Posted: Friday April 14, 2006 6:58PM; Updated: Monday April 17, 2006 11:01AM
Jim Nantz was a ubiquitous TV figure over the past six weeks thanks to his work on the NCAA tournament and the Masters.
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1. Jim Nantz, CBS Sports Even if you don't genuflect at the sight of Amen Corner, blooming azaleas and Hootie Johnson, Nantz's unapologetic zeal for the Masters clearly comes from the heart. His reverence for Augusta -- and the sport of golf -- is as big as Yao Ming, and the CBS commentator has become the de facto spokesman of the Masters, an interesting position for someone employed by a network sports division. Last year Nantz told Golf Digest that he thinks about the Masters "every day of my life." In SI's Golf Plus Masters Preview last week, Nantz went Marcellus Wallace on everyone who had a problem with the sport, including those shadowy figures from the mainstream media ("I think golf gets a bad name from the mainstream media. Somebody needs to defend the good name of the sport, and I'm ready to do it").
Nantz seemingly has been everywhere lately. Last month, he and Billy Packer were charbroiled for what many critics and fans perceived as bias (and haughty, at that) toward the power conferences during the NCAA's selection show. Personally, I liked that Nantz, forever underrated as a game announcer, questioned the selection committee's choices, even if the mid-major schools ended up with the last word. As I wrote last month, I'd rather have Nantz and Packer prodding and asking questions than cheerleading their own property. Of course, that won't happen at the Masters, where the only thing not rose-colored in CBS's eyes are the sumptuous greens at Augusta National.
2. Barry Bonds, television host After watching Bonds on Bonds, a sleep-inducing infomercial directed, produced and orchestrated by one of the great louts in sports history, a reasonable person might ask why ESPN would risk losing journalistic face for a show that delivers little content and smaller ratings. (The debut show drew an 0.4 rating.) Outside of his 73-homer season in 2001, Bonds' getting a 10-hour infomercial on ESPN and ESPN2 may be his single greatest achievement this century.
3. The NFL Network While NBC got prettiest-girl-in-the-class status from the NFL schedule-makers, the NFL Network's set of games is intriguing, especially the network's debut on Thanksgiving night featuring a sexy matchup between the Broncos and Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. There's also Cowboys-Falcons (Dec. 16), Giants-Redskins (Dec. 30) and what could potentially be Brett Favre's final regular-season home game (Packers vs. Vikings on Dec. 21). Each telecast will feature a live, three-hour pregame show from the host city and a one-hour postgame show with press conferences. Peter King had an interesting take on what the NFL Network adding games means for competitors such as ESPN.
4. Howie Mandel, NHL endorser and NBC game-show host It's payback time for those who wrote off the comic after his 1997 special Howie Mandel on Ice. Mandel is lending his voice to the NHL's new Stanley Cup campaign, and his NBC game show Deal or No Deal had more average viewers (17.7 million) than CBS' coverage of the NCAA title game (17.5). The Hollywood Reporter said it was the first time in the People Meter era that an entertainment program topped the men's basketball final. Outside of the Super Bowl, big-time sports properties are no longer immune from counter-programming.