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Versatile Neumeier is a sure bet at NBC

His reputation as a tout sets NBC's (and WEEI's, and WBZ's, and FSNE's) Bob Neumeier apart from the pack, both at the racetrack and in the TV business.

On the one hand, it's a blessing to have that niche. But Neumeier also has worked at keeping from being labeled a one-trick pony. He's always emphasized his reporting abilities over his handicapping skills when working the big thoroughbred races for national television.

Of course, he still will do his handicapping shtick with Mike Battaglia before every race on tomorrow's Breeders' Cup card at Santa Anita (Channel 7, 1-6 p.m.). But he'll also have done all the homework that will enable him to interview jockeys and trainers on the fly as they walk from paddock to track before a race, or to ponder what went right or wrong after a race. This comes from the wealth of knowledge he's compiled over the years.

Having a quick-on-his-feet talent keeps Neumeier in good stead as he works through a second decade of Breeders' Cup telecasts on NBC. His ability to go directly to the nub in postrace interviews hasn't gone unnoticed by the poohbahs at NBC. The network of the Olympics targeted Neumeier early on to be part of its team for Athens next summer. The plan was to have him cover rowing and wrestling.

For his part, Neumeier was honored and grateful to have been asked. So were his bosses at WEEI (850), who granted him the time off.

But there was more to come. NBC producer Sam Flood, who will be handling track and field coverage in Athens, liked Neumeier's work, and made a pitch to Olympic executive producer David Neal and NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol to have Neumeier on hand at Olympic Stadium. The NBC powers that be think Neumeier can do interviews quickly and efficiently, and elicit the newsworthy responses.

"I've watched the Olympics on TV ever since I was a kid," said Neumeier. "The idea of working in Athens is pretty amazing for a kid from Weymouth. There's no way I can say this is just another assignment. It's really special, and I'm flattered and grateful that they've seen fit to trust me with this responsibility."

In Athens, Neumeier will work primarily with Tom Hammond, the network's track and field host, who just happens to be host of its horse racing coverage. That connection should help smooth Neumeier's transition to "athletics," as track and field is called on Olympus.

Hammond, as usual, will be holding sway for tomorrow's races as the Breeders' Cup cohost (with Charlsie Cantey). He'll throw it to Neumeier on many occasions throughout the day.

"I'll go in prepared to talk about something that's hopefully interesting on each race," said Neumeier. "How much gets on the air depends on luck and timing."

One of the elements that makes the all-afternoon show work is that all of the "talent" are horse people: Neumeier, Battaglia, Hammond, Cantey, reporter Kenny Rice, on-track rider Donna Barton Brothers, analyst Trevor Denman, and race caller Tom Durkin. The exception is Bob Costas, who provides The Big Picture and conducts winner's circle interviews.

"Racing isn't his passion," Neumeier said of Costas, "but he's grown to enjoy it. He enjoys the people on the show. We're a happy family, and he's fed off of it."

Neumeier, who took almost a full year off after leaving WBZ TV and radio, now is working as a talk host for WEEI, a horse racing and Olympic reporter for NBC, a panelist on Channel 38's "5th Quarter" Patriots postgame show, and a play-by-play announcer for Boston University hockey on FSNE. It's a busy schedule.

He'll try to fit in some time for study of the 15 videotapes he has from the World Track & Field Championships in Paris last summer. And he'll work the Millrose Games this winter, followed by the Penn Relays and US Trials in Sacramento, to get ready for the Olympics.

"I've got the energy," he said. "Now is the time to do it."

Downhill road

Sean McDonough watched Game 7 of the Red Sox-Yankees AL Championship Series in a hotel in Louisville, Ky., last week, as he continued a fall of travel in his job of calling college football for ESPN. He did the Virginia Tech-West Virginia game Wednesday night, was back in Boston last night to emcee the Gridiron Club dinner in Randolph, and gets to work a "home game" tomorrow when he calls Notre Dame-Boston College for ABC (Channel 5, noon), alongside Mike Golic. The Gridiron assignment was a personal pleasure, because the night's principal honoree was his mentor and friend, former Syracuse and Patriots coach Dick MacPherson. McDonough has another year on his "Sergeant Friday" role doing Red Sox play-by-play for channels 4 and 38. "It was great to work with Jerry Remy again," he said of the past season, "but it was hard to get into the rhythm of the team and feel part of the season, doing just the one game per week. It felt a bit like semi-retirement." The quiet summer will seem like a distant memory as McDonough adds college basketball to his fall and winter schedule. He'll be in Hawaii calling the Maui Invitational just before Thanksgiving, and will work the "Big Monday" telecasts of Big East basketball for ESPN during the winter . . . Channel 56 has picked up tomorrow's noon Syracuse-Pittsburgh Big East telecast . . . CSTV, the all-college network, is in town tonight to make Notre Dame-BC its Friday night hockey special (DirecTV, Channel 610). It also will be BC's hockey debut for the season on WEEI, with Jon Rish and Ken Hodge in the booth . . . ESPN has Tiger Woods in the PGA Funai Classic today (3-6 p.m.) and tomorrow (4-6). ABC has Sunday's final round (Channel 5, 3-6 p.m.) . . . The Bruins, after playing at home in last night's first NESN HD telecast, are back on the road tomorrow night against New Jersey (NESN, 7:30) . . . Boston's sports viewership is still below the national numbers. Tuesday's Game 3 of the World Series did an 8.6 in Boston, compared with the 12.5 national rating for the rain-delayed game. ABC's "Monday Night Football" did an 11.9 nationally but only a 7.9 in Boston . . . Attention Rush Limbaugh: HBO's Cris Carter had this to say about the Eagles on "Inside the NFL": "If [Donovan McNabb] is healthy and his quarterback rating is 51, then he should be on the bench because he is not playing well. I believe he is hurt and he should be on the bench so he can get healthy." And attention Tom Jackson (also from Carter): "[Bill] Belichick won this game. He played eight rookies on offense and defense more than 25 snaps against the Miami Dolphins, who have the best talent in the NFL. He is a brilliant coach."

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