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Earning double coverage

Patriots worthy of Fox attention

What a difference a decade and a pair of Super Bowl championships makes.

It was only a decade ago when the Patriots regularly drew the bottom-tier announcers at whichever network was airing their games.

Compare that with Sunday, when Fox brought its `A' teams to Fox-borough, making the Patriots the centerpiece of the pregame "Fox NFL Sunday" and the featured Patriots-Seahawks telecast.

The studio and game crews brought their `A' games. Fox's production people provided some new angles and well-mixed audio that often caught offensive or defensive signals being called at the line of scrimmage. Tack on Fox's new high-definition technology and a close game, and it made for a thoroughly entertaining afternoon of NFL viewing.

Fox's pregame ratings in Boston more than quadrupled, from a 1.1 for the first five weeks of the season to a 4.6 Sunday.

The Patriots-Seahawks telecast did a 31.9 rating (66 audience share), the team's best rating so far this season.

Last season, the Patriots didn't post a rating higher than 30 until the Nov. 30 game with the Colts did a 33.1 rating (63 share).

Sunday's telecasts were a practical demonstration of the Fox mix of the serious, comedic, and outspoken/controversial.

They all meshed when Patriots owner Robert Kraft joined the pregame show crew of James Brown, Howie Long, Terry Bradshaw, and Jimmy Johnson.

Long asked Kraft if he ever envisioned the organization's success in building both a stadium and successful team? Kraft gave his stock, "I pinch myself every day and credit our wonderful fans, some of whom are right behind us now [the cheering crowd]."

Kraft then took the league-wide serious view of why Los Angeles, the second-largest US TV market, needs a team with good ownership "because we're losing an entire generation of fans."

And Bradshaw closed with the comedy, asking Kraft the question many Patriots fans have wondered about: namely, "How many of those blue shirts with the white collars do you have?"

Johnson added a discussion-provoking topic by naming his 10 best all-time teams (last year's Patriots Super Bowl champs were ranked No. 8) and there was a tie for No. 1 between his own '93 Cowboys and Bradshaw's '79 Steelers. Bradshaw was incensed about that, and Long was upset about his Raiders teams being snubbed.

More comedy involved Patriot cornerback Ty Law going First-and-10 (10 questions) with Bradshaw. But Law's serious side surfaced early in the game when analyst Cris Collinsworth, after Law's first-quarter interception, noted: "One of the things Seattle was worried about was Law running their routes better than the Seahawks' receivers."

Even play-by-play man Dick Stockton got into the Fox mix, poking fun at Joe Buck's Budweiser "Slam-a-lama, ding-dong" commercials. Buck normally would have been calling the football game except that he's on baseball duty through the World Series. But, alas, there was a bug in the broadcast: The insect (or dust) inside the end zone camera lens that graced our screen for the entire afternoon.

Dark tale

Camel racing? Did you:

1. Know that it exists?

2. Realize that a slave trade exists whereby young boys are sold or kidnapped, threatened or beaten as they're forced to learn riding skills, then intentionally starved to keep their weight down so they are more desirable pilots for the 1,500-pound animals in the United Arab Emirates?

Truth be told, this viewer would have answered "no" to both questions until seeing a preview tape of a segment on the sport that's scheduled to air on tonight's "Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel"(HBO, 10-11).

The story, reported by correspondent Bernard Goldberg, investigates the dark side of a sport contested by the Middle East's wealthiest sheiks at racetracks where photography is expressly forbidden, a rule that's spelled out in multiple languages (including English) on large road signs and enforced by armed guards.

HBO's often hidden cameras tag along with Ansar Burney, a Pakistani human rights advocate whose mission is to rescue some of the physically, mentally, and sexually abused children.

The conditions that HBO's cameras encounter in the desert "training facilities" is so heart-rending that without the presence of Burney, Goldberg, and strong quotes from US State Department ambassador at-large John Miller, it wouldn't seem believable.

As of late . . .
Just thinking: If last night's Red Sox-Yankees ALCS Game 5 had been one of those 10:10 p.m. West Coast starts, it would have finished at 4 a.m. . . . As the Sox-Yankees passed the three-hour mark and the first pitch of Game 5 of the NLCS between Houston and St. Louis loomed, Fox began running multiple trailers across the screen, telling fans that the secondary telecast in their area would be on Fx. Of course, if you didn't have cable, you were out of luck. By the time the Sox-Yankees game ended, the NL matchup was in the ninth inning . . . Fox's favorite crowd shots seemed to be of praying and pensive fans in the Fenway crowd. Of course, many fans looked as exhausted as they did worried . . . Scooter, the talking baseball, didn't illustrate the brushback nearly as well as Pedro Martinez did with a message pitch to Hideki Matsui in the fifth . . . A nice graphic job by Fox in marking Martinez's 100th pitch and the troubles that can come with that milestone -- such as last night's three-run double by Derek Jeter on his 100th offering . . . Jorge Posada may have buried the Diamond Cams at Yankee Stadium, but they caught him taking a foul tip off the hand that had to sting . . . Tim McCarver 'fessed up to being fuzzy before the game and greeting Sox general manager Theo Epstein with a "Hi Cleo." He did get Brandon-Branson, er, Bronson Arroyo down correctly as the series wore on . . . Not so funny to Sox fans: Fox's 27 runs in 27 seconds to the "William Tell Overture" as a between-innings feature . . . One graphic that worked: Fox showing the number of pitches, pitchers, runs, hits, and home runs early in extra innings. And one that doesn't: The "Update" that looks like a mailing label and has no baseball intuitive feel . . . Patriots vice chairman Jonathan Kraft gave the story behind the commemorative 19th straight win tickets on Sunday's WBCN (104.1-FM) pregame show with host Gary Tanguay. "We asked Fred Kirsch of our staff to come up with something subtle that would make the ticket a true keepsake if the streak came to pass but would be unnoticed if it didn't," said Kraft, who said there were no additional hidden messages on the rest of this year's tickets . . . BC's 20-17 OT loss at Pitt took some luster off Saturday's meeting with Notre Dame at South Bend, Ind. (Ch. 7, 2:30 p.m.) . . . Sunday's Jets-Patriots game at Foxborough is the day's marquee CBS telecast (Ch. 4, 4:15 p.m., available in HD) with the No. 1 crew of Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, and Bonnie Bernstein. Fox has the early game: Lions at Giants (Ch. 25, 1 p.m., in HD) . . . Paul Stewart, former NHL ref who worked NESN's Bruins telecasts as a studio analyst last season, will talk NHL and the ongoing labor impasse on today's "Sports Pulse" (CN8, 10 p.m.) . . . NESN's "SportsPlus" will air baseball (6:30 p.m.) and football (7 p.m.) shows Thursday. Pending a possible Red Sox-Yankees Game 7, Tom Caron and Nick Cafardo are scheduled to work both shows, with columnist Bob Ryan joining the first show and former Patriot Tim Fox the second . . . Channel 56 (7:30 p.m.) has Saturday's Game 1 of the Revolution's two-game playoff series with Columbus.

Bill Griffith's e-mail address is 

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