Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Any professional athlete who attempts to jump from competition to commentary is liable to land gumshield-first into a number of problems, not the least of which is the ethical dilemma of what to say and how to act whenever one of his buddies appears on the screen in front of him.

It's even worse if that buddy is moonlighting from his day job, which is actually your job, too. You can see how it might get confusing. Thankfully, this doesn't happen to me very often, due to the fact that only one of my colleagues plays on a regular basis, that being McCord, and he couldn't putt his ball into a black hole. In space, that is.

That's a good thing, though, because if he could, he certainly wouldn't need to work in broadcasting, where, like me, he can suck and still get paid. Of course, there was the good Reverend Bobby Clampett at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach a couple of years ago, but that was on NBC, and he exploded in the second round like a hot bottle of stout.

The Strange person who also scribbles around these parts played great earlier this year in Memphis, and it was interesting to see how the boys at ABC got after him. Gary Koch was NBC's whipping boy when he made the field at the U.S. Open this year, and his colleagues had some fun describing his action in the first two rounds.

But all the networks do golf differently, so what's a bewildered CBS announcer to do? It's not possible to leave McCord alone when he's on our air. Most surely, the general public is entitled to an honest, informed, and unbiased description of the events that appear before them, but then again, a little demented entertainment wouldn't be such a bad thing, either.

My favorite athletes-turned-announcers are McCord, John McEnroe, Charles Barkley, and Dennis Miller, all of whom are more than a little sick and twisted, and rightfully proud of it. (I'm giving Miller the benefit of the athletic doubt here, and I couldn't give a rat's ass who gets upset about it. I figure he must have spent most of his formative years running away from people who wanted to beat the crap out of him, and in my mind that makes him a world class sprinter.)

Hey, these are sports, and hopefully a diversion from sometimes hellish reality. Anyone who reminds us of that is doing a good job. These are guys who will err on the side of buddy brutality rather than be accused of any kind of weenie favoritism. Which brings me to a confession.

We were broadcasting the SBC Senior Classic a few months ago, the only Senior Tour event that CBS covers, and we'd had a long layoff from being on the air. Most of us don't carry our brains around on a stick and have the sense to take a little time off before this, the final grueling six-week stretch of our television season.

But McCord, steaming plonker that he is, had chosen to spend his vacation chasing the pill on the aforementioned Grateful Nearly Dead tour. McCord's been in so many hotel rooms this year that he has invented at least 17 new uses for the Gideon Bible, none of which involve any actual reading. He tells me if you take one, slam it closed on the end of your nose and yank hard, it makes a dandy pair of nostril tweezers. Fortunately, most of us have no idea of the lonely road a man has to take in order to make such a discovery.

Anyway, after weeks of hitting the ball magnificently and missing every single putt he looked at, my poor, hapless friend managed to get himself tied for the lead after round one by a cruel twist of fate. As a consequence, he was featured prominently in our Saturday coverage. For the network, it seemed like a bonus, and given my relationship with McCord, I felt I should be able to turn the whole thing into a sub-human interest story, at least.

I set off from the compound with every intent to be a chigger in McCord's shorts. I knew that if the tables were turned, he would do the same, because that's what friends are for. But then, a strange thing happened to me. As I strode up behind his group, I found myself being overcome by guilt (which is a useless emotion if ever there was one, especially if you haven't done anything yet) and a curious feeling of affection for my colleague who had been up until that point the target of whizzing barbs from every corner of the TV compound.

Virtually everyone on the crew had a suggestion as to how I could either embarrass, vilify, or otherwise roast their colleague. Even the Chicago Sun-Times had as a headline that morning, "Loony on the Leaderboard!"

Oh, yes, I thought. He will be mine.

Covertly, I watched him play the par-five 11th hole at Kemper Lakes, where he dumped his second shot into the greenside pond, dropped under penalty, hit a beautiful sand wedge shot stiff, and tapped in for par. As he blundered toward the 12th tee looking hopeless and forlorn, suddenly the bell rang and we were on the air.

With an angel on one shoulder and a trident-bearing little demon that looked remarkably like McCord on the other, I decided at that moment that I would do the whole show undercover like a stealth reporter, if you will, flying under enemy radar. As much fun as it would be to skewer him, the better part of me wanted to leave him alone in the ardent hope that he would play well and perhaps even win the tournament. Bless his elderly little cotton socks, I thought.

As it turned out, there was only one flaw in my plan. Apparently the only thing more sensitive than enemy radar is friendly radar. McCord's mustache antennae began to twitch, and by the time he had reached his tee shot, he had sniffed me out. Then, the damnedest thing happened, over which I had no control. There was I, out of the goodness of my heart, about to cut the old fart a break for a change, and the next thing I know he's in my face, torturing me.

While I'm in the middle of trying to say some thing sensible about Dana Quigley (who was the leader of the damn tournament), McCord is poking me in the ribs and making flatulent sounds into my microphone! He tells me he's bored and needs somebody to talk to. Now my producer is yelling at me. In fact, he yelled at McCord, too, forgetting that for once, the silly bastard wasn't wearing a headset.

About half an hour went by, and I tried yelling, but it had absolutely no effect on McCord, who by this time was taking a few seconds off to hit the occasional shot, then running into the woods after me. To the three or four innocent spectators, it must have looked like a cross between a golf tournament and a scene from Deliverance.

This lasted about two holes, during which he tossed a shot back to par. Then he went back to being borderline suicidal/insanely happy, which on a golf course is about normal for him. But by this time I was in shock, and although I'm not usually a highly-strung announcer, I don't think anyone but the greenkeeper's dog could hear anything I was saying. Fortunately, no one noticed my absence. Either that, or nobody was watching.

In the end, revenge was mine, largely because we had about 15 minutes of fill at the end of the show in which I was able to interview him, and accuse him of wilting under the glare of the television cameras, thus extracting some satisfaction from an otherwise traumatic experience.

The following day, during a rain delay which lasted the entire show (the course, like many of the Senior players, doesn't drain quite as well as it used to), Macatee and Oosterhuis cornered him on a sofa in the locker room and interviewed him half to death.

Served the swine right.

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