‘SNF’ brings Steelers into focus

There’s nothing like a big media spotlight to further expose a team’s problems, and that could be the case tonight as Steelers travel to play the Detroit Lions on “Sunday Night Football.”

After the botched national anthem effort, a somewhat typical woe-is-me response by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger after an early-season loss, and the ongoing complaints of receiver Martavis Bryant (who has been benched for this week’s game), there are certainly plenty of storylines around the Steelers at this point of the season.

Do not expect deep dives on all of those things, though. Perhaps most likely would be a sideline report form NBC’s Michelle Tafoya about Bryant’s trade demands and the resulting demotion. That has implications in terms of roster depth.

At this point, those other topics probably should not be the focus of any game coverage, either.

It’s more about the on-field success of the Steelers, whose 5-2 record puts them at the top of the AFC’s Super Bowl contenders at this point — with this point not being even the halfway through the season and the team having played not so well at times.

It’s the only game on Sunday night, though, often one of the more watched NFL games of any given week, so tonight does provide a showcase for the Steelers. Against the similarly good but unpredictable Lions, it could be an interesting game.

Along with the matchup, the strength of “SNF” comes from its on-air team. Tafoya’s preparation is clear, although the value of sideline reporters remains unclear to me because, barring an injury, viewers will not see her work in any obvious manner more than a couple minutes during any broadcast.

Yes, she can relay information to the booth based on what she sees, and that might not prompt a specific report, but that’s just so hard to quantify.

Among the award-winning broadcast tandem — Al Michaels on play-by-play and Cris Collinsworth as color commentator — Collinsworth stands out as one of the best in the business. He’s quick to make points, offers and opinions and well prepared. It seems he’s having fun doing what he’s doing and takes it seriously. He’s there to serve viewers.

Conversely, while Michaels would not be atop my personal list of the best at his job in sports, or even in the NFL, there’s no doubt he’s really good. He’s also really good at making things about him, which is the part that’s off putting to me.

Whether it’s betting lines, inside-the-business references or, as happened a couple weeks ago with a joke about embattled Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein that flopped, Michaels sometimes focuses on things other than the game.

In my world, that’s not his job. When he sticks to what he’s supposed to do, he’s really good. When things become a bit more about him, that’s not so much the case.

Of course, if the Steelers play well, what the guys do in the booth might be a little less important tonight.

Great ‘GameDay’

Almost everything related to the “College GameDay” visit to Penn State for last week’s Michigan game came off well.

It was a slightly slow arriving crowd on the Old Main lawn, but it looked good on TV and, for the most part, Penn State fans behaved and represented their school well.

That’s typically enough for a good visit, but the setup on the Old Main lawn — which started three days before the game — generated abundant buzz on campus. That was an added benefit.

Also, ESPN’s on-air and behind-the-scenes talent conducted their meetings in Old Main, and the marketing circus that follows the show created a de facto football-related festival in front of Old Main for those handful of days.

Those people enjoyed their visit and helped tell a generally pro-Penn State story, including an on-set visit for men’s basketball coach Patrick Chambers and many other interactions with fans and people on campus in a positive manner.

It turned out to be a win-win for almost everyone involved.

Tuner tidbits

n “College GameDay” originated from Columbus, Ohio, for the Penn State-Ohio State matchup Saturday. It was the second week in a row the Nittany Lions were part of the game that prompted a “GameDay” site visit. The last time that happened was 2009 when Florida hosted the show for its final regular season game vs. Florida State and then played against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.

n Along with two quality teams and on-field drama, here’s another reason the World Series has been worth watching: It looks like they’re playing in baseball weather. Sure, maybe it was more than warm enough with 100-degree temperatures in Los Angeles for the first two games, but watching postseason baseball and not seeing players wearing knit caps or fans huddling to stay warm makes it feel a bit more like baseball. It also feels like the participants, rather than Mother Nature, might properly be playing the biggest role in determining the outcome of games. That translates on TV.

Sampsell can be reached at stevesampsell@gmail.com.

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