Skip Bayless Had a Hell of a Morning

Undisputed returned with a totally different look and a totally different main character.

Skip Bayless returned from a summer of uncertainty dressed in all black. Tasked with introducing the new all-star lineup he and Fox Sports put together to fill the Shannon Sharpe-shaped hole blown in Undisputed's fabric, America's most and least lovable contrarian was overflowing with excitement and short on breath. He promised this was the best morning of his career with the same type of hyperbole we've become immune to over the years. An audacious claim to serve as the opening salvo in a new era of the war with First Take on a stage meant for maximum viewership and igniting sparks.

But here's the thing. The first 35 commercial-free minutes proved him right, to an extent. Bayless' one-note solo blended into a symphony with three distinct instruments playing everything at forte. He went from Michael Porter Jr. to Ricky Rubio, sharing the ball willingly and appearing pleased to look upon the chaos he'd just unleashed on the world. At times he struggled to get a word in edgewise as Michael Irvin twisted the dial to 11 and stared directly into the camera like if Jim Halpert had turned diva wide receiver. Richard Sherman tried to check Irvin, who was out of control and treats every segment with a governor steamroller, with minimal success. Keyshawn Johnson, having found safe harbor post-ESPN, was the adult in the room there to provide comparatively measured and reasonable insight.

And Christ, it was loud. Sports debate armageddon to be played while you're getting a haircut so aggressive and confrontational that it could distract the stylist. Jock improv where they are tasked with saying "no, and" instead of the more affirmative. A completely ridiculous exercise to be sure — especially when the world goes quiet and the viewer reflects that most of the shouting and incredulity revolves around rather mundane semantic arguments. No one should really get that animated about the issue of Trey Lance serving as a threat to Dak Prescott. Or if the new Dallas Cowboys quarterback is the future. More so when the real point of friction is what threat or future really mean. No one actually needs to litigate the Chicago Bears' or Detroit Lions' quarterbacking situation in 2017 when trying to figure out of this year's New York Jets are Super Bowl-caliber.

Yet even the critic who is deadest inside cannot help but enjoy it in small doses. So we did. Kind of a lot. Undisputed's much-anticipated return was four dudes sitting around a table who acted like they simply had to get thoughts and takes and emotion out of their bodies before they exploded. It was a cacophony of sound and a bit of a clusterf--k and certainly not something we'll be bragging about watching and laughing along with the next time we're with our fashion friends or travel soccer parents. There is no denying that it was entertaining as hell. That Bayless had a pep in his step. That he — gulp — thrived as the team's fourth option. Every once in a while it's great to be reminded of his God-given talent. It's even better to see the old dog can learn a new trick.

Now, it's easy to carry the energy of Jason Statham's Crank movies into day one. And having all three new faces in one place was a special treat. Will Undisputed be able to channel this same heart-pounding and ear-splitting pace each and every single day? Check back when the biggest story in sports is Kyle Kuzma wanting a trade or the Denver Broncos shaking up their offensive coordinating plan. Today's program was chockfull of Cowboys and Lakers and Aaron Rodgers content to a degree that might even embarass some desperate, click-hungry sports bloggers. It was the perfect storm and it's entirely likely that this morning was the peak. If so, there's no shame in it. That reality, though, should be used to set some reasonable expectations.

Conversely there is room for improvement. Irvin was ... well, he was a lot. Probably too much. Sherman was appropriately aggrieved and has the tools to be great foil but he's not there yet. Johnson came off incredible by comparison. It's painfully clear that he will be your calm in a storm and won't seek to make headlines or ruffle feathers. Lil Wayne and Rachel Nichols remain question marks, which is an insane sentence to write. That desk isn't always going to be pulsing with the energy that makes a person want to close out their tab and get near the exits in case shit goes down.

Tomorrow is another day and so is Wednesday. Slowly but surely the rhythm of the era will take form. The inescapable grind will set in because it always does even for the most passionate and motivated. Earth's inner core is not rapidly cooling and there's no reason to think we'll become devoted, if even loyal, Undisputed viewers. But for a few hours on a Monday morning it felt like a fun guilty pleasure to rejoice in. It felt fun to embrace the absurdity and lean into it. It was the opposite of boring and the exaggerated effort was something to appreciate, not dissect.

Maybe, just maybe, it was the best morning of Bayless' career. We can unpack what that says about him if it is true later on. Give credit where's it's due. It felt like a new show. An exciting show that had been chugging electrolytes and was hellbent on really giving the morning wars another tour, possibly with more suitable weapons. None of that happens without him even though much if it happened with him sitting noticeably silent. He showed the patience of someone playing the long game. He'll want the damn ball like the guy to his left soon enough. Today was all about getting points on the scoreboard and they certainly did that with some panache.