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Opinion: Columnists

NBC's latest Olympics fail: Banishing the US-Russia hockey game to cable

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Opinion,Hugh Hewitt,Columnists,Olympics,NBC,Television,Sochi

You can work alongside someone for years, live next door, think you know them, and then, bam, one day you discover they are hockey fans.

Sure, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is obliged to be a hockey fan, and a profligate one at that. He even claims to have played for more than five decades.

Other Minnesocoldians succumb, like Chad the Elder, sinister blogger behind FratersLibertas.com, or his pal NihilistinGolfPants.blogspot.com. The same thing is true across the river in Wisconsin, where Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus among others was happily tweeting his way through Team U.S.A.'s triumph over the Russian Olympians on Saturday morning.

This is to be expected.

But when Five for Fighting's John Ondrasik or my radio colleague Dennis Prager, my Townhall.com colleague Guy Benson or even the poet laureate of my radio show Tarzana Joe turn out to be hockey fans, well, the mind reels at the vast dispersion of the virus. It isn't football, baseball or even basketball, for heaven's sake, it is hockey. Nobody really played hockey as a kid who didn't live in the two aforementioned states or others with directions or proclamations in their names. (North, South, New, New, New.)

Except on the rare occasions -- decades apart -- when the Team U.S.A. either plays Russia, or plays for the gold, or both. Well, then, everyone is a hockey fan, even those who can't tell a blue line from a penalty box or icing from the strange but now deeply American tradition of calling back goals made on untethered nets. (The aforementioned blogger Chad builds a backyard rink in which his sons can injure each other but he has never written of said rule being in effect there. The ref who made that call, like the Ref played by Cuba Gooding Jr. in the film "Rat Race," will be trying to get very small in many places when this game comes up across Russia for the next 34 years.)

These rare occasions do come, and like Halley's Comet, you look for them. Wait for them. Televise them over a real network. Unless you are NBC and banish the second-best Olympic hockey game ever to NBC Sports Network, which, while it is cable home of the National Hockey League, has never crossed the eyes of most Americans, even those desperate enough to watch an infomercial.

On Saturday morning the big-pants NBC was running "highlights" of the men's figure skating, in which the gold and silver medalists repeatedly fell down, but not the hockey game. Even as who knows how many millions of folks in the Pacific time zone got up before 5 and tried to find the game, their numbers swelling as you moved east towards the ordinary rhythm-of-life cycle where people get up at 9 a.m. on Saturday. "Where the heck is the game?" strangled the throats of more people than you can possibly imagine. All those not-hockey-people-except-on-this-day eventually wandered to various online sources (CBC, NBC) and watched the second best hockey game on a computer screen instead of the four-by-six-foot glory as it was intended to be seen.

These Games have, well, underwhelmed to the point you almost feel bad for that smug &^%$# Putin. All of the Americans who were supposed to win haven't, the snow sucks and the hotels will dissolve in the first big rain.

But American television isn't supposed to be dysfunctional. It is supposed to serve the market, cater to advertisers seeking new eyes and purchases, build ratings and, especially, new fans of various sports.

How could they not have known that Team U.S.A.-Team Russia would be great? When the movie version gets made, I hope the screenwriter has Kurt Russell, playing coach Dan Bylsma, punch some TV executive when he learns children across America watched cartoons by the tens of millions because their parents didn't want them to watch figure skaters falling down again and again and become depressed. A generation denied its 2014 "Do you believe in miracles" moment when Doc Emrick proclaimed "Definitely tremendously tremendous!" after a shootout that went on for about four hours featured a 16-year-old I had never heard named T.J. Oshie (Emrick joked he played professional hockey in St. Louis) and a goalie named for a gunslinger.

It might actually have made the sport some new fans not in the category of "once every 34 year" fans. NBC, words fail me. What. Were. You. Thinking?

"Hugh Hewitt is a nationally syndicated talk radio host, law professor at Chapman University's Fowler School of Law, and author, most recently of The Happiest Life. He posts daily at HughHewitt.com and is on Twitter @hughhewitt."
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