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Terrible Times See End of Washington Sports Section

Jan 8, 2010 – 2:15 PM
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M. Kent

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Dan Snyder, Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen
The Washington Redskins franchise made big news twice this week, once for firing head coach Jim Zorn on Monday, then for hiring Mike Shanahan on Wednesday to replace Zorn.

Washington Times readers did not find out about it from longtime Redskins beat writer Dave Elfin, but through no fault of Elfin. After all, it's hard to write a news story when there's no place to write it.

Elfin, who had worked for the Times for 23 years, was laid off along with the entire 25-member sports department as the paper's owners, the Unification Church, elected to downsize to a model that focuses nearly exclusively on politics.

For Elfin, who covered the Redskins for 18 seasons, the shuttering of the sports section is immediately more painful for the lack of an opportunity to cover news than for the potential demise of the paper.

"I'm grieving for a lost paycheck," Elfin this week said. "I'm grieving for not being in my job and not being all over this Jim Zorn-Mike Shanahan thing."

And others are grieving for Elfin and his Times colleagues, who have received a number of shoutouts from the sports media fraternity. Sports Illustrated NFL writer Peter King lamented the fate of Elfin and Times columnist Dan Daly in his Monday Morning Quarterback column.

Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau paid tribute to Times beat writer Casey Masisak after a December game, and Redskins owner Dan Snyder, a frequent target of Times columnists, presented Elfin with a team jersey last week, which he promptly handed to his 15-year-old daughter.

Perhaps the most touching salute to the Times came from Dan Steinberg's D.C. Sports Bog blog at the Washington Post's Web site, which marked, among other things, how the Times' absence would remove competition, which, in effect, would make the Post section suffer.

Indeed, while the Post's circulation, now under 600,000 daily, has slid, along with that of most daily newspapers around the country, it was still almost 10 times that of the Times, which had fallen to about 67,000 in the most recent industry survey released last fall.

"It's tough going against the Big Kahuna," said Elfin, a Washington native. "Even though they're losing (readers) and having incredible errors pop up in the paper, they're still the Washington Post in a lot of ways, and in most people's minds. Unless you happen to have lived in Washington before 1981, when the Washington Star was still going, it's basically been the paper in everybody's mind."

And yet, even under those circumstances, the Times more than held its own. Elfin was voted president of the Professional Football Writers Association in 2005, and got exclusive interviews with Snyder twice during the last five years.

Elfin, who shared the Redskins' beat with Ryan O'Halloran, also lobbied amongst the panel of media voters who select Pro Football Hall of Fame entrants to include former Washington wide receiver Art Monk. In 2008, Elfin's efforts paid off and Monk was enshrined in Canton.

Whispers had floated for months that Times management was planning a massive shakeup in an attempt to stay in business. The hammer fell last Wednesday when officials announced that 40 percent of the staff would be laid off and that the sports and features sections would be eliminated.

As that was happening, Elfin and O'Halloran were at Redskins Park, doing their jobs. And with some luck, even as news organizations' payrolls are shrinking and outright disappearing, Elfin hopes to be back at Ashburn, Va., covering the Redskins in the not-too-distant future.

"I wouldn't do anything else, if I had the choice," Elfin said.

Championship Game Recap

If Thursday night's presentation is an example of what college football fans will be getting over the next four years now that ESPN has the Bowl Championship Series rights, well, let's hope Fox or CBS or NBC or someone else gets back in line to buy in when ESPN's deal is over.

Kirk HerbstreitIt's not that ESPN did a bad job, per se. But like Texas, the Worldwide Leader, which rented out ABC's airtime, missed plenty of opportunities to be spectacular.

For one, the new graphics, especially the constant score and clock were difficult to read. Indeed, until the obnoxious down and distance was superimposed onto the field, it was nearly impossible to tell how much time was left on the play clock.

Booth analyst Kirk Herbstreit appeared to be shouting throughout the first half, and neither he nor play-by-play man Brent Musberger seized on the great field position the Longhorns were giving Alabama.

Southern California coach Pete Carroll and former Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard distinguished themselves with solid halftime analysis, but Lee Corso added little and host Chris Fowler should have been replaced with the far superior John Saunders.

Finally, no one made mention of Alabama's appalling and unsportsmanlike decision to score a meaningless touchdown with less than two minutes to play and already ahead 10 points. For the night, Texas wasn't the only team to leave points on the field.

Making the Move

Turner Sports made a big pick-up Friday, luring Matt Winer away from ESPN to serve as a studio host for a number of its properties.

Winer, who had been at ESPN for eight years, hosting SportsCenter as well as some of its NBA studio shows and doing updates during ABC's college football coverage, will host NBA TV telecasts, as well as Major League Baseball, NBA, NASCAR and professional golf telecasts on TNT and TBS.

Winer debuts during the week of January 18.

Weekend Watch

As a part of its contracts with the Big Ten and the Big East, CBS is obligated to carry two women's basketball games each season and the network typically tends to bury them with little fanfare on the Saturday of the NFL wild-card weekend.

Saturday's doubleheader features two intriguing matchups, with No. 19 Michigan State hosting sixth-ranked Ohio State at 2 p.m. Eastern, followed by seventh-ranked North Carolina traveling to meet No.1 Connecticut, the unbeaten defending national champions.

Mea Culpa

Many thanks to the readers who pointed out, some even nicely, that the Syracuse-Connecticut six-overtime men's basketball game referenced in Tuesday's Super 7 review of 2009's top television moments was not the Big East championship game, but rather a tournament quarterfinal.

Please accept my apology.
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