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ESPN: Extreme Self-Promotion Network
December 22, 2003
by Ward Lowe

Unless you spent last week trapped in a well or lost in the wilderness, you know that ESPN on Saturday broadcast its 200th NFL game. Promos for the “milestone” broadcast ran ad nauseam during every Disney/ABC/ESPN program leading up to Saturday night’s event.

As if that weren’t enough, the network turned the entire Patriots-Jets game into its own infomercial. ESPN broadcasters Mike Patrick, Joe Theismann, and Paul Maguire—with lots of help from special guest and former ESPN NFL broadcaster Roy Firestone—reminisced incessantly about the 199 previous telecasts rather than commenting on the game.

As my friend Chris pointed out, you would have thought ESPN invented television from the way these talking heads went on and on.

I know it wasn’t the Super Bowl. I know this season the Jets are struggling. But New England was playing for home-field advantage in the playoffs, and Jets-Patriots is always a tight game.

To top it off, the network interviewed several former Jets players who were in attendance to celebrate the team’s 40th anniversary and barely mentioned that’s why they were at the game. ESPN let viewers assume that Joe Klecko and Joe Namath really showed up Saturday night for the 200th broadcast.

Well, the network got a little payback during the sideline interview with Namath. Broadway Joe embarrassed himself by twice ignoring the questions of reporter Suzy Kolber and asking if he could kiss her before slurring his way through the rest of the interview. The classless incident fit perfectly with the rest of the ridiculous celebration.

And then there were two
The NFC still has two playoff spots up for grabs: one for the NFC North division winner and another for a wild-card team. Either Green Bay (8-6, who plays at Oakland Monday night) or Minnesota (9-6) will win the NFC North, with the loser competing with Seattle (9-6) for the wild-card berth.

I think Minnesota will win the division, since the Vikings should walk over Arizona next week to finish 10-6. Green Bay would have to win its last two games to match that record, and winning at Oakland Monday night and next week against playoff-bound Denver may be too much for the Pack. Unless Seattle can win only its second road game this season next week at San Francisco, Green Bay will likely go as the wild-card.

Of course, what do I know? I’m barely .500 in my pool this season.

And then there was one
There is one playoff slot left in the AFC, and it will go to Baltimore or Cincinnati. Baltimore (9-6) leads the AFC North and faces Pittsburgh at home in their final regular-season game; the Steelers beat the Ravens 30-10 in Week 1. Cincinnati (8-7) sits one game behind Baltimore in the North and will face Cleveland at home, whom they beat 21-14 earlier this year.

It’s simple. If Baltimore wins, they’re in. However, if Baltimore loses and Cincinnati wins, the Bengals go to the playoffs—you read that right: The Bengals would go to the playoffs.

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Ward Lowe is a writer and editor in Austin, Texas, who believes that 2004 will be The Year for his beloved Boston Red Sox. You can reach him at