The problem with the media coverage
I hope that you will forgive me if I open my column with a little crass commercialism.

This Saturday (the 15th) I will be signing copies of McKay’s Men at the Barnes and Noble located at 23654 US 19 North in Clearwater, FL. The signing will be from 1 to 3 pm. If you are in town for the Bucs-Saints game, please stop on by and say hello.

We now return to our regularly scheduled column.

I am always excited to be in Tampa on the day of a Buccaneer home game. It’s been almost fifteen years since I lived in Tampa, so in many ways I am still a little kid when I get the chance to be in Tampa on game day.

Since I don’t have tickets, I’ll gladly watch the game with my two young nephews. Speaking of watching on television, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the coverage of regular season Buccaneer games, and NFL games in general, have changed. I wonder if my nephews (both born in the 90’s) would believe how we used to watch football in the 70’s and 80’s?

Currently you can start getting prepared for the game at 8:00 or so in the morning EST with a variety of pre-game shows. That is not the way it has always been. Before cable there were no two-hour pre-game shows with casts of thousands. At noon the local CBS affiliate showed “This Week in the NFL,” a half-hour production of NFL Films. HBO’s “Inside the NFL” shows NFL Films highlights of the previous weeks games in 60 minutes with interviews and profiles interspersed. “This Week in the NFL” was simply highlights narrated by Harry Kalas.

That was it, just the highlights. Scary as it may sound, this was also the only way we got to see some NFL teams. Growing up in Tampa, the Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs and other western teams were exotic to us because we couldn’t see them play unless they played the Bucs (more on that in a moment), so “This Week in the NFL” was the only way I knew that there was a Randy Gradishar or Bill Kenney.

At 12:30 “The NFL Today” came on with Brent Musburger’s famous intonation of “You are looking live at…” over a series of shots of slowly filling stadiums. “You are looking live at Texas Stadium where the Cowboys and Redskins will battle for NFC East supremacy,” would be a standard dramatic opening. Tampa Bay seemed to always be last in the pecking order of the opening shots.

“And you are looking live at Tampa Stadium where the Buccaneers of Leeman Bennett look to end a six-game losing streak against Randy Wright and the Green Bay Packers.” Musburger would talk about the Buc game in a tone similar to that of a hostage being forced to make a video. Talk about “Must-Flee TV!”

I miss the old way of covering pre-game. I never really liked Brent Musburger, but I liked that the NFL Today was able to give you a taste of the game in just 30 minutes. I can’t sit through ESPN’s epic pre-game show or the current network shows. It is a fun game, but honestly two hours breaking down Week Eight when the marquee match-up is Arizona-Oakland? Please!

The production value of the game itself was also different. Watch some of the clips that Paul has included on this site. Notice how most of the games from the 70’s and 80’s lack flashy graphics, annoying music and constant promos of other programs? The focus was actually on the game itself. Not a fantasy tracker to be found anywhere halleluiah! Just the game and nothing but the game. I miss that.

By the way, you would only see this if the game was on television. Eight times a year the Bucs would not be televised because Hugh Culverhouse couldn’t get anybody to come to Tampa Stadium since the Bucs simply weren’t competitive at the time. Due to the lack of a sell-out, the game would not be telecast in the Bay Area. Instead you would have to listen to the Bucs on the radio. This also meant that there were times when there was only one game at a time and sometimes only one for the whole Sunday!

Imagine that in this day and age. Just one game for a whole Sunday! I think people might have had better lawns back then because once the Buc game was over, no more football for the day. It was also odd when the Bucs would play at Green Bay, Minnesota or Chicago because the game would kick-off at 1 pm Central Time.

This meant the game would start at 2pm in Tampa. CBS would have an extended version of the NFL Today with live look-in’s at the games that started at 1 o’clock and then take you to the Buccaneer game (sometimes kicking and screaming if they cut away from the elite game of the day). When the Buc game ended around 5 pm that was it for football on TV that day. That was bizarre, but I don’t think the NFL has done that since the early 80’s.

When I think of it now, there were some barren Sundays during the height of football season. No Sunday night football, no double-header because the NFL wouldn’t allow another game to compete with the Buccaneers. I don’t miss that, but I do wonder if we’ve lost something. A Buccaneer game was more of an event then even though they were horrible. You had to be a true fan of the game then. If you didn’t like football, there was no reason to watch. If you didn’t like the Bucs, you were out of luck because that was the only game on.

With no annoying graphics, you could just watch the game and develop a true understanding. With only one game at a time, you didn’t channel surf and lose track of the flow of the game. Even though I hate the ad campaign, the old codger in those NFL Sunday Ticket commercials has it right. “If you’re team was getting pounded, you took it like a man.” Now, if the Bucs are getting pounded it can be hard to resist the temptation to flip to a more competitive game (such as this past Sunday when I flipped over to see a bit of the Oakland-Detroit game before finishing out the Bataan Death March that was the loss to Seattle).

All things being equal I guess the change in the way Buccaneer games are presented is a mixed bag. I like being able to watch every Buccaneer game even though I live so far away. I enjoy the recap show that NBC does and live scoring updates are nice.

However, I hate the fantasy tracker. Really, somebody please shoot me if my over-riding concern during a Buccaneer game is to find out that Larry Johnson has gained 3 yards on 1 carry 45 seconds into a game being played in a different time zone! I also hate the new graphics and would like nothing more than to take a monkey wrench to that annoying FOX robot that bounces around all the time.

Finally, somebody please tell the network executives that not every ex-coach and player needs to be on a pre-game show. For crying out loud, “Gone With the Wind” was made with less people involved then ESPN’s NFL Countdown show and Scarlett O’Hara provided as much football insight as Sean Salisbury!

Regardless of how television coverage moves forward one thing will remain constant and that is our fascination with this team. GO BUCS! By the way, did I mention that I have a book signing at the Clearwater Barnes and Noble this Saturday?