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Usual Suspects

The Phaneuf charm machine Add to ...

The Toronto media got its first taste of the Dion Phaneuf charm machine this week. As its Calgary brethren learned over five seasons, the newly acquired Maple Leaf takes the Nuke LaLoosh approach to interviews - if you give reporters a good answer it'll only encourage them to ask more.

Cornered by Michael Landsberg on TSN's Off The Record, a glassy-eyed Phaneuf went into POW mode, offering just name and serial number to the host's increasing amusement. Phaneuf actually served up a steady diet of "I'm excited to be here" to anything Landsberg threw his way.

So, how did you react to the trade?

"I'm excited to be here."

What was it like playing for Darryl Sutter?

"I'm excited to be here."

What's the capital of Canada?

"I'm excited to be here."

In total, Phaneuf declared his unbridled excitement 13 times in the four-minutes-plus of the interview. A bemused Lansberg declared the one thing he'd learned about Phaneuf was that he's "excited" to be in Toronto. The Phaneuf monotone is a jarring contrast to his well-lubricated Billy Joel alter ego that went viral on the Web.

The good Dion/bad Dion routine was part of his problem in Calgary. It will be crucial for him - and for Toronto GM Brian Burke - that Phaneuf mature beyond the LaLoosh media clone if he's to fulfill his enormous potential and be considered a Norris Trophy candidate once more.

*****

Shut Out Again: "Just a bit outside..." As Bob Uecker would say, the Canadian content landed a little outside the strike zone again this year as the Baseball Hall of Fame awarded the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting to Jon Miller, the ubiquitous voice for ESPN and several MLB teams. As previously noted by Usual Suspects, there were three voices connected with Canadian teams on the final ballot: Dave Van Horne, the late Tom Cheek and Jacques Doucet. Cheek (5,930 fan votes) and Doucet (5,183 fan votes) were the top vote getters in the public stage of voting which decides the finalists.

There is no final tally from the 15 living Frick recipients and five broadcast historians/columnists, so it's hard to say how close the trio came to winning. But you can safely assume that it's simply a matter of time till one or all three get the call - hopefully before they're all deceased. (The other 2010 finalists were Billy Berroa, Skip Caray, Lanny Frattare, Graham McNamee, Joe Nuxhall, and Herb Score.) While fans have their favourites - we're bullish on Van Horne - any one of the three would be worthy for defying the hold hockey has on this nation's soul and its networks.

*****

Double Fault: Too many properties, not enough time. That's the conclusion tennis fans drew this past weekend from TSN's coverage of the Australian Open. The men's final was shown live in the depths of Sunday morning - inaccessible to most people. But the only repeat of Roger Federer's historic win over Andy Murray was delayed until midnight Sunday ET. And that was only joined in the second set to accommodate a two-hour window. Unacceptable, say fans who'd followed the tournament for two weeks.

TSN had previously compensated for the witching hours by providing repeats of the matches - including the women's final - in the middle of the day on TSN or TSN2. But Sunday, the schedule was jammed with properties on both the main network and TSN2. With three draws of ladies' curling, the Pro Bowl, NBA games, The TSN Reporters and other gripping content, there was no room for Federer's win in prime hours.

Tennis fans were understandably miffed that one of their sport's major championships plays second fiddle to the Pro Bowl. Yes, they could have used PVR on the morning telecast to get a reasonable showing. But encouraging viewers to speed through your advertisers' product is hardly a way to encourage business.

*****

Unleash The Deuce: The CRTC has officially freed TSN2 of its requirement of programming only 10 per cent live material. So expect to see the second network be re-branded in the near future as the alternative to the hockey-dominated senior service at TSN.

*****

Dat's Who: The NFL officially jumped the shark with its claim to the New Orleans' Saints slogan, "Who 'Dat?" Last week, the NFL issued cease-and-desist orders against vendors in New Orleans who were selling products with the wording. The league claimed that using the phrase would "confuse the purchasing public into believing that your items" are sponsored by the NFL.

The heavy-handed cash grab has managed to unite fractious Republicans and Democrats in Louisiana for once. The state governor, legislature and probably the ghost of Al Hirt rose up as one to tell the NFL to back off on a phrase that pre-dated the NFL's arrival in the Crescent city. Having been caught with its hands on the beignets, the NFL backed off on "Who 'Dat?" merchandise so long as it doesn't include NFL patents on the Saints and the league. Leaving the world safe for democracy.

*****

Next Stop Apocalypse: Sunday's Pro Bowl drew 12.3 million viewers on ESPN, up 40 per cent from last year's game on NBC (8.9 million), and 23 per cent from the 2008 game on FOX. Perhaps playing the game in the week before the Super Bowl helped. Perhaps the lousy economy is keeping everyone at home. Perhaps folks enjoy John Gruden's man crush on every living football player. Whatever, the number suggests that the Super Bowl is going to approach records for viewers come Sunday.

*****

Hide 'N Seek: The Indianapolis Colts have devised a way to minimize prying eyes of the press this week by checking into a hotel with practice facilities built in. Since the Colts last stayed there in 2006, the Fairmont Turnberry Isles Resort in Aventura, Florida, has created a state-of-the-art, in-house training facility that allows teams to prepare where they stay. And to avoid the pitfalls involved in meeting the armies of press folks looking for a story. The centre is already training base for top athletes such as Marion Barber, Frank Gore, Fred Taylor, Jon Beason, Chad Ochocinco, Matt Forte, Byron Leftwich, Manny Ramirez, Miguel Tejada and Raul Ibanez. Checkout is noon, thanks.

*****

It's A Bling Thing: Why we at usual Suspects love broadcaster Marv Albert - crazy rug and all. A shot of Oakland Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell, bathed in bling, popped up on a recent NBA game Albert was broadcasting. Leading the Marvster to opine, "You know, if he spent as much time in the film room as he did at the jewellery store he'd be a much better quarterback." Amen.

*****

Raising Kane: Speaking of impressionable youth, the NHL commish might want to have a word about media savvy with the Chicago Blackhawks' fun bunch. Photos showing Patrick Kane and hockey pals shirtless in the back of a limo with a few cuties surfaced in Vancouver last week. There was nothing Greg Oden full-frontal about the pictures, but considering Kane's history with behaviour in public modes of transportation, Gary Bettman might want to remind him that those phones also have cameras in them. You know, a fatherly chat.

 

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