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Jon Saraceno: The Games not the same without Bob Costas

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Irrefutably, Bob Costas is the best at what he does.

Without him, NBC might as well silence the network’s thundering, ubiquitous Olympic kettledrums. He is the essence of can’t-miss entertainment, smart announcing and bright-eyed exuberance, the defining sports voice of our generation and the conscience of an increasingly sinkhole-marred sports TV landscape.

The Games do not seem the same… they do not sound the same minus Costas’ honed sensibilities as prime-time host. Without Costas steering coverage from the network’s rocketing Olympic cockpit, the tenor and tone of the evening veer, even if imperceptibly, off course.

4f2195b44ee2f.preview-300Normally, we feel that a broadcaster never should be part of the storyline. In this case, Putin might as well snuff out the cauldron if Costas cannot return because of his lingering medical condition.

If Costas’ viral eye infection makes you wince – and it makes us cringe – imagine what it feels like. His baby blues cruelly conspired against him at the worst possible moment, intensifying the effect of “high-def’’ television.

Costas remains cautiously optimistic about his return before the Games conclude Feb. 23. As he told me Thursday by telephone from Sochi, “Hopefully, in a few days, I’m good to go again.’’

“I think there’s a good chance that I’m back on the air,’’ Costas said. “And, if not . . . I am not going to go back on if I’m not capable of going back on. I’m not going to force it – that doesn’t make sense. But if I am capable, I want to because my colleagues are all working so hard… 20-hour days. You want to hold up your end of it.’’

In all likelihood, Costas could have begged off his duties once he was diagnosed with painful conjunctivitis that also caused him to experience blurred vision and sensitivity to light. Instead, he went on the air and performed admirably, all the while knowing his story would go viral and that he would be parodied unmercifully.

“The problem with this was, it got to the point where it wasn’t a case of willpower. It was involuntary,’’ he said. “I just couldn’t function properly.’’

Some of the one-liners dispensed through social media genuinely were hilarious. Others were caustic. Of course, someone started a Twitter account called “Bob Costas’ Eyes.’’

“Much like the 5th Olympic ring (during Opening Ceremonies), Bob #CostasEye has yet to open,’’ tweeted @daveekuhn.

“Bob Costas taking a red eye home??? …’’ tweeted @CLAYBYDAY.

And this: “These Bob Costas jokes are getting cornea and cornea.’’

Ouch. But Costas is a pro’s pro. He gets it. So, there he was for five excruciatingly long days, staring into a camera with those achy, watery, itchy orbs and doing his professional best. And, yes, making light of his plight, including his tongue-in-cheek warning that he was about “to go all Sherman and Peabody’’ on viewers by wearing round eyeglasses.

My favorite moment: Costas toasting NBC’s Mary Carillo with (80-proof?) Russian vodka. Before he gleefully tossed back his glass, Costas exclaimed, “My eyes can’t get any redder, no matter what I do.’’

He followed up his one-liner with this Johnny Carson-like doozy: “Tomorrow morning, I’ll be lying on a curb in Minsk.’’

His timeout is NBC’s loss. And everyone’s loss, really, and it does not matter a snowflake what your perceived (or misperceived) notions are of his politics because of previous on-air commentaries. Costas’ deft, erudite style runs counter to today’s increasingly bothersome me-me-me aria sung by the modern tone-deaf sportscaster. We are bombarded by disingenuous histrionics and fake outrage; we seem to gauge personality by decibel level and outrageousness.

Costas is knowledgeable, measured, quick-witted, often light-hearted and, thank goodness, responsibly energetic and enthusiastic. He is intellectual and informed and so are his “takes’’ on the sometimes-nonsensical world of sports.

If Costas played baseball, his favorite sport, he would be a five-tool Cooperstown mortal lock. Contemporary Al Michaels always will be remembered for his inspiring “Do you believe in miracles?’’ hockey call at Lake Placid in 1980, a Bobby Thomson-like Hall of Fame announcing moment. As excellent as Michaels is as a broadcaster, Costas’ career arc reminds me more of Henry Aaron.

Still, when it comes to his valiant Olympic effort, Costas demurred: “I am being sincere: I think too much is being made of it.’’

“Someone said to me that I had a remarkable 157 consecutive nights of Olympic prime-time hosting,’’ he said. “Well, you know, whoever does the radio for the Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners or Arizona Diamondbacks, does 162 radio broadcasts from April through October – and most don’t miss a single game.

“It’s really too much credit. I show up, try to be well prepared and I work with really smart, good people. I don’t think it’s that big a deal. I went on the air many times before – all of us have – feeling worse than those five nights.’’

For now, Costas recuperates in relative solitude. He has spent the last few days in a mostly darkened room, trying to cope with the symptoms of a bizarre, once-in-a-lifetime mishap. For the rest of us, the light should have gone on by now. As a broadcaster, the man stands tall on the podium. From our view in the snowy Shenandoah Valley, Costas deserves the gold for grace under pressure.

Photo credit: dispatch.comnymag.com

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Jon Saraceno

Jon Saraceno worked 29 years at USA TODAY, where he was lead columnist from 1999 until 2008. He covered everything from amateur boxing in Cuba and the final days of daredevil Evel Knievel to the rise and fall of Mike Tyson, and the tragic crash of the Concorde in Paris. Saraceno twice drank from Lord Stanley's Cup (hiccup) and once drove a modified race car around Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Three times he secured prison interviews -- with Jim Brown, Denny McLain and Mercury Morris. But he failed miserably trying to land Tyson during his incarceration. Saraceno once was threatened by actor-turned-boxer Mickey Rourke at the famous Fifth Street Gym in Miami Beach. Turned out to be less frightening than driving Indy. Favorite interview of all times: Muhammad Ali, of course. A lover of animals, Saraceno is an outspoken critic of the Iditarod sled-dog race. He calls the grueling travesty the "I-Hurt-a-Dog."

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  1. Pingback: Bob Costas of NBC addresses his eye infection - Thrive Sports - Thrive Sports

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