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Invading the CFL in the TSN broadcast booth

Jeremaine Copeland of the Calgary Stampeders hauls in an apparent touchdown pass from Henry Burris against the B.C. Lions. But did Copeland get his toes inbounds? In the TSN booth at McMahon Stadium, analyst Glen Suitor quickly pivots to his right. As he does, the production crew in the truck outside the stadium is already rewinding the play on a squat TV monitor. Stacked on top of the monitor is a second screen for the telestrator. Within seconds, Suitor can see from both screens that the Calgary receiver somehow was in bounds for the touchdown. Turning to play-by-play partner Chris Cuthbert, he says, "Touchdown."

Watching TSN's CFL broadcasts, Usual Suspects often notes how quickly Suitor and his brethren get the essence of a play. Other times, we wonder why we see obvious things such as penalty calls that the announcers seem to miss. To get an explanation, we invaded the TSN booth for a recent game to watch the process with Suitor and Cuthbert.

"Initially I watch the defensive backfield, all the skill guys and matchups when a play starts," Suitor says at halftime. "The great majority of plays in the CFL are passing plays, plus I was a defensive back when I played."

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So what if it's a running play? "That's when I turn to the monitor after the play. The boys in the truck will rewind it, and I can see the line play in reverse, see the breakdowns."

Then what? "I go to the telestrator," says Suitor, pointing to the exotic screen in the corner. "The truck cues up the play, and I tell them [either live or off-mike]what I want. Then I diagram it on the screen."

So how do you see everything? "You can't see everything live. You need the replays, because you can't always be looking in the right part of the field."

We note once while Suitor is concentrating on a play, he doesn't see a penalty call. "That's where Chris [Cuthbert]comes in," says Suitor, who watches every CFL game from the weekend before in preparation. "He handles the announcing part of it, then I go look on the tape to find where it occurred."

We notice that, as opposed to hockey broadcasters, the TSN crew stands up to work. "I cannot sit down," Suitor says. So what's the best stadium location? "Mosaic Stadium in Regina, nice and tight, full house."

Worst? "Ivor Wynne in Hamilton. The night games are so dark." At which point, a pained Suitor excuses himself. "Chris and I have a ritual Red Bull before the game, and I go through three or four Cokes and water during a typical game."

No need to explain.

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Bench Jockeys

Speaking of TV analysts, Don Cherry notwithstanding, TSN still likes its NHL analyst between the benches. That allows the man in the middle - Pierre McGuire - to compile lists such as Top Six trash talkers: 1. Jarkko Ruutu; 2. Adam Burish; 3. Sean Avery; 4. Cody McLeod; 5. Darcy Tucker; 6. Alex Burrows.

"Ruutu really is creative and funny," McGuire said.

And the Top Six Bench Coaches for working the bench and pushing buttons: 1. Mike Babcock; 2. Andy Murray; 3. Randy Carlyle; 4. John Tortorella; 5. Claude Julien; 6. Ken Hitchcock.

Rush To Judgment

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay doesn't think broadcaster Rush Limbaugh is fit to be an NFL owner in St. Louis. That would be the same Jim Irsay who, with his father, tore out the beating heart of Baltimore - its beloved Colts - in a 1984 midnight move to the midwest for more dollars. But then, a pure heart is as germane to NFL ownership as good penmanship.

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And poking the eye of mainstream American media is a blood sport, as Limbaugh learned in 2003 when he claimed on ESPN that reporters gave Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb a wide berth, because they want a black quarterback to succeed. ESPN subsequently punted Limbaugh (much the way NFL commissioner Roger Goodell kyboshed him this week). Not even Limbaugh - who provokes for a living - believes in free speech in the NFL, where you can't even do a somersault after a touchdown.

Limbaugh's a provocateur and entertainer who gives as good as he gets. Live by the sword, die by the sword. He pushes the envelope and revels in the paper cuts. None of which exonerates Limbaugh's opponents for shopping bogus racial quotes to discredit him in the current fight. Noted sportswriters such as Michael Wilbon, Bryan Burwell and Jason Whitlock joined with CNN, MSNBC and other mainstream outlets in repeating racist quotes attributed to Limbaugh saying he approved of James Earl Ray getting a medal for assassinating Martin Luther King and extolling the plantation systems of the old South.

MSNBC posted a graphic reading: "Limbaugh remarks: Slavery 'had its merits.'" Across the lower part of the screen it added: "Cited by James Farrior, Pittsburgh Steelers." Two MSNBC hosts repeated the quotes. CNN host Rick Sanchez, too, repeated the alleged Limbaugh quotes in a discussion of his bid to buy the Rams. Others gleefully piled on.

We now know the quotes were made up in a discredited 2006 book that cited no attribution for them. Some of those journalists caught in the credibility gap have now waffled. Whitlock, usually an exemplary columnist for the Kansas City Star, excused himself by saying, "Limbaugh doesn't get the benefit of the doubt on racial matters."

When learning that the quotes were fake, Burwell said that they were "so in character with the many things that Limbaugh has said before that we didn't verify it beyond the book". (Wilbon did apologize on Pardon The Interruption.) CNN and MSNBC have yet to acknowledge any error.

In an era where mainstream media is in a battle for its very survival, the truth is its only selling point. And truth - even in the person of bombastic Rush Limbaugh - was poorly served in this case.

At The Post

The Breeders Cup is less than a month away and the best Canadian horses prep in the $2-million Pattison International - the richest thoroughbred race in the country. There's a chance for a massive international audience with a possible 30 million American homes tuning in and the race being covered live on ESPN with possible reach of 500 million homes in the U.S. and around world.

Talk, Talk

Finally, congrats to Dan Russell and Sportstalk which celebrated 25 years on air yesterday. October 15th's CKNW cast made it the longest-running sports talk program of its kind in the country. Russell's first guest (on CJOR) in 1984: Canucks coach Bill Laforge. Bill Laforge was an NHL coach? Wow.

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