SI's readers often witness, via television, the same spectacles we cover in these pages. Keeping tabs for us on that other medium, and radio, too, is staff writer Bill Taaffe, whose analysis of what can be expected in the contract negotiations between the networks and the NFL may be found on page 32. Before coming to SI in 1982, Taaffe (pronounced taff) had spent four years covering the electronic media for the late Washington Star. "When I started," he says, "there were maybe a dozen TV/radio specialists. Now every paper worth its salt has one."
As for the state of sportscasting today, Taaffe has a pithy summary: "There is altogether too much talk." He cringes during halftime interviews of coaches on their way to the dressing room and asks rhetorically, "Has anything interesting ever come out of one of those?" Likewise Taaffe is irritated by local sportscasters who "chat ad nauseam with the anchormen," and networks that announce a game will start at 3:00 when kickoff is at 3:35.
Taaffe doesn't watch more TV than the ordinary viewer. "I just watch more closely," he says, "and with a notebook in my hand." At home in Silver Spring, Md., with Donna, his wife of six years, Taaffe spends some 10 hours a week riveted to the tube. He is not so much a watchdog—"that expression makes me uncomfortable"—as an "evaluator" of television's sports fare. "Like the ordinary fan, I care deeply about sports. I react the way the ordinary fan reacts. I go with my instincts."
Those instincts have led him out onto various limbs. In a 1984 column for SI, Howard, The Guys Need You, Taaffe lamented the passing of Howard Cosell from ABC's Monday Night Football booth. That brought a flood of letters from readers who were delighted with Howard's departure. Taaffe also agrees with Cosell's use of the term jockocracy for the sportscasting community, though Bill adds, "There is a place for the ex-athlete in the booth. He contributes an insight, a knowledge that the nonathlete can't."
Unlike the ordinary fan, Taaffe has a pulpit from which to air his pet peeves. He keeps a month-by-month "Heidi candidates" file. Every December in our Sportsman of the Year issue, Taaffe presents the Heidi Awards (named for a movie on NBC that bumped a 1968 Jets-Raiders game in its waning moments) to those responsible for the year's sportscasting low lights.
In the same forum, however, Taaffe applauds the deserving; he strives to be fair. "You can't be Jack the Ripper in this business, but you can't be Little Bo-peep, either," Taaffe concludes.