Sure, ESPN has gotten a little too big for its broadcasting britches. Yes, it takes itself a tad too seriously. And certainly, it threatens to become part of the story instead of simply covering the story. Even so, where would the serious sports fan be without it?
It’s hard to remember what sports on TV was like before the Worldwide Leader first sent out its signal in 1979. There were game highlights on local channels, but there was nothing to compare with SportsCenter. There were Saturday college football games on one network, but now they’re on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, and ESPN360 on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from noon till the wee hours. Just one example of the way the network has impacted the sports scene.
Early on, ESPN had no professional contracts, and very few collegiate ones. So it was a steady diet of Australian Rules Football, ping pong, and Davis Cup Tennis. Then came major college basketball and football. The league finally achieved the pinnacle when it got a piece of the lucrative NFL contract in 1987.
Just as a reminder, here are some of the reasons why ESPN is the serious network for the serious sports fan: Jay Bilas, John Clayton, Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Peter Gammons, Ron Jaworski, Mel Kiper, Jr., Joe Morgan, Chris Mortensen, Bill Raftery, Chris Berman, Chris Fowler, Bob Ley, Kenny Mayne, Tony Kornheiser, Mike Tirico, and Scott Van Pelt. Oh…and Erin Andrews.
And I can’t forget the wonderful Charlie Steiner. Here are a few of his fabulous on-camera crack-ups: