You and I have always had a special relationship. You were largely responsible for piquing my interest in broadcasting and sports journalism from a young age, and spending Sunday mornings watching The Sports Reporters with my father are some of the best memories of my life. Of course, this was back in the day when you had well-reasoned, level headed journalists led in a discussion by the inimitable Dick Schaap rather than a cacophony of wannabe stand-up comedians screaming at one another trying to earn made-up points.
And through my formative adolescent years, SportsCenter acted as bookends for my day: catching up on last night's action while I force fed myself breakfast at 6:30 in the morning before trekking off to school, and then being lulled into sleep by the dulcet tones of Baseball Tonight. There was even one time in the dead of winter when I woke up at 2 a.m. thinking it was 6:30 a.m. and still went down to make breakfast and watch you, only to soon realize the folly of my error.
From your wrap around coverage of the NFL draft to morning/afternoon/evening highlight shows to the airtime you used to devote to that one sport where guys on skates chase that little black thing, you were everywhere, providing, analyzing, and even defining the very meaning of sports for me.
But you never really covered football; the kind played with feet. And for the first couple decades of my life, that was fine, I didn’t care. However, once I became enraptured with the sport, I was incredibly disappointed to learn you couldn't find room in your busy schedule covering what NFL coaches had for breakfast or analyzing the results of Tim Tebow's latest dental cleaning to cover the apex of the sport, European club football.
And with nowhere else to turn, I was subject to the whims of internet pirates. Crouched over my old 15” Vaio, and desperately hoping for a crisp, English-language stream, I was usually forced to settle for one with minimal buffering, broadcast in crystal clear 10p and accompanied by some language I never heard before.
But that was life, and somehow, despite those less than stellar conditions, my calcio curiosity soon turned into an all encompassing passion. And on it went for years—you'd find a steady source of streams only to see it abandoned or litigated into oblivion a year later.
I have to be honest, ESPN. I got pretty fed up with the hey-look-at-me tone of your coverage that gradually took hold in the 2010s, and not wanting and not really needing cable anymore, the high prices of which you are largely responsible for, I cut the chord. You grated my nerves, you barely showed the Cubs, and your coverage of football, real football, was virtually non-existent.
Hey, speaking of non-existent, get this: With little more than three weeks before the kickoff of the 2018-2019 season, Serie A had no North American broadcasting partner, but after the absolute horror show that was the Barcelona Entertainment and Information Network (beIN) that was probably a good thing, but us American calcio fans were getting panicky. Sure, beIN sucked but at least they offered a sliver of hope for the stream searches among us.
But then last August some completely unexpected happened. You came back. And for just $49 a year, the world of calcio was suddenly accessible...on my TV! I was completely floored. You had let me down for so many years, but this was your redemption song. In one fell swoop, you not only removed the need for me to visit those nefarious sites, but you actually saved me some money—in the market for a new laptop and suddenly not having to rely on dodgy streams, a 15” behemoth just seemed excessive.
It took me several weeks to shake the habit of hopping on those old sites, but soon the reflex of flipping on my Roku on Saturday mornings became second nature. And sure, your feed was sometimes two minutes behind real time, your announcers were too obsessed with cramming in nonsensical Premiership references at every turn, they couldn't really pronounce the surnames, and one of them repeatedly and embarrassingly referred to Bruno Conti as Daniele De Rossi's father, but your ambitious yet awkward coverage was still the best option I've had since the early 2000s when Fox Soccer Channel fueled by Roma appetite.
So thank you, ESPN. Sort out those small problems and you'll have a winner on your hands.