Updated: Jun 28, 2021
By Mike Toth
The pandemic stinks.
Everyone, of course, has been impacted by COVID-19 - some more than others. But we human beings are rather resilient critters and, believe it or not, there have actually been a few positives during the pandemic.
Feel free to discuss the above statement amongst yourselves. But in the meantime, here are a few of my pandemic plusses - all of them connected to the wonderful world of television.
Working on late night TV sports highlights shows for many years, ("Sports at 11", TSN, Sportsnet) I missed out on a lot of popular TV programs.
Call it a COVID catch-up.
Like everybody else during the virus nightmare, I often find myself needing an escape and a good laugh. "The Office" and "Frasier" were shows I missed the first time around and It's been a real blast seeing what the original buzz was all about. As an added bonus, both of these hit comedies have a few funny "sports" moments.
I love "The Office" episode that features the paper pushers challenging the warehouse crew to a pickup basketball game - especially the scene that has nerdy Dwight ripping off his jersey and urging everyone to go "shirts vs. skins".
In "Frasier", Frasier Crane and his fussy brother Niles play a pair of high-brow psychiatrists who don't have any interest in sports. But their disdain for all things sweaty produced a great line from Niles. Shocked to discover that his son had actually spent a few minutes listening to a sports radio talk show, Niles delivers the perfect sarcastic reply to his father.
"Oh, come now dad. You know perfectly well that I can't go to sleep at night without learning which ball has gone through which apparatus."
With all due respect to our buddy Niles, I actually do care which ball goes through which apparatus.
All the pro athletes have done an excellent job entertaining us through these tough times. However, as an old sportscaster, I've also been impressed by the work of a number of talented broadcasters during the challenges of the pandemic.
With cross-border travel banned because of COVID, a lot of play-by-play announcers and color analysts have had to call the games off TV monitors from their homes or studios.
Talk about a tough call.
But despite the challenges, a number of play-by-play teams have absolutely excelled. One combo that has really caught my eye and ear, for example, is the Rogers Sportsnet NHL duo of John Bartlett and Garry Galley.
They've done an outstanding job calling the American-based series in the Stanley Cup play-offs, such as the thrilling battle between the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders. John and Garry have developed a tremendous chemistry and have a lot of fun entertaining and informing the audience. Their passion for the game definitely comes through and it's great to see them get their well-deserved due.
And John has definitely paid his dues.
He's a hard working play-by-play guy who called OHL games in Barrie, jumped to the AHL Toronto Marlies, graduated to working the mic for Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs games, and is now getting his chance to shine on the national stage.
John and Garry are very similar to Ian Eagle and Charles Davis, the outstanding CBS tandem who work NFL games together. Eagle and Davis sit behind Jim Nantz and Tony Romo on the CBS pecking order, but they've developed a huge cult following and they keep Nantz and Romo on their toes. Bartlett and Galley do the same thing for Chris Cuthbert and Craig Simpson, the lead duo on "Hockey Night in Canada", and the future is definitely bright for this up and coming pair.
On the rare evenings when there aren't any games on the tube, sports documentaries have been an absolute godsend.
"The Last Dance" Michael Jordan series came along at the perfect time - the early stages of the pandemic when pro sports was completely on hold. Since the Jordan saga, I've watched every single ESPN "30 for 30" episode and any other sports doc that I can feast my peepers on.
One of my favorites?
"Flin Flon: A Hockey Town", a 2018 documentary that tells the tale of Flin Flon, Manitoba - a hockey-mad community and the hometown of Philadelphia Flyers legend Bobby Clarke.
I've always been fascinated by Flin Flon, the mining town with the magical name that's built on bedrock. And after watching "Flin Flon: A Hockey Town" and seeing how the locals worship their beloved junior team, the Flin Flon Bombers, it's definitely on my bucket list of places to visit.
Of course, we all have places and people we'd love to see once we finally crush COVID. But until then, at least we have some creative sports television to keep us (relatively) sane.
And with that, I think I'll fire up the "Frasier" episode that features Niles psychoanalyzing Reggie Macklemore of the Seattle Supersonics, as he helps the fictional NBA star snap out of a big-time slump…..