2006 Classic: Eulogy to Jefferson Pilot Sports

Published on: June 25, 2012 | Written by: Clay Travis

This column initially ran on August 7, 2006     Shut the door to your office, you can’t let your coworkers see you cry. Get the box of tissues and place it alongside your keyboard. If you’re at home, make sure your wife is watching DVR’ed episodes of Grey’s Anatomy before you read any further. Put the kids to bed, they don’t need to see you like this. They’re too young to know the pain of loss. Just to be safe go ahead and pull up and minimize that website that features scantily clad women that always makes you feel better. It’s going to be that painful. Ok, deep breath, deep breath. Focus on the ceiling, ok, here it comes: Jefferson Pilot’s SEC sports telecasts are no more. It got you didn’t it, right in the solar plexus? Your wind is gone. I know, think Drew Barrymore in Ever After and just breathe. (Not that you or I have ever seen that movie.). Easy there hombre, the world as you know it has not ended. You’re still here, not gone. The sun is going to rise and set, the world will still spin, Pluto may or may not still be a planet and JP Sports is gone. Sometimes you have to ache just to know you’re alive. Ok, two paragraphs of false pain is about as much as I can stomach. Let’s be honest, there has never been a worse American produced sports telecast than Jefferson-Pilot’s coverage of SEC Sports. JP Sports’ SEC coverage answered the question what would happen if you gave the guys who never left the audio-visual room at your high school the production rights to a major college telecast and approximately three cameras. Except JP was not as good as those guys would have been. How bad? JP is the only sports production company whose name is preceded at least 80% of the time by an expletive. F’in JP should have been the company’s slogan. It would have had total recall in the south.

 
Since 1992 Jefferson Pilot’s SEC football telecasts have been responsible for more early morning southern drinking than any other single event not involving NASCAR. Their 11:30 central telecast has led to more unshowered students, angry alumni, and disappointed football fans than any telecast in the history of college football. Especially when the JP telecasts managed to change the time of an otherwise perfectly scheduled evening homecoming game into the midst of the sweltering southern heat. JP’s ability to turn an otherwise pleasant evening game into an early morning slugfest at a temperature approaching 110 degrees was without parallel in the annals of modern sports history. As the early morning beer flowed, JP’s name was cursed to high heaven.
And man, were these morning telecasts bad. Putrid really. Walk into any southern living room and watch a JP telecast and you could tell in about five seconds that you had just stepped into a foyer filled with incompetence. The telecasts reeked of error, ill-preparation and downright horrible decisions. It was not uncommon for JP to misspell a team or coaches name. For an announcer to forget which game he was calling or for a cameraman to go a few plays filming the center of the field when the team had advanced beyond the scope of his lens.
Yet for all of these flaws, JP attained, at times, a certain measure of transcendent beauty like only things that are incredibly ugly can manage. Think that dog that was so ugly everyone became convinced it was cute. http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/uglydog.asp Or the right fielder in little league whose play is so atrocious he becomes the team mascot. For women, think Jamie Foxx. Ultimately JP became a cultural connection that was distinctly southern. They say the French initially hated the Eiffel Tower because it was considered so garish and indiscreet that all of Paris seethed. But then something strange happened, the Eiffel Tower’s grotesqueries came to represent Paris. Someday I thought in the back of my mind the absolute atrocity of Jefferson Pilots’ sports telecast was going to lead to a similarly unexpected devotion. Alas, this is not to be, because Jefferson Pilot is no more. Now our fifth-tier SEC games are going to be brought to us by the cold and unwelcoming folks at Lincoln Financial. I think they’re probably even Yankees. This is going to require me to refine ClayNation Canon 124: If someone says JP and you don’t immediately think of the SEC telecast, you aren’t from the south.
But here at ClayNation we come not to bury JP, but to honor it. So without further ado, here are thirteen classic moments, facts, and memories that defined the Jefferson Pilot sports viewing experience for several generations of SEC football fans beginning in 1992:
1.                          Their sports scores. Jefferson-Pilot eschewed fancy contraptions and fads like the “telegraph” “Morse Code” and “the internet” in favor of more reliable methods of communication such as carrier pigeons. JP’s sports score motto might as well have been, “There’s never a finished game we can’t give you a first quarter score for.” If JP did current events, midway through last year’s UT-Kentucky game this would have scrolled across the bottom of the screen, “Neal Armstrong walked on the moon today…one small step for man, one gnat lap for mankind.” Moments later, this score update would have trickled by, Georgia Tech 126 Cumberland 0 (Halftime).
2.                          The yellow dominated color scheme and graphical accompaniment straight from the 1980’s that made Tecmo Super Bowl look advanced. I halfway expected for JP to steal Tecmo Super Bowl’s graphic of the player running out of the hospital to accompany players returning from injury. Put it this way, if you put a live telecast of a JP football game up against a basketball game from the 1980’s on ESPN Classic, you’d be hard pressed to tell which one was current based on the quality of the picture.
3.                          Somehow, someway JP could have a silk purse and end up giving you a sow’s ear. Amazing touchdown pass of ninety yards? Sorry. JP was blocking the screen to update you on breaking news about Georgia Tech leaving the SEC. Huge goal line fumble? Tough luck, JP has already put the score on the board and gone to commercial. JP’s incompetence was almost an art-form. Meet abstract footballism.
4.                          Dave Rowe. Dave Neal and Dave Baker. Say hello to the two announcers and the sideline reporter for JP. Yep, they all three have the same name. If you haven’t experienced this announcing triumverate of tomfoolery, consider yourself fortunate. Just imagine, it’s like having three Bob Davie’s calling one game. And the Dave humor. My god, if one more joke was made about them all sharing the name Dave I felt like their producer was going to jump out of the broadcast booth tethered to a boom mike that was, inevitably, not working.
5.                          The purple pill Nexium first down line. This was just way too much technology for JP. First of all the line was never correct. A player would cross the line by a yard and it would be fourth down or a player would come up about a yard short and get the first down. Secondly the purple line always ended up bisecting someone. Nexium’s selection was strangely appropriate, however, since the JP telecast inevitably caused heartburn among everyone who watched it.
6.                          The music. God, who didn’t love the JP music. It was like something from a Las Vegas variety show in 1958. JP resolutely refused to leave behind the build-up to the climactic clash of the cymbal in the song. It was like every chord of their theme song had its very own punchline.
7.                          The you’ve got to be kidding me face at a sports bar outside the south when you inquired if they would be showing the JP game. Any SEC fan who has ever tried to watch a JP game on satellite outside the south knows exactly what I’m talking about. The sports bar guy looks at you like you’ve just asked him if they serve cherry martinis. “J.P.?” the non-southerner would ask turning the station’s letters into a drawn out question. Yep, JP.
8.                          The way JP telecasts could bring together people who otherwise didn’t know each other. When I arrived in the Virgin Islands I met Jeff, a fellow lawyer and Florida grad clerking in the Caribbean. This was one of our first conversations. Me: “Yeah, I’ve got the college football package on Dish Network so you can come hang out any Saturday and watch games.” Jeff: Eyes aglow with hope. “Does that package get the JP games?”
Me: “Oh yeah.”
Jeff: “JP, awesome.” Multiple fist pumps. “Yes, JP.” We’re still friends.
 
9.                          How every game was an upset in the making. JP always got about the fifth choice in televising games. And some weeks there are only five SEC games. This meant that inevitably JP chose one of two
types of games, a. a perennial champ tramples a perennial lightweight (think Florida v. Kentucky) or b. two teams no one cares about battle it out for fifth place in their respective divisions (think Vandy v. Miss. State).
Without a doubt, when a favorite played an underdog there was an “upset in the making.” Since 1992, JP would latch onto the most innocuous plays to start the game as evidence of a brewing upset. Uh oh,
Florida’s starting the first drive of the game at their own seventeen. What a tackle on special teams. Cue the JP music and cymbal clash, then: “We’ve got an upset in the making.” It was uncanny.
 
10.                       ClayNation’s dad is the most affable fellow on the planet. If a nuclear attack happened, he’d be whistling through the nuclear winter while he picked up charred branches and talked about how he couldn’t get that mad at another country for nuking us because there were probably good people in that country too. Yet he hated listening to Dave Rowe so much that he chose to watch all JP telecasts in silence. Even in the middle of the summer, if you mention Dave Rowe’s name his face turns into an absolute scowl.
 
11.                      The camera angles. Seriously, last year with instant replay review, it was a complete joke. There would be a question about whether the ball had broken the plane of the goal line and JP’s three cameras would have the following footage: a. Sideline reporter Dave Baker making faces at UGA in his doghouse b. the Berlin Wall coming down and c. the end zone as viewed from the opposite end zone. It was almost like JP was willfully trying not to show the game. As if some JP executive never got over the idiocy of a financial company showing southern football and had been trying to tomahawk the telecast ever since. I would have given anything to see the instant replay official trying to make a determination off these feeds. He would have been better served to be getting the feed from the undergrad’s camera phones in the student section.
 
12.                      The split telecasts. When the JP B-team would get to call a game it was like a national holiday for awkwardness. This was the rough equivalent of handing a microphone to a random guy who was gambling in Tunica, Mississippi, telling him to put on a suit and tie, watch a television monitor that was cutting-edge when Nixon was impeached and talk about football. It was horrible…and spectacular. 
 
13.                      But to sum it all up, I vividly recall my then girlfriend and now wife (Michigan born and raised) sitting down on my couch during law school while Vandy was playing Ole Miss on JP television. She scrunched up her face and looked over at me and then sort of looked at the television screen quizzically before she said, “What is this?” I think she summed up JP better in three words than I have in a couple thousand. What is this indeed?
 
Join me in bidding JP goodbye.