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William Taaffe
October 06, 1986
The McPaper counts heavily on USA sports as it tries to score big
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October 06, 1986

The Sports Fan's Daily Spread

The McPaper counts heavily on USA sports as it tries to score big

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Let's see now. What's the latest in USA Today ?

Well, on the front page, in the sports box next to the masthead, there's a picture of the Fridge with the headline TOXIC LEAK: REFRIGERATOR PERRY HIT, LEAKS DEADLY FREON. There's also a reference to a relatively minor story—FOUR OUT OF THREE COLLEGE JOCKS CAN'T COUNT—that appears on page 7C.

Let's go inside for a moment.

Ah, yes, here's what we're looking for: the red-bannered USA Today Sports, the nation's first national sports daily. And what little morsel is in "Today's Tip-off," the box with the check mark at the top of page 1? Hope it's upbeat. "People are talking," it reads, "about the giant electric robot that crushed five stadiums last week. Sports teams across the USA have been crippled by the strange robot, which arbitrarily wrecks arenas and rebuilds them in less convenient places."

Well, that's all we want to read about that! Let's see what's in the " USA Snapshots" graph at the bottom of the page. THE NOSE KNOWS, the "Snapshots" headline reads. Uh-oh. The bars on the graph are flowing into an athlete's nose, showing what kinds of things he is putting up there nowadays. They are labeled: "Airplane glue 7%, Cocaine 23%, Dristan 9%, Finger 38%, Cocaine 23%."

So it goes for 32 hilarious pages in the Harvard Lampoon parody of USA Today , which hit the newsstands last month. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, parody has to be a close second. USA Today is some product. Easy to needle, yes. And occasionally dizzying because of information overkill. But there's nothing else like it this side of Mars. USA Today certainly has the most unusual daily sports page in America—oops, the USA—although all of its rivals are local newspapers and as such aren't really in competition with the nationally distributed USA. "We can't cover the Boston Red Sox as well as The Boston Globe can," says USA's editor, John Quinn. "But if you're a Boston Red Sox fan, and you're in Denver, we'll give you a more complete report than The Denver Post ."

America's first national sports daily has given the locals a hotfoot since splashing onto the scene four years ago. It had so much color and space, and so many graphs, charts and boxes, that it triggered some quick changes in newspapers across the country. Because of it, local sports pages have become easier to read and a lot more informative.

"It was a great thing for [sports] editors," says Dave Burgin, editor of the Dallas Times Herald. "It scared publishers so much that they got off the dime." Burgin, a former sports editor himself, estimates that after the debut of USA Today , sports pages in the top 20 newspaper markets increased their space by as much as 10% and started paying more attention to nuts and bolts.

Since USA has freaked out on factoids ( USA -speak for those tiny boxes followed by one or two lines of information), it is only fitting that we serve up a few of our own about the newspaper's sports section:

?The way USA Sports packages its material—a box here, a blurb there, a list neatly fitted in between—makes reading it a breeze.

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