ESPN Classic lived up to its name today. Instead of broadcasting 12 hours of car auctions (I've met one person who watches those, and it's my father), bull-riding and bowl games from 2008, the seemingly ironically named channel showed old matches from the U.S. Open. It culminated tonight with perhaps the most famous tennis match of the 1990s: Jimmy Connors's five-set victory over Aaron Krickstein on Labor Day in 1991.
The match was a classic, in every sense. It had the perfect venue - a raucous New York City crowd egging Connors on. It had the perfect combatants: the over-the-hill, grouchy Connors against the polite, younger, mulleted Krickstein, a perfect foil in the Connors Show. It went five sets, including a tiebreaker in the final set. Connors even had a classic meltdown, calling the chair umpire "an abortion" at one point in the fifth set, an insult that was more confusing than vulgar. A most memorable match.
Which leads, again, to the question: what in the hell was this match doing on ESPN Classic? ESPN Classic has to be the most disappointing channel on television. Imagine if the Lifetime Movie Network only played Stallone and Norris movies. That'd even make more sense than ESPN Classic's current setup. It's always underwhelming and has never fulfilled its vast potential. It's the Ryan Leaf of TV, minus the arrests.
The network could fill every hour of every day with great games from the past. The summer could be filled with classic baseball games from regular seasons of yesterday, or memorable final golf rounds (how about the final round of the 1986 Masters). The winter could be filled with great Super Bowls or classic NBA games. They could play old NFL Films highlights with narrations from John Facenda. They could replay old Roy Firestone interviews where he makes people cry. They could replay the old Home Run Derbies ("Wow, look at Harmon Killebrew. He really got a hold of that one, didn't he Willie?" "He sure did."). They could play old Wimbledons, old French Opens. They could replay classic boxing matches, whether it's Frazier vs. Ali or Hearns vs Hagler.
They could show anything. People would watch. They'd enjoy the games. As long as it was an event, and as long as it even came close to being an actual classic. Instead the channel is littered with AWA wrestling - "and in this corner, Baron Von Raschke!" - and poker. And more poker.
They'll show a mundane Friday Night Fights event from 1997 that wasn't even memorable to the participants, much less to sports fans in 2009. They'll show 10 straight hours of American Gladiators, and the only way you're enjoying 10 hours of American Gladiators is if your parents named you after a Greek god or you're related to Larry Csonka. It's almost as if the channel was created just to frustrate, not to entertain.
People used to criticize MTV for being a music television channel that never played music. But we've come to accept that videos don't play the role they used to in the music business. We accept that MTV now broadcasts reality TV and not much else. But ESPN Classic should be different. And if it's not, the network should at least take ownership of its programming and rename itself ESPN Poker or the Russo & Steele Car Auction Network.
Now I've gotta get back to my TV. Powerball is about to begin on Gladiators. Classic indeed.