Something interesting has been going on in Bristol, CT between the hours of 11pm and 2am. For the last few weeks, pretty much since the NHL playoffs started, the crew over at SportsCenter has been introducing Barry Melrose, Steve Levy, John Buccigross, or some combination of these guys with the old NHL on ESPN theme. When hockey moved from the worldwide leader to the worldwide debacle that is NBC, a lot of things have changed. ESPN pretty much ignores the fourth major sport (not that lockouts helped with that) and when people want to watch playoff hockey in the first round instead of heading to ESPN2, the only choice is CNBC (seriously). But worst of all, we don’t get to hear that sweet, sweet intro that tells us it’s time for some nationally televised hockey. There have been many articles in the past year or so that outline all the reasons NBC was the right choice for the NHL, most recently in this Ed Sherman piece. I agree with pretty much all of them but regardless, I miss this theme music.
So wasn’t it just a great surprise when I tuned into SportsCenter one night after a game and heard that intro for the segment on that night’s hockey analysis. A lot of the anchors and producers at ESPN are fans of hockey, as is evident on Twitter, so bringing this back for a couple segments a year is probably just a nice gesture towards the fans and a way to shake the broadcast up a bit. But “probably” brings so many other options into the mix! Let’s briefly run down the most likely (and completely unlikely) options for why this is happening.
1. ESPN Is Trolling Its Entire Audience Because They Can:
Just to spite the whole country for continuing to enjoy hockey without their permission, the powers that be have decided to remind everyone how great it was to have the #1 Sports Network talking about hockey all day every day. Because remember when that was the case? All the talking heads embracing debate over delay of game penalties and high sticking calls? Neither do I, which means ESPN is probably not too choked up about NBC’s record this season. ESPN always wants what they can’t have though, so don’t rule out that some executive is sitting maniacally in his office planning on inflicting more pain to hockey fans than has already been done this year. (Just kidding, Bettman has that market cornered).
2. Barry Melrose Has Blackmailed Bristol Into Giving Him What He Wants:
Speaking of maniacal characters, have you seen that mullet? Between that and always looking super sharp in those suits, Melrose is halfway to being a full on Bond villain. He’s one of the greatest Canadians and I could totally see him pulling off a scheme in which he makes ESPN suffer for their poor treatment of the best sport around. The best way to do that is obviously to make them listen to the sound of the glory days when huge athletes beat the hell out of each other on ice. If there were one person from ESPN’s entire staff of analysts and contributors to choose to be a secret agent working undercover for another country, it would totally be him.
3. There Are Underlying Motives At Play Because ESPN Wants Hockey Back:
Still not the most likely option, but due to record ratings and continued high levels of diehard fans there is a chance that ESPN realizes they should’ve bid a little more for the NHL when NBC snatched it up. The network is constantly on the hunt to get as many sports as possible under their umbrella (see: tennis rights slipping away from CBS one by one) so it wouldn’t be a shock if this were some kind of long con for when the rights come up years from now. That way they can say “look at us, we made an effort! Barry! Coverage! Remember that old theme!?” and no one will resent them for dropping it disdainfully in the first place. I wouldn’t put it past ’em, that’s for sure.
4. The Anchors Brought it Back For Fun:
The most probable reason, and boy am I thankful. John Buccigross and Steve Levy, the usual late night anchors, have both been open about not only their enjoyment and passion for the game but their desire for it to get more credit during the show. Bucci consistently alerts people when hockey leads off the night or at what point in the show the highlights will air if possible. These two and Melrose always have fun with the hockey highlights and would love to see the NHL get some more love from the network. If their increasingly high profile positions in Bristol mean that there’s more and more respect shown to America’s fourth major sport (no, not college football-that’s just how ESPN sees it) than I’m all for it. The first time they played the theme people definitely noticed and it made the rounds on the internet. After a couple shout outs on Twitter, they did it again about a week later. All in good fun and a way to give hockey more prominence, even if just slightly.
Whatever the reason (I’m still partial to Melrose is a spy) it’s a well deserved nod from SportsCenter to the fun of the playoffs. No gripes about goofy nostalgia towards my favorite sport here. As always, a video for you to enjoy: