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Sports Media Musings: Jack Edwards Inks Deal, NESN vs CSN, Gus Johnson, & Bill Simmons

ESPN's Bill Simmons Is Starting His Own Site, Grantland.com (Courtesy Getty Images)

Excuse me, while I channel my inner Jason McIntyre…

Boston’s storied sports history is rich with both personalities on the field, court, and rink as well as the personalities covering our beloved teams. Names like Peter Gammons and Bob Ryan come to mind for their objectivity and transcendence into the national spotlight in the later part of their careers. On the other hand, Boston also has had an abundance of legendary play-by-play men and color commentators like Tommy Heinsohn, Jerry Remy, Johnny Most, and Gil Santos. They all are known for their longevity, and it appears NESN is granting that same opportunity to Bruins lead play-by-play man Jack Edwards. Somewhere Dale Arnold is pouring a rather large glass of whiskey.

Edwards was the subject of brief controversy earlier this postseason for his partiality and bias towards the Bruins during the games. Instead of shying away from this criticism, Edwards elected to perpetuate the stigma by taping long-winded rants that elicited comedy, pride, and confusion all at once. He raved about monarchs, the Boston tea party, and despicable Canadien diving tactics, which as he profoundly stated, “Was a heck of a lot of fun.”

My opinion? Well, as I’ve written before, I think it is within reason to expect local broadcasts of games to have an aura of general subjectivity and bias. I dig the passion, and I also like that Edwards decided to embrace his new persona as uber-homer. It reminded me of Charlie Sheen. Sheen had some drug problems, and his friends showed consternation. When word got out that Chaz was having legendary benders, ABC decided to reach out to him. From that point we were supposed to be watching a candid interview; however, Charlie’s issues were overshadowed by his quirkiness and he seemed content rather than troubled. This unintentional wit caused the arousal of a new-found charm, and Charlie (much like Edwards) embraced the moment. The only problem is that “Winning” only had a two-week shelf life. Hopefully Jack Edwards finds a modicum level of theatrics that he can settle into.

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Speaking of NESN, I’ve found the reaction to Bruins coverage this postseason intriguing. Personally, I think Comcast Sports Net’s coverage of the Bruins has been superior to NESN’s. Michael Felger’s the-sky-is-falling! demeanor along with 5-time NHL All-Star Tony Amonte’s even-keel insight have worked well off one another.

(Quick Rant: If you didn’t know Amonte was an All-Star, watch the show for five minutes - they repeat this fact OFTEN. I think it’s in his contract that it needs to be mentioned every segment)

In contrast, NESN’s coverage has been mundane and understated. This is unacceptable on so many levels. NESN carries the games yet last Saturday, during GM Peter Chiarelli’s press conference announcing the status of Patrice Bergeron, NESN elected to stay with the scheduled infomercial while CSN covered the news.

I’m a realist, I get it, these things tend to come down to money. Presumably, NESN can’t afford to pay insiders like Joe Haggerty to cover the B’s exclusively on their network. Secondly, the programming being pre-empted probably would have caused financial loss to the network. All that’s fine, BUT until NESN fully embraces it’s role as a major sports station in the Boston market, their whimsical attempts at producing shows like NESN Daily will always fail.

From the I-have-nothing-to-corroborate-this-with-department, it is rumored that Kathyrn Tappen may be leaving her post as Boston Bruins pre-game and post-game host at NESN to pursue a position with the NHL Network.

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The first item in national news is rather somber. March just got a little less mad with the news Gus Johnson has left CBS Sports to join Fox. It’s a tough hit to college basketball fans.  No other announcer can duplicate Gus Johnson’s enthusiasm for college basketball. His love of the game was infectious, his emotion vividly would evoke off your television speaker, and eventually the tournanment became synonymous with what was known as “The Law of Gus.”

The theory is no matter how terrible the match up is, if Gus Johnson is calling the game, the action would morph and the excitement and intensity skewed. Even if it’s a 15-seed within 12 with 8 minutes left against a 2-seed, Johnson worked himself into a frenzy and the entertaiment value  immediately jumped up 16 levels. On the bright side, I always felt Johnson was under-utilized in CBS’ NFL coverage, and he is already being groomed for a slot on Fox’s NFL coverage. I suppose fans can take solace in that development.

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Bill Simmons’ new site, named GrantLand.com, offered two preview features in anticipation of it’s June launch date. The site is said to be Simmons’ brain-child. And with ESPN’s backing, coupled with some high profile writer’s such as Chuck Klosterman and Malcom Gladwell already signed on, this appears to be yet another calculated venture for the Boston bread “Sports Guy.” Simmons has already experienced tremendous success in his career. He is known as one of the early benefactors of the Internet age in sports journalism, going from obscure free-lance writer/bartender living in Cambridge to having his own page on ESPN.com. It didn’t stop there for Simmons, though. He continued to his extend his “brand”, launching the award-winning BS Report podcast four years ago, becoming an executive producer of ESPN’s 30 For 30 documentary series, among many other feats.

Though, recently, he has become a polarizing figure to both fans and other members of the media. He’s been embroiled in many high-profile feuds and his advesary’s  include Charles P. Pierce (no relation to Paul),  Keith Olberman, and anonymous bloggers.

Unfortunately, I can’t speak rationally about the Sports Guy. I acquiesce the guy is a source of inspiration to me. I started writing in part because of writers like him (as well as Peter King, Richard Dietsch, Chad Finn, and many others), I started podcasting strictly because of him, and I can’t honestly speak objectively about any criticisms involving his work. Does he have holes in his work? Of course. His references can grow old, and somewhat redundant. In fact, one can argue, the guy’s career has benefited from the release of Karate Kid and Teen Wolf more than Ralph Macchio and Michael J. Fox.

I will say this – so many times in TV, music, and film there are moments where the protagonist (or subject of a song) is told to stop dreaming and start doing. So many people have ideas, but it’s not about what you can do, it’s about what you’ve done.  Dedication takes a lifetime, and dreams only last for a night. So like him or loathe him, there’s no debate Simmons took the Internet by storm and gave himself the opportunities he has today, by producing in the past. I think there’s a lot of nervousness from popular sports blogs about GrantLand.com. Simmons could go all V For Vendetta, and come back to haunt all those who denounced his work while at ESPN the last 10 years. And yeah, the site’s not officially under the ESPN umbrella, but it’s backed by Disney, meaning there will be restriction. A positive sign is the more I read about the concept, the more it does feel like Simmons has some form of immunity. That’s a scary thing for the rest of the Internet.

About Ryan Hadfield

Ryan Hadfield is the author of the weekly Sports Media Musings column at Sports Of Boston. Hadfield is known as one of the top sports media critics in Boston. He also contributes to Boston Sports Media Watch. In November 2011, Hadfield helped launch the new SoB Point Taken blog featuring his podcasts & musings on sports, media and culture. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

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