The Best of WatchDog

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning looks on New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning looks on during the second half of the Super Bowl. (Feb. 5, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.

Eli on SNL? Oh, brother!

Eli Manning admitted he is a tad "anxious'' about hosting "Saturday Night Live'' on May 5, given that he "might be doing something that's a little bit out of my character and uncomfortable.''

Ya think? But that's OK. As everyone from Derek Jeter (who dressed in drag) to Eli's brother Peyton (who beaned children with footballs) has learned, that is part of the point.

Manning will join a long list of athlete/hosts that began with Fran Tarkenton, a former Giants quarterback in 1977, followed a year later by O.J. Simpson.

But he knows that for many, Peyton's March 2007 appearance is the gold standard. Eli has discussed the rehearsal schedule with Peyton but said his brother has not yet sent him a copy of his classic United Way commercial parody.

"No, but I have obviously seen it before,'' said Eli, who had a cameo on Peyton's show. "That was a good one. So hopefully, I can have one as popular as that one.''

Good luck with that.

 

Here is one man's list of best SNL skits featuring athletes:

Peyton Manning, March 24, 2007. In a taped United Way commercial parody, Manning throws footballs at children, curses up a storm and tries to jimmy the lock on an SUV.

Derek Jeter, Dec. 1, 2001. Dressed in drag as Alfonso Soriano's wife, Jeter's character says Jeter doesn't do much for her and "looks like if The Rock had sex with a Muppet.''

Michael Jordan, Sept. 28, 1991. Self-help adviser Stuart Smalley sits down with Jordan and gives him advice on maintaining his confidence and self-esteem.

 

Phil Jackson was a Jersey guy

As the Nets prepare to conclude their 35-season stay in New Jersey on Monday en route back to the elongated island where they belong, I looked back at their history of announcers there. It is as colorful as you would expect.

Among those on the list is Leandra Reilly (now of MSG Varsity), who in 1988 became the first female play-by-play announcer for an NBA game, and, yup, John Sterling.

But this name jumped out: Phil Jackson! The big guy worked as a Nets TV analyst in 1981-82, Larry Brown's first year as head coach and the team's first season at the arena currently known as Izod Center.

The Nets enjoyed their first winning season in six attempts as an NBA franchise. The next year, Jackson was off to Albany to coach the CBA's Patroons, taking over during the season from another former Knick, Dean Meminger.

 

Networks have eyes on NFL

The most popular show on television returns for another season in September, but not before the usual wish-list-making and lobbying from networks desperate for their slices of the NFL pie.

As usual, the league did its best. As usual, not everyone can be entirely happy.

For example: After Fox saw both Giants-Cowboys games handed to NBC last season, the NFL chose to open 2012 with . . . Giants-Cowboys on NBC.

Many observers figured that slot would go to Giants-Packers, but that matchup instead was set for Nov. 25 -- on NBC. The network also has the first Thanksgiving night game on a broadcast network when the Jets host the Pats.

Oh well. Don't waste any tears on the NFL's other partners, who for the massive payments they make -- actually, they're using your money, but that's another story -- all will get repaid with healthy ratings.

Said NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus: "The NFL is the most powerful content in the sports and entertainment universe.''

 

Different playoff perch for Keenan

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Mike Keenan still gets stopped on the sidewalks of New York by fans thanking him for delivering a Stanley Cup in his one season as the Rangers' coach in 1993-94.

But that was a long time ago; now he hopes the 2011-12 Rangers join the club.

"Absolutely, I'm pulling for them,'' he said. "Maybe this is the opportunity that has come their way; you never know when that's going to come again.''

It never did for Keenan, at least not yet in a coaching career on hold since he was fired by the Flames in 2009. But in the meantime, he has been enjoying a new playoff perch as a TV analyst, including with MSG.

"It allows me to stay in contact with the game,'' he said. "It makes you stay vigilant. You can't go on the air and not be watching games or know what you're talking about.''

Keenan, 62, said "if the game called me back, I'd coach,'' but he said he has not gotten any NHL nibbles lately and is not sure whether he will. If not, the TV work keeps him busy and engaged.

"It's given me a different perspective,'' he said. "I probably enjoy coaching more, but is my own fault.''

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