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Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985 after a two-year stint covering college hockey for The Anchorage Times in Alaska. From 1985-90 he covered New York City high school sports, then spent five years as Newsday's beat writer for St. John's and Big East basketball. From 1995-2005 he covered the Giants before leaving that beat to become a reporter, columnist and feature writer focused on off-field topics such as sports media and business. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept. 30, 2005.

Rex Ryan, Tom Coughlin featured in MetLife commercial

Jets coach Rex Ryan on set of a

Jets coach Rex Ryan on set of a commercial for MetLife that will also feature Giants head coach Tom Coughlin (Credit: Jennifer S. Altman)

Tom Coughlin and Rex Ryan have overlapped as New York’s pro football coaches for six seasons now, the longest such stretch since Bill Parcells and Joe Walton in the 1980s.

But other than Snoopy Bowls and one huge regular-season game in 2011, we rarely see them interact directly.

Until now!

The two will make a joint appearance beginning Sept. 28 in a commercial for MetLife, marking the first time the company has leveraged its relationships with the teams that play in the stadium it sponsors in such a way.

The spot was recorded the day after the Snoopy Bowl in August, but because of conflicting schedules, the coaches did their parts separately and were made to look as if they were sitting next to one another through the magic of video.

Coughlin is not the acting natural Ryan is – remember, Rex had a cameo in Adam Sandler’s “That’s My Boy’’ in 2012 – but the Giants coach was intrigued by the idea of his grandchildren seeing him talk to Charlie Brown on screen.

Now he just has to hope the Giants start winning and he does not end up with rocks in his Halloween bag come late October.
 

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Pedro Martinez makes his pitch on TV

IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR GOOD HUMOR -Former Boston Red

IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR GOOD HUMOR -Former Boston Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez celebrates the launch of the Good Humor� "Share the love" summer campaign at Copley Place in Boston on Tuesday, June 25, 2013. (Photo by Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Invision for Good Humor/AP Images) (Credit: Invision for Good Humor� Bizuayehu Tesfaye)

Every network, including Turner itself, always is on the lookout for a breakout studio analyst star on the order of TNT's Charles Barkley. But there is only one Sir Charles.

Still, Turner hopes it has unearthed a baseball equivalent in Pedro Martinez, who will work his second postseason and who appears to have the goods to become a TV standout.

"He's a natural, a no-brainer," said Craig Barry, Turner's senior VP of production. "He's got what it takes. I think his ceiling is huge. He brings an honesty and a sensibility about not taking himself so seriously, not to mention having an innate expertise in baseball, specifically around pitching."

OK, so Barry is biased. But he also is right.

"I do like it, I enjoy it, especially with the group of people they've put together," Martinez said. "It's a lot more work than I thought . . . I just try to see my perspective and then I relay it to you guys honestly."

What makes Martinez's quotability more impressive is he is doing it in his second language.

"He's animated and he is passionate and in whatever language he's speaking, it comes across," Barry said. "He's a guy you want to listen to. He's just that likeable."

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2014 an 'enjoyable' year of Mets games for Ron Darling

Former professional baseball player Ron Darling attends Joe

Former professional baseball player Ron Darling attends Joe Torre's Safe At Home Foundation's 10th Anniversary Gala at Pier 60. (Jan. 24, 2013) (Credit: Getty)

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The long grind of another losing Mets season is not always fun for the men who bring you the games on television, even if unlike you, they are being paid to watch.

But as he winds down his ninth year in the SNY booth – eight of which have concluded without the Mets in the playoffs – analyst Ron Darling said this lost season has been much easier to take than most.

“This is one of the more enjoyable years I’ve had doing Mets games in a long time,’’ he said.

Why?

“[Juan] Lagares, watching him play every day has been a joy," Darling said. "[Zack] Wheeler, going from the beginning of the season and turning it around . . . [Jacob] deGrom’s season, of course, has just been historical . . . [Jeurys] Familia, [Jenrry] Mejia, [Vic] Black, it’s been fun. Instead of having older guys come out of the bullpen, it’s young arms.’’

Darling has been calling playoff games for Turner since 2007, the year after the Mets’ last playoff appearance. He hopes someday to call a Mets game in October.

“I had my time; the ’86 team is talked about ad nauseam,’’ he said. “I’m a broadcaster now. I want to broadcast a championship team . . . I would love that. I would welcome it.

“When you spend six months around guys, you root for them to do well and if they do well during the season, you want them to have that same feeling you had as a player. I want that for David Wright someday where maybe he’ll have another shot at playing in the offseason.’’
 

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All eyes on Mike Francesa, CBS

Mike Francesa at his home in Manhasset on

Mike Francesa at his home in Manhasset on Thursday, March 13, 2014. (Credit: Chris Ware)

Mike Francesa has made it clear he is not a fan of Fox's frequent pre-emptions of his TV simulcast, so when he said Tuesday he had been threatened with a lawsuit if he persisted, most listeners assumed the threat had come from Fox.

But the story turned out to be juicier than that, because he in fact was referring to CBS Radio, which owns WFAN and is his employer -- and which has significant revenue at stake in the Fox deal.

It was not the first time Francesa has taken on the company. Most memorably, he and former partner Chris Russo ripped CBS for its handling of Don Imus' departure in 2007.

Still, this sort of public spat is unusual, and suggests a relationship that bears watching. (Francesa is under contract through early 2018.)

The back-and-forth Tuesday between him and the company -- which denied it had threatened a lawsuit -- was the latest sign of tension.

Another came in December, when he said he "would not consider the CBS Sports Network an alternative at any time," for his simulcast, unlike his WFAN morning-show counterparts, Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton.

"There is absolutely zero chance I would go there because I don't think it fits the program."

CBS was not pleased. Stay tuned.

 

Pedro makes his TV pitch

Every network, including Turner itself, always is on the lookout for a breakout studio analyst star on the order of TNT's Charles Barkley. But there is only one Sir Charles.

Still, Turner hopes it has unearthed a baseball equivalent in Pedro Martinez, who will work his second postseason and who appears to have the goods to become a TV standout.

"He's a natural, a no-brainer," said Craig Barry, Turner's senior VP of production. "He's got what it takes. I think his ceiling is huge. He brings an honesty and a sensibility about not taking himself so seriously, not to mention having an innate expertise in baseball, specifically around pitching."

OK, so Barry is biased. But he also is right.

"I do like it, I enjoy it, especially with the group of people they've put together," Martinez said. "It's a lot more work than I thought . . . I just try to see my perspective and then I relay it to you guys honestly."

What makes Martinez's quotability more impressive is he is doing it in his second language.

"He's animated and he is passionate and in whatever language he's speaking, it comes across," Barry said. "He's a guy you want to listen to. He's just that likeable."

 

Coughlin, Ryan are Snoopy's teammates Tom Coughlin and Rex Ryan have overlapped as New York's pro football coaches for six seasons now, the longest such stretch since Bill Parcells and Joe Walton in the 1980s.

But other than Snoopy Bowls and one huge regular-season game in 2011, we rarely see them interact.

Until now! The two will make a joint appearance beginning next Sunday in a commercial for MetLife, marking the first time the company has leveraged its relationships with the teams that play in the stadium it sponsors in such a way.

The spot was recorded the day after the Snoopy Bowl in August, but because of conflicting schedules, the coaches did their parts separately and were made to look as if they were sitting next to one another through the magic of video.

Coughlin is not the acting natural Ryan is -- remember, Rex had a cameo in Adam Sandler's "That's My Boy" in 2012 -- but the Giants coach was intrigued by the chance for his grandchildren to see him talk to Charlie Brown.

He just has to hope the Giants start winning and he does not end up with rocks in his Halloween bag come late October.

 

Darling sees reason for hope

The long grind of another losing Mets season is not always fun for the men who bring you the games on television, even if unlike you, they are being paid to watch.

But as he winds down his ninth year in the SNY booth -- eight of which have concluded without the Mets in the playoffs -- analyst Ron Darling said this lost season has been easier to take than most.

"This is one of the more enjoyable years I've had doing Mets games in a long time," he said.

Why? "[Juan] Lagares, watching him play every day has been a joy. [Zack] Wheeler, going from the beginning of the season and turning it around . . . [Jacob] deGrom's season, of course, has just been historical . . . [Jeurys] Familia, [Jenrry] Mejia, [Vic] Black. It's been fun."

Darling has been calling playoff games for Turner since 2007; he hopes someday to call a Mets game deep into October.

"I had my time; the '86 team is talked about ad nauseam," he said. "I'm a broadcaster now. I want to broadcast a championship team . . . I want that for David Wright someday, where maybe he will have another shot at playing in the postseason."

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Roger Goodell outlines NFL's steps to address domestic violence

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell talks during a press

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell talks during a press conference at the Hilton Hotel on Sept. 19, 2014 in New York City. Goodell spoke about the NFL's failure to address domestic violence, sexual assault and drug abuse in the league. (Credit: Getty Images / Elsa)

Commissioner Roger Goodell broke his public silence yesterday by apologizing for the National Football League's handling of recent incidents of domestic violence involving several players and vowed to do better moving forward. Goodell also said he has not considered resigning amid the controversy.

"I'm not satisfied with what we did," he said at a Manhattan news conference that capped a week of harsh public criticism of the league, its teams and its players.

"I let myself down. I let everyone else down, and for that I'm sorry. We can't continue to operate like this."

Goodell announced several initiatives aimed at improving the NFL's performance, including the implementation of a new personal conduct policy before the Super Bowl in early February. Goodell did not offer many specifics about how policy would change.

Goodell said he did not consider stepping down during the firestorm of public outcry over the behavior of NFL players. He also said he believes he has the support of the league's owners, who employ him. "That has been clear to me," he said.

After Friday's news conference, the National Organization for Women reiterated the call it made last week for Goodell to resign, saying Goodell "did nothing to increase confidence in his ability to lead the NFL out of its morass."

Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton said in a CNN interview that the league is trying to cover up a wider problem while protecting its star players.

"[Fans] should start writing letters, writing emails, and stop going to games," said Tarkenton, who called Friday's news conference "the most whitewashed press conference I've ever seen."

During a lengthy opening statement, Goodell said, "Unfortunately, over the past several weeks, we have seen all too much of the NFL doing wrong. That starts with me."

On Sept. 8, TMZ released a video that showed Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his fiancee (now wife) Janay Palmer in the face and knocking her unconscious in an Atlantic City casino elevator.

Rice originally was suspended for two games, a punishment Goodell admitted in late August was too light. He reiterated that stance Friday, saying, "I got it wrong on a number of levels -- from the process that I led to the decisions that I reached."

After the video surfaced, the Ravens released Rice and Goodell amended his punishment to an indefinite ban. He would not say whether any women were involved in making the original discipline decision, but he acknowledged, "We didn't have the right voices at the table." Rice appealed the NFL's suspension.

That Friday, Adrian Peterson, a star running back for the Minnesota Vikings, was indicted in connection with injuries his 4-year-old son sustained while Peterson was disciplining him. He since has been placed on a special commissioner's list, allowing him to continue to be paid while he sits out.

The NFL hired former FBI director Robert Mueller III to conduct an investigation of the Rice affair, including an Associated Press report that someone inside the NFL received a copy of the Rice video. Goodell has repeatedly denied that neither he nor anyone at the league office saw the Rice video before it was posted by TMZ.

When asked by a TMZ reporter why the NFL could not get the video, Goodell did not answer. "We got it with one phone call," the reporter said. "You have a whole department."

The commissioner vowed the league will be a positive force in addressing domestic violence and sexual assault, including new partnerships with the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. But he acknowledged the league faces "complex issues" surrounding discipline as players' cases work their ways through the legal system. "Everyone deserves a fair process," he said.

Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy and Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer have been sidelined by their teams after alleged incidents of domestic violence while San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald continues to play while being investigated on suspicion of domestic violence.

A number of prominent league sponsors -- Anheuser-Busch, Pepsi, Visa, Nike and McDonald's -- have expressed their concern in recent days. On Friday, Procter & Gamble's Crest toothpaste brand pulled out of a planned on-field promotion with the league for breast cancer awareness.

Goodell said no sponsors have left the NFL altogether, but he said he has had discussions with them this week to reassure them the league will take action.

"I disappointed our fans, our partners," Goodell said. "We need to do better."

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Roger Goodell outlines NFL's steps to address domestic violence

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell talks during a press

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell talks during a press conference at the Hilton Hotel on Sept. 19, 2014 in New York City. Goodell spoke about the NFL's failure to address domestic violence, sexual assault and drug abuse in the league. (Credit: Getty Images / Elsa)

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Commissioner Roger Goodell broke his public silence yesterday by apologizing for the National Football League's handling of recent incidents of domestic violence involving several players and vowed to do better moving forward. Goodell also said he has not considered resigning amid the controversy.

"I'm not satisfied with what we did," he said at a Manhattan news conference that capped a week of harsh public criticism of the league, its teams and its players.

"I let myself down. I let everyone else down, and for that I'm sorry. We can't continue to operate like this."

Goodell announced several initiatives aimed at improving the NFL's performance, including the implementation of a new personal conduct policy before the Super Bowl in early February. Goodell did not offer many specifics about how policy would change.

Goodell said he did not consider stepping down during the firestorm of public outcry over the behavior of NFL players. He also said he believes he has the support of the league's owners, who employ him. "That has been clear to me," he said.

After Friday's news conference, the National Organization for Women reiterated the call it made last week for Goodell to resign, saying Goodell "did nothing to increase confidence in his ability to lead the NFL out of its morass."

Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton said in a CNN interview that the league is trying to cover up a wider problem while protecting its star players.

"[Fans] should start writing letters, writing emails, and stop going to games," said Tarkenton, who called Friday's news conference "the most whitewashed press conference I've ever seen."

During a lengthy opening statement, Goodell said, "Unfortunately, over the past several weeks, we have seen all too much of the NFL doing wrong. That starts with me."

On Sept. 8, TMZ released a video that showed Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his fiancee (now wife) Janay Palmer in the face and knocking her unconscious in an Atlantic City casino elevator.

Rice originally was suspended for two games, a punishment Goodell admitted in late August was too light. He reiterated that stance Friday, saying, "I got it wrong on a number of levels -- from the process that I led to the decisions that I reached."

After the video surfaced, the Ravens released Rice and Goodell amended his punishment to an indefinite ban. He would not say whether any women were involved in making the original discipline decision, but he acknowledged, "We didn't have the right voices at the table." Rice appealed the NFL's suspension.

That Friday, Adrian Peterson, a star running back for the Minnesota Vikings, was indicted in connection with injuries his 4-year-old son sustained while Peterson was disciplining him. He since has been placed on a special commissioner's list, allowing him to continue to be paid while he sits out.

The NFL hired former FBI director Robert Mueller III to conduct an investigation of the Rice affair, including an Associated Press report that someone inside the NFL received a copy of the Rice video. Goodell has repeatedly denied that neither he nor anyone at the league office saw the Rice video before it was posted by TMZ.

When asked by a TMZ reporter why the NFL could not get the video, Goodell did not answer. "We got it with one phone call," the reporter said. "You have a whole department."

The commissioner vowed the league will be a positive force in addressing domestic violence and sexual assault, including new partnerships with the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. But he acknowledged the league faces "complex issues" surrounding discipline as players' cases work their ways through the legal system. "Everyone deserves a fair process," he said.

Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy and Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer have been sidelined by their teams after alleged incidents of domestic violence while San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald continues to play while being investigated on suspicion of domestic violence.

A number of prominent league sponsors -- Anheuser-Busch, Pepsi, Visa, Nike and McDonald's -- have expressed their concern in recent days. On Friday, Procter & Gamble's Crest toothpaste brand pulled out of a planned on-field promotion with the league for breast cancer awareness.

Goodell said no sponsors have left the NFL altogether, but he said he has had discussions with them this week to reassure them the league will take action.

"I disappointed our fans, our partners," Goodell said. "We need to do better."

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Mike Francesa vs. CBS Radio worth watching

WFAN broadcaster Mike Francesa, second from left, and

WFAN broadcaster Mike Francesa, second from left, and actor Steve Schirripa (fourth from left) attends at Game 4 of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Madison Square Garden on June 11, 2014 (Credit: Getty Images)

Mike Francesa has made it clear he is not a fan of Fox's frequent pre-emptions of his TV simulcast, so when he said Tuesday he had been threatened with a lawsuit if he persisted, most listeners assumed the threat had come from Fox.

But the story turned out to be juicier than that, because he in fact was referring to CBS Radio, which owns WFAN and is his employer -- and which has significant revenue at stake in the Fox deal.

It was not the first time Francesa has criticized the company. Most memorably, he and former partner Chris Russo ripped CBS for its handling of Don Imus' departure in 2007.

Still, this sort of public spat is unusual, and suggests a relationship that bears watching, especially with Francesa under contract through early 2018.

The back-and-forth Tuesday between him and the company -- which denied it had threatened a lawsuit -- was the latest sign of tension.

Another came in December, when he said he "would not consider the CBS Sports Network an alternative at any time," for his simulcast, unlike his WFAN morning-show counterparts, Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton.

"There is absolutely zero chance I would go there because I don't think it fits the program."

CBS was not pleased. Stay tuned.

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Ian Eagle finds the right mix of humor and pop culture in CBS football booth

Ian Eagle reminisces on-air about his time spent

Ian Eagle reminisces on-air about his time spent at WFAN during WFAN's 20-year anniversary at Kaufman Astoria Studios in Astoria. (Credit: Patrick McCarthy)

"I don't know if you can be a 20-year overnight sensation," Ian Eagle said with his best deadpan delivery, which is fair enough from a guy who has had a series of high-profile sportscasting gigs since he was in his mid-20s.

But Eagle did not deny the obvious: That even in a career full of big games, glowing reviews and viewer goodwill, being named the No. 2 NFL play-by-play man for CBS this past offseason was a milestone.

"I've never looked at it in those terms; my mentality has always been to put my head down and do the job, not shout from the rooftops about the job that I'm doing," he said Wednesday.

"But yes, an NFL playoff game on television would probably be the biggest assignment of my career up until that point."

(That might not happen until next season, because NBC will carry an AFC divisional-round game this winter under terms of a new TV contract.)

First things first, though. There is a regular season to be called, including some Sundays on which Phil Simms and Jim Nantz will be off, leaving the day's top CBS game for Eagle and his partner of five seasons, Dan Fouts.

Nantz will be on duty in Seattle this weekend, so Eagle will stay close to his New Jersey home for Texans-Giants. (Eagle, 45, is married to Alisa, whom he met at Syracuse, and has two teenage children.)

After graduating from college, Eagle started as a producer at WFAN, and soon was collecting dream jobs. "I got the Nets job in 1994 at the age of 25 and got the Jets [radio] job in 1998," he said, "and if those were the two jobs I had for the rest of my career I would have been more than satisfied.

"But some doors opened up, and you do your best to take the next step if it's offered to you."

That includes calling NFL games on CBS since 1998, a forum that doesn't allow him to flash his trademark humor quite as often as on a Nets game in February, but still . . .

"I had a 'Karate Kid' reference in Week 1," he said. "[The Steelers'] Shaun Suisham kicked the game-winner and the call was, 'Suisham sweeps the leg,' which I've used occasionally. It just brings me back to Ralph Macchio days."

Eagle is a '70s and '80s pop culture savant, a skill he enjoys flashing, within reason.

"You have to be careful," he said. "Your wheelhouse isn't everyone else's wheelhouse. Just because I know '80s television cold doesn't mean that someone in the audience is going to get a 'Happy Days' reference."

That did not prevent him from employing a "Malachi Crunch" line from an old "Happy Days" episode during an NCAA Tournament game. "I felt really good about it," he said.

Eagle's knowledge of pop culture was forged during a youth in which he spent long hours in the company of live-in housekeepers and television shows at home in Forest Hills.

His mother, Monica Maris, was a singer and actress who until shortly before her death from lung cancer in 1988 was playing Judy Garland in a show called "Legends in Concert" in Las Vegas. (Check her out on YouTube.)

His father, Jack, who had been a comedian, musician and actor, saw his life change following an iconic 1977 Super Bowl ad for Xerox that led to his second career appearing at trade shows, store openings and corporate events.

"My father traveled probably about 225 days a year for Xerox dressing up as the monk, Brother Dominic," Eagle said. "What started as a commercial became a full-time job . . . It was a whole life that started for him after the age of 50 and it turned out to be the most memorable and lucrative part of his career."

Asked what part his father, who died in 2008, played in fostering his sense of humor, Eagle said, "Everything. His personality and the way he treated people had the biggest impact on me. He was a very funny person but also capable of laughing at other funny people . . . My father was a great audience in addition to being a fantastic standup."

With his parents divorced, his mother living in the West and his father on the road, Eagle developed a sense of independence early on, taking the subway alone when he wasn't busy studying for future Ralph Macchio references.

Who knew he'd grow up to have a forum to share them with the world?

"I think audiences feel connected when there's laughter, when it's not all Xs and Os all the time," he said. "We are not doing amateur night at the Chuckle Hut. But it's OK as long as you are judicious and as long as it's organic."

Eagle said he learned early on to employ humorous byplay with his analyst when he worked basketball with Bill Raftery. Fouts was not previously known for that sort of thing, but Eagle seems to have drawn him out.

"There's definitely a simpatico between the two of us that we get one another's senses of humor," Eagle said. "I think Dan, at this point of his career, he wants to have fun. My philosophy has been that way from Day One."

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Derek Jeter pays tribute to his fans in new Gatorade ad

Derek Jeter Gatorade spot

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Two months after Nike paid tribute to Derek Jeter with a much-discussed ad titled "RE2PECT,'' another of his longtime sponsors took its turn Thursday when Gatorade unveiled a spot that quickly became an Internet sensation.

The 90-second ad, which won't be on TV in full until Saturday, shows Jeter interacting with fans while walking to a game at Yankee Stadium, backed by Frank Sinatra singing "My Way.''

As Jeter talked about it before Thursday night's game, the ad was being previewed on a TV news program in the middle of the Yankees' clubhouse.

"Did it come out today?'' Jeter asked.

When asked how the ad came about, Jeter said: "It was an opportunity, I felt deservedly, to thank people, which I've been consistent with every time I spoke, how much the fans have meant to me in my career. So it's sort of a way to thank them for what they've meant to me. So it was a fun experience.''

Molly Carter, Gatorade's senior director of consumer engagement, told Adweek that Jeter himself suggested an ad that showed him thanking Yankees fans and that he selected "My Way'' as the song that best summed up his career.

"I like the song,'' Jeter said. "I've always liked the song. It's fitting. I thought it fit for what I'm going through. I'm happy we were able to use it.''

Asked if he is a big Sinatra fan, Jeter, 40, joked to a 48-year-old reporter: "I like him. He's more your era than mine.''

The fans with whom Jeter is shown interacting were genuinely surprised, Carter told Adweek. She said an area near the stadium was roped off before a game in July and the producers "just kind of let Jeter go.''

Said Jeter: "It didn't take long. I was really out there for 30 minutes, I think.''

The ad first will be seen in its entirety on television Saturday on YES and Fox. Jeter also authored a print ad for Gatorade in which he thanks fans, writing, in part, "From my first at-bat until my final out, you helped make me who I am. For that I am forever thankful.''

Thursday night's game against Toronto was the opener of the final homestand of Jeter's career. Unless the Yankees make a miracle run to the playoffs, Jeter's final home game will be next Thursday and his last series will be Sept. 26-28 in Boston. With Anthony Rieber

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ESPN has not been afraid to take shots at NFL and its teams

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell listens to questions during

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell listens to questions during a news conference at the owners meetings in Rosemont, Ill. (June 21, 2011) (Credit: AP )

The tangled web that is the 21st century sports media business spins off a potentially awkward conflict of interest every, oh, 30 seconds or so.

But considering the money and attention involved, nothing quite compares to the complicated task that faces the NFL's "partners" at CBS, NBC, Fox and ESPN -- and, especially, the NFL Network -- in covering the league.

And nothing quite has compared to what those networks have encountered during the past two, tumultuous weeks.

The Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson cases have struck an unprecedented chord with the public.

That includes the spotlight focused on commissioner Roger Goodell, whose usually slick, confident public image has taken numerous hits, including from some big names working for the media outlets that pay him huge rights fees.

The assumption long has been that TV networks are NFL addicts who more or less do what they are told, most famously in 2003 when ESPN canceled the scripted series, "Playmakers" under pressure from the league.

It depicted players behaving badly. Imagine that!

But it all has felt different this time, perhaps nowhere more than on ESPN, which across its many shows on many channels has been decidedly unbashful about criticizing the league and its teams.

ESPN was at its most emotional on "Sunday NFL Countdown," which featured several strong personal takes, most memorably from Cris Carter, who said that while his mother did the best she could with discipline while raising seven children by herself, he since has learned, "It's the 21st century. My mom was wrong."

Seth Markman, a senior coordinating producer who oversees NFL studio shows, said Wednesday he spent more time speaking to the show's panelists in advance of Sunday's show than he ever had before, "reassuring them they can say whatever is on their minds as long as they're being honest."

The only prohibition was against "personal attacks or cheap shots," but beyond that everything was fair game -- including calling for the job of the commissioner, if someone had been so inclined.

"It really had nothing to do with football at that point and kind of veered into an area we hadn't been in before," he said of Sunday's 45-minute discussion. "It was almost a therapy session."

Markman said he is not aware of any pressure or negative feedback from the league aimed at his shows or others. "We have a great relationship with the NFL, but they also understand what our responsibility is as journalists," he said.

Also Sunday, ESPN's Hannah Storm offered an emotional recollection based on sitting with one of her daughters as they watched the video of Rice punching his then-fiancee.

Storm was one of many female voices who weighed in on ESPN platforms, including a panel discussion on ESPN Radio Tuesday night.

Even before Peterson's case became news Friday, the NFL Network and CBS faced intense scrutiny for how they would deal with the Rice story in advance of CBS' first "Thursday Night Football" telecast in Baltimore.

The emotional highlight that night was a monologue by CBS' James Brown, but before that NFL Network analysts weighed in, and the network offered multiple news reports on the subject.

Still, the league-owned network admittedly is in a different position than its counterparts. That means far less commentary on off-field matters than one might find on ESPN, and it means a more deliberate approach to reporting, even if that results in not being first with news.

"Everyone here 100 percent realizes who we work for," said Alex Riethmiller, a network spokesman. "When I say that I think most people would assume we work for the NFL, so let's make sure it's always sunshine for the NFL here, but that's not it.

"What I mean is we represent the shield, so the people that work here feel like they have an obligation to 100 percent get the facts right, whether the story is positive or negative . . . We try to break news as much as the next guy, but we are also cognizant we work for the NFL so we want to be 100 percent factually accurate."

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