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Saying CBS Is No.1 Looks Like Safe Call

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Included in the obligatory self-serving corporate news release announcing Sean McManus’ appointment as head of CBS News was a self-serving quote attributed to CBS Chairman Les Moonves.

“Under [McManus’] leadership, CBS Sports has moved over the past decade into the Number One position in its field,” Moonves said, “and the quality of what we put on the air is the very best in the business.”

Is that so? Is CBS truly No. 1 in the field of covering and televising sports?

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Not when CBS Sports under McManus covered the Masters with such weak-kneed kowtowing reverence that it appeared Hootie Johnson was in control of the production truck.

(And in a way, Hootie was.)

Not when CBS Sports under McManus made stars out of the wrong people and overlooked some of the top talent on its roster. Name another network that would tab Jim Nantz as its No. 1 college basketball commentator over Dick Enberg.

Not when Fox holds the rights to America’s three most popular spectator-sport franchises -- the NFL, NASCAR and Major League Baseball -- and beats CBS regularly on NFL Sundays.

Not when ABC has at least two football commentating teams -- Al Michaels-John Madden, Keith Jackson-Dan Fouts -- better than anything CBS has been able to assemble.

Not when NBC and ABC cover golf with more journalistic enterprise and independence, encouraging freedom of expression and candid opinion from their commentators.

You can tell a lot about a network’s approach to sports coverage -- its strengths, its weaknesses, its tendencies -- by the sports announcer who is the face of the network.

Fox: Joe Buck. Glib, energetic, better at handling surface traffic than deep thinking, strives for hipness but can’t always contain conservative streak (e.g., Buck’s shrill over-reaction to Randy Moss’ pantomime moon).

ABC: Al Michaels. Versatile, respected, has weathered some incredibly daunting network-imposed obstacles (Dennis Miller, Lisa Guerrero) to maintain high level of credibility.

ESPN: Chris Berman. Overexposed, peaked about 15 years ago, annoyingly inserts himself into every story he “covers,” in dire need of a fresh act.

NBC: Bob Costas. Intelligent, articulate, passionate about many of the right things, but not enough network sports content to give him much of a platform, so he moonlights at HBO and CNN.

CBS: Nantz. Bland, deferential, eager to please, will never rock the boat, treats every assignment as if he’s an emcee-for-hire working a rubber-chicken awards banquet at the local Holiday Inn.

These big-name talking heads also say a lot about the person overseeing a network’s sports division. When safe or controversial are the available choices, playing it safe has been the McManus style, give or take a few mid-March rants from Billy Packer.

That isn’t likely to change when McManus assumes his news-side responsibilities next month. He will remain in charge of CBS Sports as well.

Available for viewing this weekend:

TODAY

* Breeders’ Cup

(Channel 4, 10 a.m.)

Words to remember: Lost In The Fog.

That’s the name of the Sprint favorite, not a description of NBC’s Breeders’ Cup ratings in recent years. Last year’s Breeders’ Cup drew the lowest TV numbers in the event’s history, but NBC is hoping Lost In The Fog can bring a change in the weather.

* Washington State at USC

(Channel 7, 12:30 p.m.)

USC dropped to No. 2 in the bowl championship series standings! USC is 92nd in pass defense in Division I-A! USC has a cornerback crisis! USC is ... um ... well, it says here the Trojans are 30-point favorites over Washington State. Imagine if they could defend the pass.

* UCLA at Stanford

(FSN West, 3:30 p.m.)

UCLA is favored by only a touchdown over a team that lost to UC Davis. The Bruins are 7-0, back in the top 10 for the first time in years, and still there’s a gap between the numbers and national respect. Could it be their pass defense?

* Galaxy at San Jose Earthquakes

(FSN West 2, 7 p.m.)

Good news for Galaxy fans: Your team takes a two-goal advantage into the second-leg of a home-and-away playoff series that will be decided on goal aggregate.

Bad news for Galaxy fans: The last time this happened, in 2003, the Earthquakes won the second leg, 5-2, to advance on goal aggregate, 5-4.

Hope for Galaxy fans: In 2003, Landon Donovan played for the Earthquakes. Not now.

SUNDAY

* Washington Redskins at New York Giants

(Channel 11, 10 a.m.)

Unable to pull off its dream scenario -- planting Peyton Manning on a New York franchise -- the NFL came up with the next best thing: Putting Peyton’s little brother on the Giants. Now the Giants are 4-2 and interesting. Eli got major mileage out of last Sunday’s late drive against Denver, and so, a Giant game is a big TV event again.

Oh, and the Redskins are coming off a 52-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, for whatever that’s worth.

* Philadelphia Eagles at Denver Broncos

(Channel 11, 1 p.m.)

More Eli Manning aftermath: What happens when you blow a 13-point fourth-quarter lead -- and your five-game winning streak -- one Sunday against the Giants? You’re back on national television the next weekend for an interconference encore against the defending NFC champion.

* Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots

(ESPN, 5:30 p.m.)

Tedy Bruschi’s back. The Patriots have had two weeks to game-plan for this one. It’s in Foxborough. Kelly Holcomb starts at quarterback for Buffalo. Why are the Patriots favored by only nine points?


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