The three major television networks produced the equivalent of 50 full days of sporting events during 1977, some real, others imagined. More and more of them appeared in prime time, while rights fees climbed to heights bordering on the absurd. NBC paid $85 million for the 1980 Moscow Olympics. The National Football League worked out a package with ABC, CBS and NBC, signing a $576 million agreement for the next four seasons. That contract alone will put 232 more football games on the air, not to mention a zillion commercials. It also provides a windfall of $5 million a team per season, far more than any club can take in at the gate.
Time was when network sports rarely showed up in prime hours, but now a week seldom goes by without an evening show involving some sort of thrashing around. Genuine events are fine, if genuine events are available. If not, the networks whip up and tape one of those celebrity stunt shows. Alas, they draw such strong ratings that they will proliferate even further. The participants are all starting to look like Gabe Kaplan. Most of the participants are Gabe Kaplan.
Television is a strange animal with a knack for getting caught in its own traps. It is currently rekindling an old love affair with boxing, a romance that once nearly killed that sport. And once again, it is too much of a good thing. Guys are fighting aboard aircraft carriers, in prisons, knocking each other dizzy on weekend afternoons—even waiting until 11:30 p.m. (EDT) to lace on their gloves. About the only two people who haven't fought on TV this year are Ferrante and Teicher. But in the spirit of the season, the rest of this column will be presented without commercial interruption. We take you now to the third annual Leggy Awards, a public-service presentation honoring those wonderful folk who brought you sporting 1977:
SELLING IT LIKE IT ISN'T Award—To ABC's advertising department for newspaper ads billing the Iowa-Iowa State football game "one of the toughest rivalries in the Midwest!" though the teams had not met in 43 years.
December 19, 1977
STEP BACK AND LET THEM FALL Award—To CBS for its contract with Howard Davis Jr., providing the Olympic lightweight champ with $200,000 a fight and the right to pick and pay his opponents out of that sum.
BEST ANNOUNCER—Jack Whittaker, of CBS.
BEST CONTINUING SERIES—College football on ABC.
WORST PART OF BEST CONTINUING SERIES—The inane halftime coach interviews, when ABC announcers stop coaches from running to or from their dressing rooms, thus causing dedicated fans to run to or from their refrigerators.
WHAT WAS THAT GAME AGAIN?—The Nations' Cup, the First World Championship of Motorcycle Jumping, the Burger King Open, Challenge of the Network Stars, Pizza Hut Classic, World Ski Flying Championship, Slam-Dunk Championship and World Championship Motorcycles on Ice.
LITTLE HORSE ON THE PRAIRIE Award—To ABC for its split-screen coverage comparing Seattle Slew with Secretariat during the Kentucky Derby telecast by using a slow 3-year-old race run by Slew and a fast 2-year-old race won by Secretariat—and never telling the audience that the Secretariat race had resulted in his disqualification.
DUMPING IRON Award—To Trans World International and CBS for the hokiest piece of trashsport so far, The World's Strongest Men, which included tire-throwing, refrigerator-carrying and girl-lifting events.
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE—Buzz Ringe of NFL films, who must produce a 24-minute highlight show about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who scored nine touchdowns in 52 quarters of play.
PERFECT MARRIAGE OF FILM AND MUSIC Award—To CBS and NFL Today for showing film clips of Walter Payton's outstanding runs while Carly Simon sang Nobody Does It Better.
LET ME MAKE ONE THING PERFECTLY CLEAR Award—To Lindsey Nelson of CBS for the best question yet about football played on artificial surfaces in bad weather: "What happens if you run a deep pattern and collide with the sweeper?"
MAY WE PLAY THROUGH Award—To CBS, for cutting away from the decisive NBA championship game without interviewing the Portland Trail Blazers, so that the world could hear sponsor James S. Kemper Jr. extol the virtues of his Kemper Open.
ONE MORE TIME AND I'LL SCREAM Award—To the theme music from Rocky and Star Wars; Bruce Jenner; the fighting Spinks brothers; "almost blocked, almost caught, almost intercepted"; the Goodyear blimp; Don King's tuxedoes; Don King's trick hair; Don King; "the Jugs Radar Speed Gun timed that pitch at 90.2 miles per hour"; Jimmy the Greek; NCAA promos for the NCAA; "a nose for the ball"; Heywood Hale Broun's madras jacket; Heywood Hale Broun's other jackets; the "gusto" commercials; "there's time-out down on the field"; and Howard Cosell's didactic and dilatory dissertations on the old Brooklyn Dodgers.
LEGGETT'S TOP TEN (ranked by personal preference)—Final game of National League baseball playoffs (NBC) for knowledge of performers, use of stats, sharp replays and excellent camera work showing that the game should have been postponed because of rain; the Muhammad Ali-Alfredo Evangelista fight (ABC) because Howard Cosell broke accepted announcing rules by calling the bout a farce before, during and after the telecast that his network paid a reported $3 million to carry; the NCAA basketball championship (NBC) for capturing the drama of Marquette Coach Al McGuire's final game; Mixed Team Golf (CBS) for bringing us the joys, frustrations and talents of male-female players without hype; CBS Reports: The Baseball Business for a documentary focusing on Yankee owner George Steinbrenner's attempt to win the world championship; MacNeil/Lehrer Report (PBS) for carefully examining the U.S. soccer boom; Michigan-Ohio State football game (ABC), with full marks to producer Chuck Howard and announcer Keith Jackson for showing restraint when Woody Hayes attacked cameraman Mike Freedman on the sidelines; To the Top of the World: Assault on Mount Everest (CBS); Something for Joey (CBS), a made-for-TV film that brought out the compassion of former Penn State star John Cappelletti; Monday Night Football (ABC) for the Miami-Baltimore game during which announcers were nicely subdued, the camera work was splendid and no dancing bears appeared in the broadcast booth at half-time.
HANG IN THERE Award—To Bud Greenspan of Cappy Productions, whose The Glory of Their Times was well received on PBS. The commercial networks had rejected the show for seven years.
THE ODD COUPLING—Ed Ames and Frankie Laine vs. Joe Campanella and Rose Marie on Celebrity Bowling.
FOR WHOM THE BELLE TOILS—Though other networks were asking after her at contract time, Phyllis George (NFL Today) decided to stay with CBS, which sweetened the pot with the promise that soon she will be able to expand from sports into other roles, probably dramatic, a la Don Meredith and O.J. Simpson.
DOUBLE YOUR PLEASURE Award—To Roone Arledge, promoted to head up both sports and news at ABC, which means that we can hear plugs for the news on sports as well as plugs for sports on the news.
HI, MOM Award—To Reggie Jackson, for happily miming the words into the camera after each of his three homers in the final game of the World Series.
'LO, MOM—To every mother everywhere for suffering those endless sideline shots showing Gloria Connors watching son Jimmy play.
THANKS FOR THE USE OF THE HALL Award—To the Houston Astrodome for lending itself to the movie Murder at the World Series (ABC), in which a pitcher's wife is kidnapped; to Sun Valley for lending its slopes to The Deadly Triangle (NBC), in which an aspiring Olympian is murdered while training for the biathlon; the Los Angeles Forum for The Deadliest Season (CBS), in which one hockey player injures another with his stick; and the Superdome in New Orleans for functioning as the final resting place of The Savage Bees (NBC) after they had stung just about the whole world to death.
EQUAL RIGHTS—When do they televise the 14-year-old male gymnasts?
BRENT, WHY ARE YOU CRYING?—A special award to Billy Cunningham, now the coach of the Philadelphia 76ers, who was the NBA analyst for CBS when he carried on the following conversation with announcer Brent Musburger:
Brent: Billy, how hard is it to play with two great offensive forwards like George McGinnis and Julius Erving?
Billy: The big problem is that both of them need the ball to score. When Doug Collins is in the game it's better because he doesn't need the ball to score.