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ESPN avoids flag-waving in USA-Japan World Cup final

Bapun Raz

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Credit ESPN for not turning the USA-Japan Women's
World Cup final into an us-vs.-them melodrama.
And the network is likely to be rewarded with the
second-best U.S. TV rating for a women's soccer
game. But turning the U.S. team into star-spangled boot
would have been a stretch given that game
announcer Ian Darke is British. He offered up points you don't often hear on U.S. TV sports. After noting,
"You can almost reach out and touch this
atmosphere" before the USA-Japan kickoff, he
wished German Chancellor Angela Merkel a happy
birthday, noted Japan's "obdurate" defense and
that "it's getting near dawn in the land of the rising sun" — then joked that the action gave him his
"19th nervous breakdown." The quirkiness left game analyst Julie Foudy as the only voice that could have wrapped the game in Old Glory. But she didn't succumb to boosterism as the U.S. team couldn't finish on various scoring
opportunities, saying, "It wouldn't be a U.S. game
without my blood pressure going up. I'll need
medication after this World Cup." Darke shared her
queasiness as overtime began: "Now it's going to
be even more agonizing to watch." At least ESPN kept viewers from agonizing over
how much time was left in the game: The clock
graphic was too small to be readable. STORY: Japan beats USA on penalty kicks in Cup final ESPN's pregame coverage was also muted as it
neither overhyped the U.S. team nor overplayed the
Japanese team's potential to bring good news to a
nation still recovering from its devastating
earthquake and tsunami. And there's always one
great thing about TV soccer — no commercials. Postgame, ESPN studio analyst Tony DiCicco noted, "This is the soccer equivalent of the (1980) 'Miracle
on Ice,' " and ESPN's Bob Ley said it was Japan's "Lake Placid moment" — a bit of big-picture
hyperbole that seemed harmless in small doses. And like Olympic athletes who momentarily draw
big TV ratings but then have no platforms that keep
them in front of mass audiences, the U.S. soccer
team faces obscurity until next year's London Olympics. But with its Sunday afternoon time slot, and given that overtime in any sport helps ratings,
Sunday's final is likely to be the second-highest-
rated women's soccer game on U.S. TV. It won't
come close to the 11.4% of U.S. households who
watched the U.S. team win the 1999 Cup final, but it
likely will top the No. 2 rating: 2.9% for the 1999 USA-Brazil semifinal. Suspenseless British finish: ESPN's British Open had lots of entertaining golf — but not during its
final holes. As winner Darren Clarke "out-executed
everybody by far," as ESPN's Curtis Strange suggested, ESPN was left flogging the story line that
the golfer is also a good guy. Or, as ESPN's Rick Reilly put it in noting that Clarke "loves wine" and keeps trying to quit smoking, "We all love him
because he's so much like us." Really? Greenburg leaving HBO: Ross Greenburg, who has been at HBO Sports since 1978 and has led it for 11 years, will announce Monday that he's leaving HBO.
"It's totally voluntary," Greenburg said in an
interview Sunday. "Boxing was one of the reasons
I decided to move on." HBO took a hit when Showtime/CBS landed
mediagenic boxer Manny Pacquiao. But Greenburg said that wasn't critical in his deciding months ago
not to renew his HBO contract. "It's time. In the last
decade, I felt like a ticket agent at an airport where
all the flights were canceled. Boxing is a difficult
sport to negotiate. It started to become an
albatross." Greenburg, who oversaw various acclaimed
documentaries at HBO, says he hopes to become an
independent producer: "It's time to explore. My
creative juices are flowing." Spice rack: HBO's latest Real Sports, airing Tuesday (10 p.m. ET), looks at Baltimore Ravens coach JohnHarbaugh and new San Francisco 49ers coach JimHarbaugh— the first brothers to coach NFL teams. Jim explains that John is less open when
they chat about the NFL now: "I thought love had
no boundaries, but now it seems they do. There's
limitations." Even love can't penetrate playbooks. …
Viewers eavesdropped on New York Mets third base coach Chip Hale, miked on Fox's Mets-Phillies MLB coverage Saturday, chatting with Phillies third
baseman Wilson Valdez about being a role player and trying to have good at-bats when he gets in
the game — and remembering it's always "better
than being in Triple-A." Valdez hadn't forgotten,
replying that "anything is better than Triple-A."
 
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