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(Charla Jones)
(Charla Jones)

Usual Suspects

Cabbie gone from The Score Add to ...

In the flux that is The Score these days, Cabral Richards, aka "Cabbie" was a continuing familiar face. "We grew up together, Cabbie and us at The Score," says John Levy, chairman and CEO of Score Media. But after 10 years (and one short hiatus at Sportsnet), Richards has decided to move onto a new job. What that job is he can't exactly say yet. "But I'm 100 per cent excited about the move," he told Usual Suspects Tuesday night.

A performance artist/ party crasher, Cabbie schmoozed the greats of the sports world in dressing rooms, hallways and batting cages. With a combination of charm, humour and pushiness the Toronto native got the ear of Kobe, Shaq, ARod and the other glitterati of modern sports. His deconstructed sports reporter became the forerunner for The Score's post-modern approach to sports, dropping the highlights and tape format for a stew of entertainment/ performance features.

"I'm eternally grateful for everything John Levy and Score Media has given me," Richards says. "I started as an intern and they gave me creative freedom. I'm surprised how far I got to go. I flew in Kobe's private helicopter last year, I interviewed Will Ferrell in a bathroom. I'm grateful certain guys let their guard down with me. I don't know why they did sometimes, but I'm thankful for it."

Richards says that he learned that famous athletes are "regular dudes, man. They have an amazing athletic ability, but if you talk to them like real people, even Michael Jordan, Kobe, they just want to talk about music, movies, girls. You know? I guess for some of them, me being part of the hip-hop generation helped a lot. I looked different from the beat guys they dealt with every day."

Levy wishes Richards the best, but says The Score will fill the Cabbie gap. "We have the Basketball Jones guys who did the Like A Bosh video about Chris Bosh that went viral. The business is always changing, and we're not a one-trick pony."

A Ticket In Coach: The offstage hilarity of Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and some of their Russian posse overheard after Washington's 5-0 wipeout against New Jersey caught the attention of Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. Boudreau, whose press conference was interrupted by the fraternal order of Russians a few feet away, issued a terse "no comment" to the media when asked how he felt about the gaiety nearby after a loss.

Hockey TV panels were unconditional in condemning the fraternizing as everything from bad manners to treason. But their wrath is moot. As the overheard remarks reveal, the horse has left the proverbial barn in coaching the new generation of superstars. As FOX columnist Jason Whitlock observed about the NFL, coaches today are no longer in control. "Just imagine if a significant percentage of General Patton's soldiers had multimillion-dollar contracts and know-it-all agents chirping in their ears.

"Further imagine there was a 24-hour TV network dedicated to second-guessing Patton and his infantrymen and all-talk radio stations located at every combat zone dissecting the day's events. Suppose Patton's savviest soldiers spent part of their day plotting how to build their brands in hopes of landing a reality TV show or a post-career broadcasting job." And so on.

It's a new day and the sooner the media and fans realize it, the sooner we'll stop asking Bruce Boudreau how he feels about being powerless when AO does his thing.

Knockout Punch: Sportsnet's hockey panel had a frank discussion of the fighter's role in the sport with retired slugger Georges Laraque on Tuesday night. Between Laraque and Nick Kypreos - another willing scrapper - there was plenty of insight into the dread, uncertainty and exploitation that punctuates a fighter's life as he waits for his next showdown.

The only thing missing from the fine piece was the predominance of former fighters in the NHL's substance abuse program. No surprise that the men who are one punch away from injury or retirement look to offload their anxiety in a bottle or a line of cocaine. That damage, more than any physical punishment, is probably the most troubling aspect of fighting in the NHL.

Sweet Silence: The NFL Channel is planning to re-broadcast Thursday's Bengals/Jets game on Saturday without the announcers' track. Instead NFL Films is putting microphones on a number of coaches, players and referees and will use their comments as the audio track for the game. Live audio is the El Dorado of TV sports programming, the potential marriage of sports and reality programming. He who gets the sound gets the gold.

Even better, fans are spared Matt Millen and Joe Theismann, the NFL Network's anvil chorus. Theismann is long known for grand personnel pronouncements like, "Andre Ware is going to be a great NFL quarterback..." He's also an ecological threat to oxygen in the booth when his mike is hot.

Millen, meanwhile, was the worst talent evaluator in the history of the league during his disastrous run at Detroit GM (31-97). This inability to tell a football player from a fruit stand apparently endeared him to NFL and ESPN suits, who now inflict him on the public for both NFL and NCAA games. Their theory - much like that of the Lions' - is that Millen looks and sounds the role; ergo, he must be the real deal.

Last Thursday, Millen spent much of the second half of the Miami/Chicago game extolling the coaching genius of Bears' defensive co-ordinator Rod Marinelli. That would be the same Marinelli who led Millen's Lions to the only winless season in the modern NFL, the same Marinelli who went 10-38 as Lions head coach. The Marinelli agenda was shameless. Worse, Millen makes Don Cherry sound like Henry Higgins, mangling names, details and syntax.

No wonder Norman Chad of the Washington Post writes , "Listening to Theismann and Millen reminds me of that Cialis ad - if your erudition lasts more than four hours, call your local cable operator."

Hiring the halt and lame of the managerial culture is not exclusive to the NFL, of course. Great managerial successes of Doug MacLean, Gord Stellick and Mike Milbury would be one of history's slimmer volumes. But this hasn't prevented them from gainful employment as TV "experts" on hockey. MacLean and Milbury advocate the Millen School of Bluster, which dictates that saying something loudly and with complete conviction translates to legitimacy.

Monday, MacLean debated Nick Kypreos over the legality of NYR Marc Staal's devastating hit on Calgary's Matt Stajan. MacLean claimed befuddlement over the NHL's new rules. Kypreos said it was simple: No back or side hits. No targeting the head. Staal's hit passed both criteria. By the conclusion of Kypreos's lecture, one was again left with the impression of much light/ no heat from the former Columbus GM/president.

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