PA. NFL Network Viewers Denied Tebow Time

NFL Network viewers in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh - including Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley - were not able to view Friday night's Jets/Bengals broadcast, forcing Rich Eisen to address the odd situation via Twitter.

It’s as if the Keystone Kops were controlling the cable operations in the Keystone State.

On Friday night, as the New York Jets and Cincinnati Bengals were preparing for their first preseason action of the year – and Tim Tebow’s all-important first official snaps in a Jet uniform – many viewers of NFL Network instead were greeted with a replay of Thursday night’s Ravens/Falcons preseason tilt.

Including, for some reason, viewers in the Philadelphia area.

“Someone want to explain to me why NFL Network has a replay of the Falcons/Ravens game on and [not] Jets/Bengals?”, asked Dan Rodgers of Lower Merion, PA, moments after the game had started.

And Berwyn resident Stephane Hardinger expressed outrage, demanding: “I MUST SEE TIMOTHY TEBOW PLAY.”

Philadelphia was not alone in their lack of Tebow Time, as it appears NFLN viewers in Pittsburgh were also affected – including one LaMarr Woodley, who has only been the outside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers for the last six years.

“What channel the Jets game on?,” he tweeted to his 133,000+ followers at around a quarter to 8 PM. Moments later, he would personally tweet NFL Network’s Twitter account seeking answers.

Even viewers from “the sticks of PA” chimed in expressing their incense of not being able to watch Tebow and Co.

In fact, viewers from Virginia to Indiana had been watching the replay of the Ravens’ 31-17 road rout of the Falcons instead of what would be the Bengals beating the Jets 17-6.

What went wrong?

No, not with Tim Tebow or Mark Sanchez, but with NFL Network’s apparent botching of this blackout in areas outside of New York – very far outside New York, it looks like.

Even though it’s only a preseason game, and despite the fact that the Jets were on the road in this preseason game, WCBS-TV, which carried the contest in New York, has requested the game be blacked out on NFLN in the greater New York metro.

Being situated in New York, I can confirm that I saw Ravens/Falcons on NFLN on Friday night. And when I flipped over during a commercial break on WCBS’ Jets/Bengals coverage to NFLN, for no particular reason, to watch day-old Ravens/Falcons footage, I saw Verizon FiOS insert a local ad break right in the middle of a drive.

I can understand if CBS asks for NFL Network – which was carrying WCBS’ feed of the game, thus may have lied within CBS’ request – to show alternate programming in New York so that more viewers would watch the Jets/Bengals game on WCBS’ air. (It’s moot, given that Time Warner and Cablevision, the two major cable companies in NYC, don’t even carry NFLN, but that’s beside the point.) As such, even viewers in Connecticut and New Jersey were affected by this blackout request. And so, NFLN, rather than just go dark for three hours, had beamed the Ravens/Falcons game to areas in New York City, as well as Connecticut and New Jersey.

Yet in NFLN’s infinite wisdom, this included South Jersey, which is Philadelphia Eagles territory. This caused a domino effect that spread to Philadelphia itself, and Pittsburgh, as well.

After about an hour of fielding Twitter complaints from several viewers – including the Super Bowl champion and one-time Pro Bowler LaMarr Woodley – NFL Network’s Rich Eisen was compelled to address the issue. “To the people of Pennsylvania, I have no earthly idea why you can’t see Jets/Bengals on @NFLNetwork,” he tweeted. The fact that the face of NFL Network had to tweet about this may be indicative of a veiled “mea culpa” on NFLN’s part for mishandling the blackout of Jets/Bengals in selected areas.

Just so I had all my bases covered, this morning, I spoke to Alicia, a representative from the service department at Comcast, the largest cable provider in Philadelphia, and she confirmed that, according to a colleague who was on duty Friday night, there were no issues central to Comcast with regards to blacking out NFLN or airing replacement programming, nor were there any customer complaints at that time.

Meanwhile, in an ironic twist, it appears viewers in Cincinnati – whose Bengals have been a repeated local television blackout victim during the regular season – were able to watch the WCBS-TV feed of Jets/Bengals on NFL Network on Friday night (that is, if they haven’t switched from Time Warner). Locally, Bengals preseason broadcasts are carried on WKRC-TV – and you’d have to wonder if there would have been similar issues, had NFLN opted for Brad Johansen’s call of the game. With Tim Tebow on the roster of the opposing team, probably not.

At any rate, NFL Network is scheduled to carry one more Jets preseason game this month, and it’s scheduled for next Saturday night against the crosstown rivals – and Super Bowl champions – the New York Giants. And it looks like for the second week in a row, NFLN will once again lean on the Jets’ local broadcast team. In fact, according to the schedules on both the Jets’ and Giants’ websites, it appears there’s not even going to be a Giants broadcasting crew handling the game on television. Yes, it’s considered a Jets home game, but did I mention the Giants just won the Super Bowl?

Anyway, it’ll be interesting to find out whether or not Philadelphia-area viewers will be complaining about how they’re watching a rebroadcast of Friday night’s Ravens/Lions game in lieu of Jets/Giants on Saturday night.

Likewise, we’ll also know if LaMarr Woodley – whose Steelers play both the Jets and Giants in the first half of their 2012-13 campaign – will miss out on viewing potential “game tape” as a result of another screwup at NFL Network.

He may have to go over to Culver City and punk someone.

Jets On "Hard Knocks" in 2012? Fuhgeddaboutit!

Everyone is likely rolling their eyes over the fact that Tim Tebow and the New York Jets have declined an invitation to appear on HBO's "Hard Knocks" this year. But the team "would be open to appearing on a future season" of the program.

After much anticipation, the New York Jets are deciding that it would be a good idea to “knock” it off this year.

As first reported by Bob Raissman of the New York Daily News, the Jets have decided not to make an encore performance on HBO’s football training camp reality program collaboration with NFL Films, “Hard Knocks.”

Gang Green’s decision is much to the chagrin of team owner Woody Johnson, who last month expressed interest in the Jets appearing on the show for a second straight season (remember, the 2011 season was shelved due to the lockout). In ensuing days, however, general manager Mike Tannenbaum (“I’m looking forward to watching another team on it this year”) and even coach Rex Ryan exhibited reservations in returning to “Hard Knocks.” You’ll recall that Ryan became a cult icon thanks to the 2010 edition of the show.

The Jets are giving a very believable excuse in passing on “Hard Knocks” this year: With the hiring of a new offensive coordinator, the team would much rather concentrate on learning the new system that will be put in place. Tony Sparano, most recently head coach of the division rival Miami Dolphins (and not to be confused with Tony Soprano), was hired as the Jets’ new offensive coordinator on January 11 – just three days after Tim Tebow led his former team, the Denver Broncos, to an overtime playoff win.

Tebow, of course, is now wearing a Jets uniform (and in case you missed it, he even renamed his dog from Bronco to Bronx in light of the move) and is expected to take over for incumbent quarterback Mark Sanchez at some point this season. Storylines such as this, let alone the mere variables of Tebow and Ryan, would have potentially made this season of “Hard Knocks” its most-watched ever.

The good news is the Jets, through someone the Associated Press is calling “a person familiar with the decision” not to appear on “Hard Knocks” this year, is quite “open” to entertaining the possibility of doing the show “on a future season” – perhaps next year.

So with the odds-on favorite now bowing out of the “Hard Knocks” sweepstakes, who’s the new leader in the clubhouse? We know that the Atlanta Falcons are out, as are the Denver Broncos, now with Peyton Manning under center, who “flat out denied” an invitation to appear on the show. The San Francisco 49ers are a possibility, as are the Baltimore Ravens, who were the very first subjects of the program upon winning the Super Bowl in 2001.

But one franchise that has shown an alarming amount of interest in appearing on “Hard Knocks” this year are the Jacksonville Jaguars. Yes, the same Jaguars who were a combined 20-28 over their last three seasons. It’s one thing when the league schedules three primetime games, including two on “Monday Night Football”, for the Jaguars in 2011 (they wisely have given the Jags just one primetime nod in 2012). But it would be hard to fathom thousands of viewers, let alone hundreds, rushing to the television to watch the training camp goings-on of a 5-11 team that underwent an ownership change toward the end of the season.

Maybe if the Jaguars players are as about as rogue as the team’s beat reporter, it could be a ratings bonanza.

Bada Bing! "Hard Knocks" Starring Rex Ryan And Tim Tebow Could Be "The Sopranos" On Steroids

With Tim Tebow now a member of the New York Jets, Rex Ryan's team could create drama on HBO's "Hard Knocks" that could rival that of another popular HBO series, "The Sopranos" (1999-2007). In fact, Ryan shares many traits with Tony Soprano (played by James Gandolfini). HBO is expected to approach teams for the seventh season of "Hard Knocks" very soon.

June 10, 2007. The night when one of HBO’s most recognized series, if not the most, aired its final installment. That show was “The Sopranos.”

I don’t need to tell you how that show ended, even if you didn’t watch it. Suffice it to say, the abrupt ending – patriarch Tony, wife Carmela and son A.J. are enjoying Holsten’s onion rings to the tune of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” when Tony is startled by an unidentified person… who remains unidentified because it was at that point that the scene, and Steve Perry’s vocals, faded to black – incensed so many subscribers, the possibility of mass cancellations loomed.

Fortunately for HBO, that didn’t happen. In fact, the network actually reported an increase of subscribers toward the end of 2007.

And while HBO traditionally cleans up in the Emmy Awards every year, as they continue to churn out acclaimed hits (“True Blood”) and shameful misses (“Joe Buck Live”), still, the jarring coda of “The Sopranos” leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouths – or at least, mine.

And you can tell that, deep down, Home Box Office still misses the “Sopranos” saga based on some of the concepts that they’ve greenlighted since that show went off the air. “Boardwalk Empire”? People have referred to it as “Sopranos” meets “Casino.” Even the recently euthanized Dustin Hoffman vehicle “Luck” looks like something directly out of a “Sopranos” episode – does the name “Pie-O-My” ring a bell?

There’s one thing that HBO could do that would not only fill that void just like Ralph Cifaretto (partially) in a random farm, but make everybody – especially in Jersey – forget about the controversial “blink-and-you-missed-it” ending of “The Sopranos,” as we approach the fifth anniversary of the show’s swan song.

Forget about Tony Time… it’s Tebow Time.

“Hard Knocks” – a production of HBO Sports and NFL Films – has brought viewers into the training camps of five different teams in six seasons over ten years. The Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens were the first team in 2001, followed by the Dallas Cowboys in 2002. After a four-year hiatus, the Kansas City Chiefs were featured in 2007, followed once again by the Cowboys in 2008, the Cincinnati Bengals in 2009, and in 2010, the New York Jets, led by coach Rex Ryan in his sophomore season.

By far, the Jets’ season was the most memorable edition of “Hard Knocks,” if not for the family-unfriendly sound bites from Ryan.

So with “Hard Knocks” suspended last year due to the since-resolved league labor dispute, HBO announced that they will be planning for a seventh season of the program.

And lo and behold, it appears that Gang Green is inviting themselves to a second consecutive spot on the show.

While Jets owner Woody Johnson acknowledged “informal discussions” with the network, he vowed only to answer “a formal invitation” to be featured on “Hard Knocks.” And “when we do, we will take a look at it.”

Notice how the Band-Aid Baron is playing possum in public, saying he’ll huddle up with Coach Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum and “see whether it is something we want to do.”

Certainly, Woody would love to steal the spotlight from the Super Bowl champions, the stadium-sharing Giants. And that’s probably what most people, including former Jets quarterback Joe Namath, had in mind when the team traded for Tim Tebow.

Who are you kidding, Woodrow? Are you actually hesitating giving “Hard Knocks” another go-round, not only with your foul-mouthed, foot-meddling head coach, but now with a polarizing second-string (for now) quarterback in tow?

Fuhgeddaboutit!

What goes on behind the scenes in this Jets locker room might make it worth subscribing to HBO. I know I’m not the only one preaching to this choir. And with all kinds of storylines, from the 2011-season-ending meltdown, to a possible rivalry between the incumbent quarterback Mark Sanchez and the brand new Jets quarterback who Ryan vows to work into up to a third of the plays in each game, and how exactly Tebow might react to Ryan’s many F-bombs, a 2012 Jet-fueled “Hard Knocks” could make “The Sopranos” look like “Bored To Death.”

Usually, HBO knows a hit when they see it. And this one is whacking them right in the face, like Tony whacking his best friend-turned-stoolie Big Pussy… okay, maybe not that brutal. But the network would be crazy not to at least consider the Jets for this season’s edition of “Hard Knocks.” In fact, they should go one step further: don’t just film the Jets training camp, film the Jets until the season’s through. Whether the team is winning games or losing them – especially if they’re losing them – “Hard Knocks” with this cast of characters will be must-see TV.

Heck, if you take a close look at this Jets team, you can even see how some of the main players match up with some of the “Sopranos” characters: Tim Tebow is a dead ringer for Christopher Moltisanti, and while Tebow doesn’t share Chris’ penchants for heroin and spontaneous bouts of anger, both of them do have impeccable work ethics. Mark Sanchez is somewhat of a Silvio Dante, keeping a good public image and keeping his cool under pressure. And do I even have to tell you which “Sopranos” character Rex Ryan best resembles?

Bottom line: HBO would be nuts – and I mean Paulie Walnuts – if they don’t issue Gang Green a “formal invitation” to appear on “Hard Knocks” this year. And we should find out which team will partake in this season’s festivities soon enough: The Jets’ first appearance on the show in 2010 was originally announced in the last week of March of that year.

So don’t let Woody’s waffling fool you – the Jets are a lock for this year’s “Hard Knocks.” This year’s roster is guaranteed to have as much drama in the locker room as Tony Soprano when he ordered hits on people.

And unlike “The Sopranos,” this show won’t end in mid-interception.

Hump Start: NFL Moves 2012-13 Season Kickoff Game To Wednesday Night

Once again, the New York Giants find themselves in an interesting position: beginning their defense of their NFL championship a little earlier due to a conflict with an election convention. This year, the Giants will kick off the season on a Wednesday night, playing the first Wednesday NFL game since 1948.

Are you ready for some football? On a Wednesday?

As President Obama would say, yes, we can.

For the first time in 64 years, a regular season NFL game will be played on a Wednesday night – and it’ll be the very next NFL game, which opens the 2012-13 season.

And for the second time in five years, it’ll be at the expense of the World Champion New York Giants.

Here’s the deal: The game, which will be played at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, home of the Giants, was originally scheduled, as has been the case for the past dozen years, on the first Thursday of September following Labor Day.

This year, that would be September 6. Incidentally, 2012 is an election year, and each election year, the Republican and Democratic National Committees have been hosting four-day conventions during the final week of August and first week of September, alternating each year. The final day of the convention – Thursday – is the crescendo which closes with a speech from the main candidate (or sitting President).

There was no conflict in 2004 because the Democratic convention was held in July of that year. However, in 2008, so as not to step on Republican nominee John McCain’s address, the NFL moved up the time of the season opener – also involving the Giants, who had won Super Bowl XLII – from an 8:30 PM (ET) start time to about a 7 PM kickoff. The ratings were decent, but apparently not decent enough to the point that the Giants will be playing another early Thursday night season opener.

So on Tuesday, the NFL decided to simply move the game to the previous night, Wednesday, September 5. It will be the first time since the fall of 1948 that a regular season NFL game would be played on a Wednesday. On that day, September 22, 1948, to be precise, the Detroit Lions lost to the Los Angeles Rams, en route to a 2-10 season; the Rams finished 6-5-1. (In case you’re wondering, the Philadelphia Eagles won the championship that year.)

This will be the second time in three years that a regular season NFL game will be played on an unorthodox day of the week. In late December 2010, a Sunday afternoon game involving the aforementioned Eagles was moved to Tuesday night due to extreme blizzard conditions in Philadelphia. The visiting Vikings – playing out the string a la the Asheville Tourists after a blizzard back home impounded the Metrodome – won the game behind the unlikely arm of Joe Webb.

The Giants’ first opponents of the 2012-13 season is still to be determined. In 2008, the Giants beat the Washington Redskins in the season opener. With politics once again coming into play in the Giants’ defense of their Lombardi trophy, don’t be surprised if the Giants once again square off against Washington on September 5; the start time will remain 8:30 PM ET. (The two teams have actually faced each other on the season opener for the last two years.)

And in case you’re wondering: no, the Giants don’t play the Chicago Bears this season, so that was not a factor in moving up the season opener to Wednesday to accommodate big-time Bears fan President Obama the following night.

There Will Be No Tebow Time To Kickoff The 2012-13 Season On NBC

We won't know until April at the latest when the next installment of the budding rivalry between Tom Brady and Tim Tebow will take place. And while the Patriots lost the Super Bowl to the Giants, there's still a good chance that they can open their season with the Broncos on NBC.

Regardless of the Broncos’ exit from the 2011-12 NFL playoffs, Tim Tebow has been a force to be reckoned with.

That was evident back in late December, when CBS and NBC fought tooth and nail (actually, “nail” may not be the best term to use when you’re writing about Tim Tebow) over who would air a regular season Broncos/Patriots matchup.

Even after the Patriots sent the Broncos packing in the playoffs, CBS expressed interest in having Tebow on their “NFL Today” pre-AFC Championship Game edition (he respectfully declined).

Then there’s the Super Bowl – and no, I’m not talking about the week leading up to it (though there is a mind-blowing update on that). How, you ask, could Tebow be a factor in the Super Bowl, which aired on NBC?

It has to do with who the eventual winner would be hosting on the Thursday following Labor Day – which will air on NBC.

And it’s all contingent on which team prevailed, based on their schedules.

On January 2, right after the conclusion of the regular season, the NFL released each team’s lists of opponents for the season ahead, home and away, based on records, but not the actual schedules – that will happen in April on a date to be determined.

Looking at the Broncos’ schedule, aside from the usual AFC West suspects, four of the other five teams they are scheduled to play on the road made the playoffs this year – Atlanta and Cincinnati, both Wild Card round exits, and both teams that just happened to play in this year’s AFC Championship Game, New England and Baltimore.

Indeed, the NFC division that Denver plays this year is the NFC South, including a home game against the Saints. Which means they would not play the Giants next year, especially on “kickoff” night, should the Giants win the Super Bowl – which they did.

So in order for NBC to start the 2012-13 season with some “Tebow Time,” they would have to be pulling for the Patriots to prevail – which they did not.

Granted, NBC might be happier that the Giants won: their home opponents for the 2012-13 season include New Orleans and Green Bay. Given how the Giants eliminated the Packers en route to their fourth Lombardi trophy, combined with the Saints traveling to Green Bay for the previous season’s Thursday night “kickoff” game, all signs point to the Packers opening the season in New Jersey on September 6.

But it will be a virtual lock that NBC ends up with at least one regular season Broncos game next season. The Broncos games that may likely be scheduled for primetime starts are home games against New Orleans and San Diego, as well as Pittsburgh, whom the Broncos eliminated in this year’s playoffs, and road contests at San Diego, Baltimore and New England.

You have to wonder if Robert Kraft is calling dibs on CBS’ behalf for the Patriots/Broncos game a second straight year.

But it would only be fair if the NFL scheduled that game on a Sunday night on NBC. Especially given CBS aired the previous two go-rounds, including a Saturday night playoff game.

It would only be fair if the Broncos’ third matchup with the Patriots in just the fifteenth game of the Tim Tebow era, was the marquee matinee for NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” franchise for the 2012-13 season.

You would think CBS wouldn’t mind: with commitments to U.S. Open Tennis, FOX traditionally has a doubleheader in Week 1, anyway.

Perhaps the league can pull the wool over everyone’s eyes and schedule the game on ESPN or even their own NFL Network. But such a matchup with tremendous appeal is just too big for cable.

It’ll be interesting to learn where the Denver at New England game ends up in two months (or perhaps sooner; the league has been known to release schedule details for a handful of juicy matchups a few weeks prior to the release of the full schedule).

But make no mistake: NBC will get their share of Tebow Time yet.

Even if it doesn’t “kickoff” the new football season.

Just 212 days left.

WFAN's Mike Francesa Hints At Retirement

New York sports radio host Mike Francesa, one of the most polarizing figures in the format, is planning to leave radio in 2014 - but he assures that he's only "leaning" at the moment.

I tip my hat to Newsday sports media writer Neil Best for this scoop.

Mike Francesa, the longtime afternoon drive host at WFAN in New York, has disclosed to Newsday that he is “leaning toward leaving” the station when his contract expires in two years. It was originally set to expire next year, but he agreed to continue up until at least February of 2014 – when New York (or, if you prefer, New Jersey) hosts their first Super Bowl.

“That could be an interesting backdrop if that was going to be it,” Francesa said upon his final radio show possibly being broadcast amid the big game at MetLife Stadium. “It would be a fun way to leave if that’s the end.”

And it most likely would be the end for Francesa on the New York radio dial. When asked by Newsday if he would consider taking a job at WFAN rival WEPN “ESPN New York 1050,” Francesa said he “would never do that.”

For close to two decades starting in 1989, Francesa was paired with Chris Russo on the “Mike And The Mad Dog” radio program that was so popular, not only did it enjoy a video simulcast on YES Network, the regional sports network owned by the New York Yankees, but for a time, it was also syndicated regionally in markets such as Albany and Tampa.

When Russo left WFAN to embark on a new journey with Sirius Satellite Radio (now known as SiriusXM) as a personality and program director of the “Mad Dog Radio” channel, Francesa remained on WFAN in the same time slot, and the show, renamed “Mike’d Up” – which remains on YES Network – still achieves ratings success.

But there are three reasons why Francesa would gladly give it up – three young children that he is raising with his wife, Rose: twins Jack and Emily, who will turn 7 later this month; and 5-year-old son Harrison James (no word if a popular Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker inspired that kid’s name).

Yet Francesa remained steadfast that retirement is but a thought, and not set in stone. “I’m leaning [toward it],” says the 57-year-old Long Island resident. “I’m not here making any proclamations. I have a lot to think about… But I don’t see me doing nothing. I don’t think I’m cut out to do nothing. I just don’t know what I see me doing.”

One may get the feeling that this premature retirement talk from Francesa might be a ploy for his employer, CBS Radio – which owns WFAN – to put together a juicier contract with more money, and perhaps more vacation time – time that can be used spending with his three kids.

And there is always the possibility of Francesa receiving an even juicier offer from satellite radio – where his former on-air partner now makes a living.

As far as a possible reunion with Russo on SiriusXM, Francesa said bluntly, “I would say there’s a better chance that the Mets win the pennant.”

Certainly, the person WFAN eventually hires to fill Francesa’s shoes had better be amazin’.