Concussions, Linsanity And Tebowmania: Sports Media Journalists Look Back At 2012

In this scene from SNY’s “The Year In Review” of 2012, Daily News sports media columnist Bob Raissman takes the Post’s Phil Mushnick to school.

Christmas time means it’s almost the end of the year – and that means many year-end specials.

The regional sports network SNY has once again assembled a “Year In Sports” special for 2012, consisting in discussions of the biggest topics in the sports world not only in New York City, but nationally as well.

The local sports media panel consisted of Bob Raissman of the New York Daily News, Phil Mushnick of the New York Post, and Neil Best of New York Newsday, all of whom appeared on the 2011 edition of “The Year In Sports.” This year, the trio is joined by their counterpart from The New York Times, Ken Belson.

One of the topics discussed during the national window was the phenomenon that was Linsanity, when Jeremy Lin had led the Knicks for a remarkable stretch. He currently plays for the Houston Rockets – but the show’s moderator, Chris Carlin, asked if Linsanity would have even reached such heights if, say, Lin had never played in New York at all.

“Not one fan needed the media to tell you that that guy did something special to that team,” Mushnick contested. “No one had to read a paper, turn on the radio, watch TV, other than the [Knicks] game.”

“The beauty of the Linsanity story,” according to Best, “compared to Tebow, he actually did do something.”

In the same segment the brief Linsanity period in New York was discussed, the seemingly outgoing Tebowmania period in New York was also touched on.

“Jeremy Lin kind of came and went,” said Best. “The staying power of this Tebow story is amazing.”

“It’s driven by the media,” remarked Raissman on the media’s fixation with the Jets’ backup quarterback. “He’s not dressing, and they’re writing stories about him.”

Raissman also argued – as he has in past Daily News columns – that networks that covered Jets games this season showed more shots of Tebow on the sidelines than Jets players that are actually playing.

“We have to give this guy credit for the way he has handled this,” Best said, “because with this ridiculous spotlight on him, he has not wavered, not complained; he’s been accessible with the media.”

(By the way, not too long after the special was recorded, Tebow did kinda complain a bit.)

Also discussed by the New York sports media writers was the surreal year R.A. Dickey had for the New York Mets. “He’s a genuine character,” opined Belson. “He’ll stand at his locker and talk to you forever… You can’t help but like the guy.”

That did not seem to be the case when during the Mets’ Christmas party, he discussed his contract situation at length. “This guy was asked a question, and he gives what he always gives, an honest answer,” said Raissman. “It’s interesting to watch… the guy go from hero to bum.”

(Since the taping of the special, the Cy Young award winner has gone from New York to Toronto.)

The foursome also talked about the swift resolution of the Bernie Madoff situation involving the Mets; the future of the Yankees franchise if the team’s YES Network is sold to Fox magnate Rupert Murdoch (Raissman: “You look at everything Fox has gotten into and owns the majorityship: they’re not there to be sitting in the back of the bus; they’ll be driving the bus”); and the media’s role in the fate of the New York City Marathon after Hurricane Sandy crippled the city – and not one of them mentioned Mike Francesa – at least not in that discussion.

The locals were asked about the possibility of Francesa and his old WFAN on-air buddy, Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, reuniting on the radio.

“I’m sure there’s a shot, but no,” answered Mushnick. “They’d be killing each other.”

Best affirmed that the two “do not hate each other,” they just “got sick of each other professionally.”

“Why pay them both the kind of money they’re making,” asked Raissman. “You think Francesa’s gonna give Dog part of his salary? The Pope would never do that… He’s doing his own thing with his ratings; [WFAN] don’t have to pay two guys.”

Best pointed out that Francesa could be retiring in 2014; Raissman suspects it’s a contract negotiation.

Best: “I think he’s serious about maybe walking away in 2014.”

Raissman: “Yeah, right… You’ll have to carry him out of that studio.”

The national panel consisted of Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand and Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch, both making return appearances this year; plus panel newcomers Rachel Cohen from the Associated Press, and the Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Futterman. The latter had a strong opinion on the impact of concussions in the NFL.

“It’s the old journalism adage, you have to follow the money. This is cigarettes, this is asbestos, this is another big liability case, and how do those cases end? Usually, they end in really big settlements. And at some point, the NFL is probably, I think, going to have to write a very large check to a lot of people, and I don’t think it’s gonna be five years. If you let this thing drag out for five years, it’s going to be a big mistake.”

Deitsch argued that only something “catastrophic” such as “deaths on the field” would negatively impact the league. “It is a violent game; I think people have accepted that.”

When the current NHL lockout and whether or not it could be a death knell to the hockey league was brought up, after Carlin pointed out “ratings have gone down continually” before the lockout, Deitsch chimed in with: “Chris, there’s nothing more I love than hunting and fishing shows on the NBC Sports Network.” (NBCSN would be airing NHL games right about now, had there been no lockout.) Deitsch believes that viewership and attendance levels will be retained, but at “a far lower base than the NFL and the NBA,” it will take between two and four years.”

“The fans might forgive once,” Cohen argued, “I don’t know if they’ll forgive twice.”

Ourand suggested that the league consider contration in order to survive. “There’s value to having teams… in Florida and… in Phoenix,” Futterman replied, “but if you’re going to do that, you have to figure out a way to support them, because those teams can’t seem to support themselves.”

As was the case with the New York sports media panel, the red meat that is Tim Tebow was also thrown out to the national sports media panel.

Ourand: “He is such a fascinating character nationally, and polarizing. People just want to know what’s happening with him.”

Carlin: “Why is he so fascinating, especially this year when he hasn’t been on the field?”

Deitsch: “Well, he’s fascinating for [ESPN boss] John Skipper because no network has ridden Tebow harder than ESPN.”

And with social media playing a huge role in the Olympics – for viewers as a complaining device, mostly – Twitter’s existence vis a vis sports events was also discussed.

“Twitter is a game changer,” Deitsch said. “It’s become the water cooler conversation for sports fans… The fact is, we now live in a universe where the second screen is how we watch TV: first screen, we look at TV; second screen, we want to be social with our friends and family, and Twitter is among the best social emdia services you can have for sports.”

“It feels like the event’s over, and you gotta keep looking at your computer, and looking at your iPhone,” Futterman said, adding that “it can be a little frustrating” and “distracting” to the sports fan.

It can also be distracting for athletes, in a way. “Every time you put an athlete on Twitter, you give him another excuse not to grant you an interview,” Futterman argued. “And that’s my real problem with it… I think we empower it sometimes too much, in the sense that — I don’t need to talk to you, just follow my Twitter feed.”

Warned Ourand: “You do have to worry much more about what you put out there and what you tweet… But it’s changed the way people watch sports, period.”

Ourand also commented on the changing landscape of college sports, predicting that there will be “more realignment” in college football to the tune of “four 16-team conferences.”

Quoth Deitsch: “Money is driving this ship.”

Cohen: “It’s very obvious, they’re following the money.”

Futterman joked that eventually in college football, there will be “two conferences: one would be ESPN, and the other is Fox.” Yet he added: “They [schools] need the money. They gotta get it from somewhere, and TV seems to be the place where they’re going to get it.”

Members of both panels were asked to choose what they thought was their biggest stories or personalities of 2012, and what they think will be the biggest story in 2013 – but I won’t spoil it for you. (Okay, I’ll share one: Ourand says he’s looking forward to the launch of the new Fox Sports One cable network. “It’s the latest potential competitor to ESPN, and I’m dying to see what it looks like.”)

Catch the “Geico SportsNite: 2012: The Year In Sports” special when it re-airs for the remainder of the year on SNY. The special will be rebroadcast on SNY at the following dates and times: Thursday, December 20, 2 PM; Sunday, December 23, 3 PM; Wednesday, December 26, 7:30 PM; Saturday, December 29, 9 PM; and Tuesday, January 1, 2013 (New Year’s Day) at 12 Noon (all times Eastern).

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NFL Network Live From Garrett Reid Funeral: Can You Dig It?

Prior to a private memorial service for the son of Eagles head coach Andy Reid, NFL Network sent Kimberly Jones to file live reports from outside the church where the service was scheduled. Some viewers saw it as unnecessary roughness on a solemn day in a family's life. (Photo credit, Reid funeral service: AP.)

The 29-year-old son of Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid was laid to rest on Tuesday. And while NFL Network made up for being somewhat late to the party in delivering news to its viewers with comprehensive (albeit sporadic) coverage for the remainder of Sunday morning, some feel that the network descended on Garrett Reid’s funeral service as if they were crashing a party.

Viewers took issue at NFLN’s presence outside the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Broomall, PA, where the private funeral service was attended by nearly 1,000 mourners, including a who’s-who of NFL figures, from New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick to former Eagles defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who currently holds that position for the New Orleans Saints, to Commissioner Roger Goodell himself.

On Tuesday morning, “NFL AM” conducted live reports from Kimberly Jones outside the entrance to the church, hours before the service was scheduled to take place at 10:00 AM ET.

“What is the scene like now at this hour,” a somber Brian Webber asked Jones in one report.

Jones, who was all alone in the church parking lot, reported that “we are waiting for folks to arrive.”

Look, I get that NFL Network has to fill twenty hours of content per week on their new morning show. And I also get that NFLN thinks it might be a good idea to present viewers with a preview of what is expected (Webber: “Bill Belichick expected to attend today’s ceremony; do you have a sense of who else could be paying their respects in person?”) at Garrett Reid’s funeral.

A preview that could have easily been done in the confines of the NFL Network studios in Culver City.

As opposed to right outside the church, “waiting for folks to arrive.”

That appears to be how some viewers feel, according to Twitter. “I love NFL Network,” wrote Lawrence Morgan, “but having a reporter at someone’s funeral for a live report is going too far and beyond disgusting.” C.D. Carter commented, “Live roundtable coverage of Andy Reid’s son’s funeral is the best evidence yet that our culture is a rotting, stinking corpse.” And Tyler Kelley tweets these words of wisdom: “Am I the only one that thinks having a reporter live at a head coach’s son’s funeral is extremely [expletive] up?”

And on Facebook, one die-hard NFL fan was sickened by what he saw. “This isn’t a red carpet affair, and it’s not news for the public. This is a private matter,” wrote cartoonist and football satirist John Tayman. “Show the man and his family some respect and at least move your circus across the street.

“This is not NFL news. This is a personal tragedy for a man who happens to be an NFL head coach. Being able to show us live shots of his family arriving for the funeral of their son and brother is not worth the invasion of privacy you’re causing at a terrible moment for a man you’ve spent the last two days expressing sympathy for.”

The case of NFL Network camping out at a church for the funeral service of Andy Reid’s son is a double-edged sword: Does the league-run network feel privileged to be there simply because the father of the deceased is a head coach in the league? Was it the mere presence of the likes of Belichick and Goodell that warranted these live reports from the site of the funeral service in the first place? And did Reid’s family ever make a request that the network not appear on the premises that morning?

Such a request shouldn’t have to be made in a time of mourning.

As Webber himself said later in the report as he asked Jones if Andy Reid would be able to coach the Eagles’ preseason opener on Thursday night: “Football, of course, secondary and trivial at a time like this.”

Perhaps the network that’s “football 24/7” should have been “secondary and trivial,” as well.

There do not appear to have been any live reports from the private funeral service of Junior Seau in San Diego – just Steve Wyche reporting from the public memorial service at Qualcomm Stadium. And many more people, at least outside of Philadelphia, have known Seau more than they did Andy Reid’s family members. Something else to think about.

I’ll give NFL Network this much: At least they had the common decency to refrain from “live tweeting” from the funeral service, as a number of unidentified Eagles beat writers did.

Unfortunately, in a quest to deliver content to viewers, sometimes even the most funereal of circumstances, common decency is abandoned.

But you can’t blame Kimberly Jones, who on Monday night tweeted, “The extreme, continuing sadness I feel for Andy Reid and his family isn’t from being a parent. I’m not one. I guess it’s from being human.”

She was just doing her job.

Was NFL Network out of line for delivering live reports of Garrett Reid’s funeral live from the church? Do you think it was a genuine football story? Let me know what you think – post a comment below.

Time Runs Out For NFL Network Viewers In Three States

Time Warner Cable has acquired Insight Communications' cable systems, and has abruptly removed NFL Network and NFL Red Zone from the lineups at midnight on August 1, which means viewers in cities such as Cincinnati and Louisville, will miss out on regular season NFL telecasts, as well as original programming such as "NFL GameDay."

The nearly nine-year-old NFL Network has come quite a long way since the 11.5 million subscribers it gained upon its launch in the fall of 2003. These days, they’re available in about 65 million households, including seven out of the eight top television providers.

That number got a bit of a concussion on Wednesday.

That’s because Insight Communications’ cable system has been acquired by Time Warner Cable – otherwise known as the lone carrier out of the top eight television providers that does not carry NFL Network.

Over 750,000 Insight customers in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, in cities such as Cincinnati, Columbus, Lexington, Louisville and Evansville, had experienced the sports broadcasting version of “sudden death” when, at the stroke of midnight, NFLN’s signal was removed as Insight had transitioned into Time Warner.

One viewer reported seeing a message where NFLN used to be on his lineup, reading: “One moment please. This channel should be available shortly.”

What gall. Apparently, Time Warner’s idea of “shortly” is six years.

That’s how long the cable operator and NFL Network have been squabbling over carriage. Exactly one year ago, the commissioner of the league, Roger Goodell, stepped in and ordered negotiations for a long-term deal between NFLN and Time Warner that he hoped would be done by the season kickoff.

Much like a Philadelphia Eagles fan in January, any hopes of NFLN and Time Warner striking a deal went by the wayside, as carriage talks broke down following a “heated” argument.

Back in August of last year, Goodell said: “When we’re negotiating with our distributors, we believe NFL Network should be in every home. And we’re going to continue to push that because it’s good for football, and it’s good for the people who love football.”

Here we are, one year later. Not only is NFL Network largely absent from Time Warner households, as well as those of another large cable operator, Cablevision, but nearly three quarters of a million cable subscribers have watched helplessly as their Insight Communications lineup has been grandfathered into Time Warner Cable, which wasted no time euthanizing NFL Network in front of those subscribers. This despite NFLN’s willingness to maintain the previous terms under the old Insight deal.

One online channel lineup found for what was Insight shows virtually the same lineup “effective August 1” – with channels 547 and 548, which had been NFL Network and NFL Red Zone, absent.

“We are disappointed that Time Warner Cable has taken away NFL Network and NFL Red Zone from the many Insight customers who have enjoyed both channels for years,” the network said in a statement released days before their signal would go dark on systems of what would be the former Insight, which had carried NFLN since 2005, and added Red Zone four years later. “With an expanded 13-game Thursday Night Football schedule kicking off in Week 2 and a new four-hour weekday morning show, NFL Network will bring fans more exclusive content than ever before in 2012.”

Shortly after, a Time Warner Cable spokesman did some early damage (spin) control: “We regret that some of our customers will be disppointed to no longer receive [NFLN and Red Zone], but the terms being demanded now for the NFL Network are out of line for a network willing to guarantee just a handful of live games.”

These days, NFL Network is more than just a place for “a handful of live games.” There’s daily football news (“Total Access”), programs featuring exclusive NFL Films footage (“Sound FX”), one of the most popular Sunday football programming franchises (“GameDay”), and of course, the aforementioned “new four-hour weekday morning show,” “NFL AM”. Oh, how I would not want to be an Insight/Time Warner customer after getting attached to “Figure of Speech” and “Our Daily Tebow” after just two days.

Currently, NFL Network asks for around 75 cents per each subscriber – a mere fraction of the upwards of $5.00 that ESPN demands. Of course, ESPN has more rights to sports events, which is partly what had led to the Worldwide Leader’s asking price to balloon over the years. Whereas NFLN has just one sport to focus on. In addition to Thursday night games, NFLN also carries Arena Football contests. And who knows, they may be raring to carry a playoff game or two each year at some point. So, for a niche sports network run by the most popular sports league in the country, is 75 cents per subscriber really too much to ask?

In the meantime, Insight-cum-Time Warner customers who are avid football fans might choose to take it sitting down and start watching ESPN, and endure news and manufactured controversies about other teams and leagues before they get to the content they desire.

Or they can switch to another cable carrier in their area, should one be available. Another option, again if available, is a fiber optic provider, such as Verizon FiOS, which does not appear to be in many of the areas that Insight previously served. However, Cincinnati Bell Fioptics is available for affected customers in the Queen City. There’s also the option of a satellite provider (DirecTV, Dish), which may be a bit more pricey than a cable bill in some cases. (Some landlords forbid the installation of a satellite dish on their buildings, which could be another roadblock.)

By now, Insight subscribers who had been NFLN diehards likely made the switch to another carrier (the Time Warner acquisition approval was made official on March 1, which gave customers five months to prepare for the Time Warner takeover). But for those who may had been taken by surprise by the removal of NFLN, how many of the 760,000 affected customers will make the move?

“I’ve got no guess,” answered Cincinnati Enquirer media columnist John Kiesewetter (who as you may expect based on some of the links on this post, has been all over this story) via e-mail. “I know some people will, but don’t know how many.”

With no telling just how large the exodus, if any, from newly-wired Time Warner connections will be, and considering Time Warner is the second largest cable system in the country, and keeping in mind that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will stop at nothing until NFL Network is cleared in as many households as possible, there is but one thing left to do: Get Tim Tebow involved.

Seriously.

The game plan might be difficult, considering he doesn’t play for the Bengals or the Colts, plus the fact that ESPN has been on his shirtless jock a great deal. But if Jeremy Lin could make it possible for MSG Network to settle their fifty-day-long impasse with Time Warner Cable, there’s probably a way that Tebowmania can somehow work a miracle in resolving a seven-year dispute between his league’s television network and Time Warner.

In the meantime, why not contact Time Warner Cable and tell them, “You’re despicable.”

NFL Network Drops Ball On Mickey Loomis Eavesdropping Report

Why did NFL Network mysteriously neglect to acknowledge a report that Saints GM Mickey Loomis eavesdropped on opposing teams' coaches from 2002 through 2004? Instead, NFLN's "Total Access" spent more time speculating on this year's NFL Draft.

On a day in which the allegation of Bountygate-riddled Saints general manager Mickey Loomis using a reprogrammed electronic device to listen in on coaches of opposing teams for three years rocked the NFL, you’d have to wonder how the league-run network would cover the report on their nightly “Total Access” program.

Unfortunately, an hour later, you’re left wondering.

You would think that this story, even if based on unnamed sources’ accounts, would warrant A-block time on NFL Network’s version of “SportsCenter.” Instead, the show was devoted mostly to the upcoming NFL Draft on Thursday night, and featured panel segments with analysts from Brian Billick to Willie McGinest. The top story was on the Dolphins’ interest in drafting Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill with the number 8 overall pick. The next item wasn’t even a news story – it was speculation on what the Vikings will do with the number 3 draft pick, which consisted of a field report from Minnesota, and a tet-a-tet between McGinest and Daryl “Moose” Johnston. This would be followed by a similar package involving the Browns, who will be on the clock with the number 4 pick after the Vikings make their selection. Other segments on the program included a discussion on whether Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III would be entering a better situation upon their being drafted to their respective teams, and a piece on number 1 overall draft picks, “The Ones.”

In fact, it seems that the top non-draft-related item on Monday night’s “Total Access” was the news of Eagles and Broncos safety Brian Dawkins retiring.

Incidentally, on this night, NFL Network debuted a new chyron scheme. In conjunction with this was a giant bar above the scrolling ticker, which fed nonstop data related to this year’s NFL Draft, including a draft order legend, and mock drafts from NFLN analysts like Mike Mayock and Charley Casserly. For high-definition viewers. this bar lopped off the “rundown” bar on the left side of the screen. So you couldn’t even check in and look for a tab teasing the Saints story.

I’m curious as to why NFL Network would choose to avoid acknowledging the report of Loomis’ eavesdropping. Think about it: they were all over the Saints’ Bountygate scandal. Hell, one of their own personalities even fingered who he deemed “the snitch” in the whole thing (and as a result, is no longer with the network). Could it be that since it’s currently at a stage where it’s simply allegations, they’re choosing not to report on it? Or is it because ESPN broke the story with open arms? I would hate to think it would be the latter.

Then again, if you look on NFL.com while “Total Access” was on the air Monday night, you’ll find “headlines” such as the offseason roster expanding by ten players, and the Titans’ quarterback situation. You’ll also find articles pondering how the NFL would be affected if Andrew Luck were drafted in 2011, or wondering if Tony Romo is “Done in Dallas?” Nada on Spygate South.

In fact, as of post time, the most recent news item on NFL.com regarding the Saints is a frenzy of a different nature – team owner Tom Benson placing his granddaughter, believed to be the successor of the team should Tom pass on, on unpaid administrative leave as a result of “a pattern of behavior” exhibited by the 35-year-old woman. The item reads on NFL.com that Benson “is using the leave to send a wake-up call.”

Incidentally, now would be a good time to give the National Football League a wake-up call: Why keep NFL Network viewers and NFL.com readers in the dark on a report that, while cited by anonymous sources, could mushroom into an even bigger headache for the Saints in the long run? I mean, how hard is it to put Lindsay Rhodes in front of a Teleprompter and inform viewers of this report, and that the Saints are denying said report? Are you afraid it might be a missed opportunity to promote “The Top 100 NFL Players Of 2012”?

Certainly, the NFL understands that there are dozens of other popular sports news sources that are making a mention of the alleged Loomis eavesdropping. As of 8 PM ET on Monday night, it’s the top headline item on Yahoo! Sports’ NFL page. Ditto for CBS Sports’ NFL page. The top trending story on The Sporting News’ NFL page: “Loomis Accused.” Loomis accounted for the top headline item on FoxSports.com’s main page, as well as that of Pro Football Weekly.

Even the popular political news aggregator The Drudge Report has an item on it that reads, “Report: NFL team bugged opposing coaches box for 3 years…”

It’s one thing if ESPN is breaking a football story before NFL Network.

But if even The Drudge Report beats you to a significant football-related news item, that is not good.

It’s as if Roger Goodell is covering his eyes, hoping the report dies down quickly. I wouldn’t be surprised if he issued a gag order on all NFLN personnel to even mention the Saints on Monday’s broadcast.

I don’t want to take anything away from NFL Network. Everyone involved does a superb job putting together content for “Total Access” that viewers – football fans – would be interested in.

I would think they’d be interested in hearing about a report that the general manager of a team that won the Super Bowl a few years ago was listening in on the other teams’ coaches for a few years, wouldn’t you?

Especially if it’s the same team that’s got Bountygate casting a bayou-like shadow on them.

But, no, that can wait. Let’s break down Ryan Tannehill’s draft stock while we still can!

I thought devoting a segment to sandwiches modeled after Tim Tebow and Mark Sanchez was the worst day of journalism on NFL Network.

I was wrong.

UPDATE: Well, it was a day and a few minutes overdue, but three minutes into Tuesday night’s “Total Access” broadcast, Andrew Siciliano finally reported on the Eavesdropgate allegations – and yes, he credited ESPN with first reporting the story on Monday. They also had Steve Wyche, currently stationed in Virginia for Redskins draft duties, file a report on the matter. And yes, at around 7:39 PM ET, the top headline on NFL.com reads: “Authorities investigating alleged wiretapping by Saints GM.” I knew the league wouldn’t have their head in the sand on this issue, but this still begs the question: what took so long?

Saints Seek Suit Against ESPN For Report Of Superdome Spygate Sequel

ESPN reported Monday via sources that Saints GM Mickey Loomis was able to listen to opposing coaches' conversations during games at the Superdome for three years. The Saints are now "seeking legal recourse" against ESPN - but this Spygate sequel is clearly a bigger issue that should be played out first.

I know we’re seven years removed from the devastation that was Hurricane Katrina, but for the New Orleans Saints, when it rains, it monsoons.

Following the Bountygate scandal – for which team personnel including head coach Sean Payton were suspended, and player suspensions are still due to be handed down, perhaps this week – comes word of a possible Spygate sequel, with allegations that general manager Mickey Loomis had arranged for an electronic device, installed by previous GM Randy Mueller, for the purpose of listening in on other Saints coaching staff members, to be rigged so that Loomis could be able to eavesdrop on opposing coaches during games played at the Superdome.

This was first reported Monday afternoon by ESPN’s “Outside The Lines” unit. Naturally, not only are the Saints denying these allegations, of which ESPN cites “sources familiar with Saints game-day operations”, the team is planning to sue the network.

According to New Orleans television station WWL – not to be confused with WWL, as in the Worldwide Leader, ESPN – Saints vice president of communications Greg Bensel deems the story “1000 percent false” and “completely inaccurate.” Bensel claims ESPN “refused… to provide us evidence to support their allegations.” With that, the Saints are now considering “all legal recourse regarding these false allegations.”

Louisiana attorney Jim Letten was quoted in the ESPN report as being informed of the allegations on Friday and is “not at liberty to comment” on this situation.

Sources claim that while Loomis watched Saints games at a suite in the Superdome, he used an earpiece to listen to communications from opposing coaches during games, manipulating a switch to toggle between offensive coaches for whomever the Saints’ opponent was that day, or their defensive coaches. This allegedly went on for just three seasons, between 2002 and 2004, during which, as ESPN points out, the Saints had a .500 record at the Superdome, as well a similar overall record (25-23) for those three seasons. The technology was rendered inoperable as a result of Hurricane Katrina, and in the ensuing season, in which the Saints would not be able to play a game at the Superdome for the entire season, the Saints went 3-13.

While Loomis may evade possible criminal prosecution since the statute of limitations following the most recent alleged offense falls outside the maximum five year window, it’s certain that the NFL could issue a stern punishment on top of the eight-game suspension he’s scheduled to serve for his role in Bountygate.

Spygate, you may recall, was the name given to the New England Patriots’ signal-videotaping scandal back in 2007; it cost them $750,000 in fines and a first-round draft pick.

If what I am dubbing “Spygate South” is proven, on top of Bountygate… maybe they should be forced to forfeit their Super Bowl championship.

But back to the lede in this particular post: Go ahead and sue ESPN, Saints. And while you’re at it, ask them about that “Deep Waters” headline they churned out when the first rumblings of Bountygate emerged.

Let’s take it one step at a time: let’s prove these allegations against Mickey Loomis first. If he’s found not guilty, then feel free to throw all the slander lawsuits you want at the Worldwide Leader – it certainly wouldn’t be the first time.

As much as I personally prefer NFL Network when it comes to football news, I have to say, for breaking a story of this magnitude, with ramifications that could possibly set a franchise back for years, it feels good to be ESPN.

Not so much if you’re a Saints fan.

Or if you’re Mickey Loomis.

Grab your umbrella.

Be sure to read SportsRantz’ Anthony DiMoro’s take on the Mickey Loomis eavesdropping allegations.

Rams, Redskins, RG3 and… Rush?

The Washington Redskins traded four draft picks to the St. Louis Rams, in the hopes of drafting Robert Griffin III. But what if talk show host and former ESPN commentator Rush Limbaugh had been a part-owner of the Rams, as he had aspired to be back in 2009? With the recent Sandra Fluke controversy, would any teams have even fathomed a deal with the Rams?

Over the weekend, the Washington Redskins have agreed to a trade with the St. Louis Rams, giving them this year’s second overall pick in the NFL Draft, in exchange for their sixth and 39th overall picks in this year’s draft, plus their first-round draft picks in the next two years. With the deal, the Redskins effectively opt-out of the “Peyton Manning sweepstakes”, as the franchise has their sights set on Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III – provided the Indianapolis Colts don’t call an audible and grab Griffin themselves with the first overall draft pick, which the team is likely using for Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who would effectively replace Manning after fourteen seasons with the Colts.

The Redskins’ trade with the Rams, on paper, appears to be a coup for both teams: St. Louis, who had already drafted a quarterback two years ago in Sam Bradford, sensed that with two quarterbacks – Luck and Griffin, possibly in that order – projected to be drafted with the first two picks, they felt it was best to trade their pick away to a team that would best benefit from the services of “RG3”, while the Rams used the draft picks they would receive from said team to continue the rebuilding process.

And in “RG3,” the Redskins seem to have found the franchise quarterback they have needed since Joe Theismann took over under center in 1978, just as the league’s regular season tally expanded from 14 games to 16.

But imagine for a moment that this blockbuster trade may have never come into fruition. That’s right: there might have been a possibility that the Redskins, or any of the other NFL teams, for that matter, may have wished not to do business with the Rams for their second-overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. All because of one man who had expressed interest in part-ownership of the franchise some two-and-a-half years ago: conservative talk radio titan Rush Limbaugh.

Georgia Frontiere, previous owner of the Rams, died in early 2008 due to complications from breast cancer. It was under her watch that the franchise moved from Los Angeles to her hometown of St. Louis in 1995. Prior to the 2008 season, Limbaugh, a native of Cape Girardeau, MO, which is just over 100 miles from St. Louis, expressed his interest in owning the Rams. “My desire to get involved [with NFL ownership] has not been a secret,” Limbaugh said at the time, adding that he knows “a lot of friends” in that capacity. And despite the Rams being located not too far from where he was born and raised, Limbaugh pleaded that such a move would be strictly “a business decision.”

Limbaugh’s desire to join the ranks of NFL ownership intensified in October 2009, when he announced that he would be joining a group led by St. Louis Blues owner Dave Checketts, who previously had been the president and CEO of Madison Square Garden through most of the 1990’s, in a bid for ownership of the Rams. This was met with much criticism, as several negative comments about the NFL from Limbaugh were resurfaced and rehashed ad nauseum, most notably his comparison of the league to “a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons” in 2007.

Also revisited was his ill-fated stint as commentator of “Sunday NFL Countdown” on ESPN in 2003. On the September 28, 2003 edition, the “Countdown” crew had been discussing the Philadelphia Eagles, who at the time were 0-2 – outscored 48-10 in the first two games at their then-new stadium, Lincoln Financial Field – and just coming off of a bye week. In those previous two games, quarterback Donovan McNabb had thrown for zero touchdowns and three interceptions, and was sacked a whopping ten times for a combined loss of 66 yards. This led Limbaugh to say about McNabb: “I’m sorry to say this, I don’t think he’s been that good from the get-go… I think the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well… he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn’t really deserve. The defense carried the team.”

Co-commentator Tom Jackson was quick to point out that McNabb had led the Eagles to “those championship games” in the previous two seasons – they had been eliminated by the Buccaneers in 2003, and the previous year, incidentally, by the Rams, both of which had advanced to and won Super Bowls in those years. “He has been a very effective quarterback for this football team over the last two or three years,” Jackson said of McNabb, “and they didn’t have any more talent then than they do now.” Limbaugh replied: “Oh, yes, they did: on defense… I think he got a lot of credit for the defensive side of the ball winning games for this team.”

Limbaugh also assured Jackson that McNabb was “a good investment” by the Eagles, but “I just don’t think he’s as good as everybody says he has been.” Fellow commentators Steve Young and Michael Irvin were not as dismissive on Limbaugh’s view as Jackson had been. “Don’t misunderstand,” said Limbaugh.

Whether or not the quarterback had “misunderstood” Limbaugh’s comments, McNabb spoke out about them in a newspaper interview: “It’s sad that you’ve got to go to skin color. I thought we were through with that whole deal.” This led to several athletes and noted Democratic figures, including civil rights activist Al Sharpton, dismissing Limbaugh’s comments about McNabb on ESPN, and an outfit known as the National Association of Black Journalists questioning “ESPN’s credibility as a journalism entity.” This led to ESPN issuing a statement on the night of Wednesday, October 1, 2003, announcing that they had informed Limbaugh that his comments about McNabb “were insensitive and inappropriate.”

Shortly after, Limbaugh would part ways with the Worldwide Leader, resigning his post on “Sunday NFL Countdown.”

Keep in mind that the next day, October 2, 2003, he would deliver the keynote speech at the annual National Assocation of Broadcasters convention – which just happened to be based in Philadelphia that year.

Fast forward six years, and ten days, later. In the wake of Limbaugh’s inclination to be part of a group making a bid for ownership of the St. Louis Rams, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, DeMaurice Smith, who is African-American, voiced his opposition of Limbaugh’s involvement with NFL ownership, saying his history of controversial comments that have been made, not only about McNabb on ESPN, but on his nationally syndicated radio show with roughly 600 affiliates – Rush has made no secret that he is not a fan of current U.S. President, Barack Obama – would mar the spirit of the NFL, which “overcomes division and rejects discrimination and hatred.”

Much like in 2003 after Limbaugh’s viewpoint on Donovan McNabb, several athletes did not take kindly to Limbaugh’s potential part-ownership of an NFL franchise. “Our players… know that there is an ugly part of history and we will not risk going backwards, giving up, giving in or lying down to it,” said Smith in 2009. “I am proud when they stand up, understand that this is their profession, and speak with candor and blunt honesty about how they feel.” The next day, the commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell, went on the record as saying Limbaugh’s comments, particularly about McNabb in 2003, were “divisive” and “polarizing,” and “would not want to see those comments coming from people who are in a responsible position in the NFL… Absolutely not.”

Make no mistake, Rush Limbaugh is a polarizing figure in the African-American community. It would be hard to fathom his involvement in the ownership of a team located in a city which, in 2010, roughly half of its population (49.2%) was African-American.

Shortly after Goodell voiced his displeasure in Limbaugh’s potential link to Rams ownership, Checketts had no choice but to shed Limbaugh from his ownership group. “It has become clear that his involvement in our group has become a complication and a distraction to our intentions,” Checketts said in a statement, adding that Limbaugh would have only been “a limited partner” who “would have had no say in the direction of the club or in any decisions regarding personnel or operations.” Checketts was optimistic that his group’s disassociation from Limbaugh would “eventually lead… to a successful conclusion” – that being, claiming ownership of the Rams franchise.

What appeared to be a strong desire by Checketts & Co. in the beginning of 2010 had fell by the wayside as the winter went on, and ownership of the team ultimately went to billionaire Stan Kroenke just prior to the start of the 2010-11 NFL season.

It’s clear that without Rush Limbaugh, the NFL is all the better for it.

But given the events of the last few weeks, I can’t help but wonder if: What if Rush Limbaugh was currently a part-owner of the St. Louis Rams? What if Rush Limbaugh had never been an employee of ESPN? What if Rush Limbaugh – as impossible as it may be to imagine – had never uttered a “divisive” thing about anyone or anything over the last 25 years?

It was on New Year’s Day 2012 that it was first reported on, ironically enough, ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown” program, that junior quarterback Robert Griffin III of Baylor, just three weeks after winning the Heisman Trophy, was going to declare eligibility for the NFL Draft.

On February 24th, the Rams let it be known that they are willing to part with the second overall draft pick – for the right price. St. Louis, of course, is set at quarterback with Sam Bradford, so it’s not much of a necessity for them to draft Griffin.

The day before, on February 23rd, Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke had given testimony at a panel on Capitol Hill titled, “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?” Fluke had spoken in favor of contraception being covered by health insurance plans offered by employers, including regilious institutions.

On February 29th, on his radio show, Limbaugh spoke out against Fluke’s support for a federal contraception mandate. “What does it say about the college coed… who goes before a Congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex?,” he asked his listeners. “What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.” Limbaugh further continued skewering Fluke for the remainder of the week, culminating with his March 1 show, in which he voiced a request for Fluke, in exchange for her plea for taxpayers footing the bill for contraceptives, “to post the videos online so we can all watch.”

The verbal attacks on Fluke were so brutal that she received a call from President Obama on Friday, March 2. Amid mounting criticism, Limbaugh posted an apology on his website the next day – but by then, the damage would just start to be done, as seven sponsors announced that they would pull their advertising from Limbaugh’s radio show over the weekend. Since then, the list continues to grow. Two radio stations in the “blue state” of Massachusetts and the island of Hawaii even canceled Limbaugh’s show. And just recently, a trio of women’s rights activists led by Gloria Steinem urged people to file complaints with the Federal Communications Commission so that they may revoke the licenses of hundreds of radio stations that air Limbaugh’s “toxic hate speech.”

In the span of ten days, Rush Limbaugh had been under much scrutiny for his comments about Sandra Fluke, and rightly so.

Now, take that all in, and imagine if, amidst all of this controversy, he was a part-owner of the St. Louis Rams.

A St. Louis Rams team that would be openly willing to wheel and deal the second overall draft pick to other NFL teams.

There’s a good chance that the Rams would have been left at the altar.

Regardless of how talented and highly touted Robert Griffin III may be, Rush Limbaugh’s mere existence on the Rams ownership board would have been front office kryptonite, with Limbaugh’s comments about Fluke tainting such a deal before it would even be proposed.

“Well, I’m terribly sorry about Mr. Limbaugh’s comments regarding Ms. Fluke, but… RG3! Come on!”

There would have been no takers. Not even the NFL team representing Washington – where Georgetown University is located – and President Barack Obama currently resides.

It could have been the second case of Rush Limbaugh being in the wrong place at the wrong time since 2003, after he quit his gig at ESPN over controversial comments about the quarterback of Philadelphia’s NFL team – right before he was to give a speech at a broadcasting convention in Philadelphia.

Things could have been far worse: Could you picture a part-Limbaugh-owned Rams team making the draft pick megadeal with the Redskins, and then going on the radio to defame Sandra Fluke as a “prostitute” and a “slut”? The Rams, the Redskins, the entire NFL starting with Roger Goodell – they would have to spend the weeks leading up to the NFL Draft trying to remove all of the egg from their faces. Those comments clearly would have been a distraction as all 32 teams prepare for the draft, with the conversation of “Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin?” being relegated to a sideshow.

A distraction similar to the one that sprung up when Limbaugh first expressed interest in ownership of the francise.

There’s no way that anybody with a pulse can condone Rush Limbaugh’s many “divisive comments” over the years.

In the case of Rush Limbaugh, the aspiring part-owner of an NFL team, however, it’s somewhat bittersweet that he has made such comments, only in that the NFL has swiftly denied access to him joining the league’s franchise owners, because of those comments.

Such unnecessary roughness on Sandra Fluke may have resulted from him being banned from the league.

One more serving of food for thought: Would Rush Limbaugh have made those comments about Sandra Fluke, comments that the average woman took offense to, if he had been part-owner of the St. Louis Rams, continuing a legacy of franchise ownership previously upheld by… a woman?

If Georgia Frontiere heard some of the things Rush Limbaugh has said, whether he owned the Rams or not, she might roll over in her grave.

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.