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as seen on phillyBurbs.com

Second-rate sports TV
Shoot the messengers, please.

Ignore the battering the Eagles took at the hands of the Buccaneers on Monday Night Football and in last year's NFC Championship Game.

Forget, for a moment, that the Phillies seem to be squandering their first chance in a decade of making the playoffs in a wild-card spot.

Wipe from your memory the dismal performance of Roman "Gotta get my glove" Cechmanek and the rest of the Flyers in the second-round Eastern Conference playoff.

Try not to think about Larry Brown's defection, the Sixers' failure to acquire a strong center or that the team's only hope rests on the shoulders of a tiny but talented street thug who hates to practice.

And, finally, put out of your mind the world championship drought that has desiccated the city's professional sports teams for 25 years.

Aside from those obvious signs - and despite the construction of two new expensive sports stadiums - Philadelphia has definitely become a second-rate sports town.

Nothing says it more than this year's list of "emmy-winning" sportscasters.

None of the major four broadcast anchors - Beasley Reece of CBS3, Gary Papa of WPVI, Vai Sikahema of WCAU, or Don Tollefson of WTXF - were nominated for "Outstanding Sports Anchor," according to Calkins Media radio/TV columnist Laura Nachman.

In fact the only station garnering major kudos on Saturday was Comcast SportsNet.

(F-bomb deleted) Comcast?

"On-air" Comcast personalities who received nominations this year were Michael Barkann, Leslie Gudel, Neil Hartman, Ron Burke, Matt Yallof, Dei Lynam, Sean Murphy and Fred Bibbo (the security guard-turned reporter).

Ignore that these bozos work for a company that owns two of the four major sports teams - the Sixers and Flyers - as well as the venue the teams play in and the channel carrying the bulk of locally televised games.

Forget that they are, in essence, shills - filling in time between games by self-promoting that Monopoly to keep you tuning in, all so the cable giant can jack up its advertising rates.

We've reached the day when the best sports "broadcasters" in town can't be seen on free TV. And that alone speaks volumes.

Gene Hart and Whitey Ashburn are probably turning somersaults six feet under now that prepubescent Matt Yallof, WCAU castoff Ron Burke and Michael "I know it all" Barkann are considered among the best in the business here.

Oh, how low we've sunk.

Even Howard Eskin and "Big" Al Meltzer - sports guys I loved to hate growing up - seem legendary by comparison.

Today's sports pablum ad nauseum guys/gals remind me of ESPN clones with genetic drift problems. I never get the sense that they actually know what they're talking about. It's the suit, tie and hair that matters, not the message.

In short, they seem to be spewing only what's in front of them on the teleprompter.

When I was a kid, Gene Hart sounded like he was having a coronary every time he shouted "SCOOOOOOORE!" The oft-drunken antics and stories of Whitey and Harry Kalas kept everybody entertained during the worst shellackings the Phillies received. And John Facenda was "The Voice" not only of the Eagles, but of the entire NFL.

In between games, the three local broadcast stations - 3, 6 and 10 - taught me who the players were, their likes/dislikes, what was going on in their heads and hearts, what to expect at the next game, with a little home-town rooting thrown in for good measure.

Some how, without ever meeting the players personally, I felt like I knew them. It gave me a sense of ownership in the team, albeit a false one. And when one of my favorites was hurt or slumping, I shared in the pain too.

Now, I consider myself fortunate if I can get the score and some idea of whose playing on a nightly basis. With few media-savvy exceptions, today's Philly sports stars seem like interchangeable cogs in corporate sports wheels - easily replaceable if one should break down.

Maybe the round-the-clock coverage of ESPN and CNN is to blame. Or it's simply the end result of the corporate consolidation of media giants at the local level. Or maybe, the high price of the talent coupled with the high price of media time, has truly turned the pasttime into a business.

All Philly-area sportscasters give me today is a safe, vanilla roundup of the day's sports news.

Where the sense of excitement? Where's the thrill of the win, and the agony of defeat? Where's the sense that we are one of the only cities in the nation with four major sports teams and a myriad of minor league ones?

One thing I can honestly say I am thankful to Comcast SportsNet for, is that it carries almost all of the teams' press conferences live with little interruption.

Without them, and reading the newspaper, I don't think I would have any sense of what's really going on with my teams off the field.

Dave Ralis' Pave The Grass column appears on Mondays. You can send him an e-mail at  or call him at 215-269-5051. To read his previous columns, click here.

Sept. 15, 2003