los Angeles Coliseum in mid November.

Actually, I had stumbled onto something called Fox Sports Classics, a cable network channel, that broadcasts "classic" games, in this case, the 1993 UCLA-USC football game.

You can imagine my joy to find a football game, a real football game, any football game, being broadcast on TV. It didn’t matter that the game was played nine years ago. It didn’t matter that I sort-of remembered what the outcome was. Even a taped, nine-year-old college football game, is going to be better than watching any live baseball game, golf tournament or tennis match, or whatever else the Dogs of Summer throws out.

I realize not everyone agrees. My wife, for instance, passed by and noted the game on TV. "Is it football season already?" she asked, then did a double take when she saw it was UCLA and USC playing. (She’s astute enough to know that’s a big game, played when the leaves have turned color and temperatures have plunged below 106 degrees.)

I explained about the Fox Sports Classics channel, but she simply walked out of the room, shaking her head, and muttering something like, "There’s got to be something better, at least a live sporting event on TV."

As a die-hard football fan, I’m not apologizing for anything. In fact, I confess that ”” unbeknownst to her ”” I was tape recording the nine-year-old football game, just in case I became desperate sometime before the college season kicks off next month.

Football is king. It deserves to be king. There is nothing more exciting than football, and for my money that means college football. Baseball is great, but today’s teams don’t generate the excitement of bygone eras. Maybe if today’s players and coaches revived plays like the drag bunt, hit and run, suicide steal ”” all the little plays that could actually take your breath away, maybe I could get excited about baseball.

But baseball isn’t the only sport that is no longer very sporting. Here are some other candidates.

”¡ Boxing: We saw an example of how pitiful this "sport" has become this last weekend. When a so-called title fight, even if only sanctioned by the WBA, ends up on Showtime, and the Larry Holmes vs. Butterbean debacle appears on pay-per-view, something is dreadfully wrong. Boxing? The sport has lapsed into a kind of human tractor pull.

”¡ Soccer. How can they call this a sporting event? Besides being boring to watch, this is a game for small children. Remember the soccer moms? The reason there aren’t "football moms" or "basketball moms" is because those are real sports, not children’s games. I recall watching the World Cup on TV and thinking to myself, these guys aren’t athletes, they’re a bunch of bus boys from the restaurant down the street.

”¡ Davis Cup Tennis. What exactly is this? Does anyone outside of tennis really know? At best it looks like a group of no-name tennis players meeting in some exotic resort where they wave two different flags and the winner is the group with the most unpronounceable names on the doubles team.

”¡ College Bowl Games. Even though I love college football, the Bowl Championship Series killed any real interest in the college bowl games, except here in Vegas, where betting on football is epidemic. Take a game like the Independence Bowl. What reason is there to watch Indiana play West Virginia on a cold winter’s night, except to see who covers the point spread? Even the so-called championship game is less than meaningful. Anyone who watched Miami play Nebraska in last year’s national title game already had figured out that these two teams were not necessarily the two best teams in the country, but we couldn’t do anything about it.

”¡ Baseball’s All-Star Game. I’m still reeling from this one. When I was a kid, I would try to imagine my favorite baseball heroes and how they would fare against players from the opposite league. For instance, how would Sandy Koufax pitch to Mickey Mantle, or could a National League star like Hank Aaron hit one out of an American League park like Yankee Stadium? That’s what the All Star Game was, a chance to see our greatest heroes on one field. Today’s event is more akin to a beauty pageant, with events, contests and awards that will ensure everyone goes home with something. And the Home Run Derby? If they have to have something so non-sensical, why not have an old fireballer like Nolan Ryan pitching? The way they do it now, it’s as exciting as watching the hitter himself toss the ball in the air and hit it out of the park.

Where will all this end? It probably won’t. As long as there’s a buck to be made selling Miller Genuine Draft, there will be over-hyped "sporting events" on TV. Let’s hope we remember to keep the VCR operational, with tapes on the ready. You never know when you’ll have to call on Fox Sports Classics.