McGuire created a monster
June 11, 2008 · Updated 4:41 PM
"Al McGuire, who died earlier this month at 72, was one of my favorite all-time broadcast analysts.But I hold him responsible, indirectly, for a lot of what has happened to broadcast sports since he elevated the job of analyst to an art form after retiring as a coach in 1977, with an NCAA championship in his pocket.The best thing about McGuire, the broadcaster, was that he was unique; he could not just identify and articulate a trend or a turning point in a game, but he could do it in a way that was at once insightful and entertaining. His viewfinder was just a little bit different than what we were used to.To McGuire, the hulking 7-footers weren't just big guys, they were aircraft carriers. He took a basketball team and broke it down into a task force.The worst thing about him, sadly, also was his uniqueness. The legacy he left behind in the broadcast booth was that he was oft imitated, never duplicated.His perception, his way of painting a basketball game from a wondrously odd-colored palette, made him popular. All other things being equal, a fan choosing among games telecast on several different networks would watch the one that offered McGuire as a bonus to the action.His popularity made him marketable. So, immediately, every sports outlet that didn't have McGuire wanted someone like him. Only louder. Only more opinionated. Only more intrusive. Someone CBS could sell, like NBC could sell McGuire.As time has passed, we have seen the explosion of the news-and-information media turn what used to be three networks into dozens of national outlets. Back in McGuire's day, there were no chinks in Jesse Jackson's moral armor, and there was no ESPN.Now both Jackson and ESPN have bastard children.There's a glut in the market of analysts trying to sail the waters once navigated so gracefully by McGuire. They're on the old familiar networks, and they're on new ones with call letters we'll never memorize, on channels with numbers higher than most NBA players can count.All of them have something they can sell - a catch-phrase, a shrill voice, a resume that included success as a player or coach, a memorable nickname. Every network, every cable channel, every outlet had one. They came at us and at us until we needed a get a T.O., Baby!But behind the gimmicks, they were empty vessels compared to the insight and class of McGuire. Like any other commodity that's conceived to be sold, they were disposable. Dick Vitale, for one, never had an ounce of the subtle wit, the sage or the ability to translate the complexities of the game into language every man and woman (a lot of The Coach's fans were female) could understand that McGuire had.But he sure had his own 1-800 number, baby.Jim Rhome is a superstar in the sports broadcast industry - trumpeted as one of the most powerful men in sports - not because of his intellect or his insight, but because he provoked NFL quarterback Jim Everett to take a swing at him on the air one night in some podunk cable studio.Kenny Mayne couldn't hold the job as Tacoma's TV sports guy. But he found the right on-air personna, showed a way with the ear-catching turn-of-phrase, and suddenly the world's most potent sports television network was bringing him its finest meats and cheeses.Sports journalism is in decline, and one of its classiest and most redoubtable purveyors - the late, lamented McGuire - is one of those most responsible for kicking it off the mountaintop.On top of everything else, he had style. It's something countless pretenders have thought they could replace with schtick. Flyin' chickens in the barnyard! sounds great on the radio (especially on the promos for months afterward), but it doesn't tell you diddly about what just happened in the game, or why, or how.Substance is hard. Schtick is easy. Guess which way the hydra-headed, marketing-driven sports media went. Sometimes nowaways it seems like any kid who can watch a home run and yell Yatzee! at the top of his lungs can have a job in the glamorous, high-paying world of Professional Sports Journalism.It's a world McGuire wouldn't have understood. His job, as he performed it so well, was to impart, to inform and to educate. He just happened to entertain along the way.He started a trend that, no fault of his own, turned downward. He founded a movement in broadcast journalism that has been moving south since the day he began to practice it.His kind was rare then, and getting more rare as time passes - ironic, since there are more jobs than ever before for sports analysts. What he did was so simple, and yet it seems that nearly everyone who has tried to follow his act has missed the mark. I miss him for the sole reason that we never found an adequate replacement for him. We never even tried.Thanks, Al McGuire, for all your wit and wisdom, your style and substance, your smarts and your sass.As for the monster you helped create, though, thanks for nothin'.Mike Moore is executive sports editor of the Kitsap Newspaper Group. He can be reached at (360) 308-9161 or via the Internet at . "