#TBT: 25 Years Ago Mike Francesa and Dancing Sharks Populated NCAA Tournament TV Coverage

By Mike Cardillo
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Are you sitting down? I’m about to drop a bomb on you that might blow your mind. Ready?

Fair warning …

Still with me …

The year 1990 was 25 years ago. I know crazy. Time sure does fly!

Something that tends to fascinate — and impress me — is once upon a time people would record sporting events on VHS tapes for posterity. [Side note: did you ever notice how hard it is to program the VCR clock? Thanks, I’ll be here all night, folks. Try the veal.] Unbeknownst to everyone in 1990, a few years later there would be a thing called the Internet where you could upload your old sports recordings to YouTube where strangers could comment and complain about it where it could live forever and be churned into hot, fresh sports blog content.

So here in honor of Throwback Thursday is the 1990 NCAA Tournament West Regional second round game between No. 8 Ohio State featuring Jimmy Jackson and No. 1 UNLV featuring Larry Johnson, et al. (RIP, Tark.) Surprisingly, looking back 25 years later a few things have changed about the way the NCAA Tournament is presented on television. For one, our beloved TruTV was still known as CourtTV and people still couldn’t find it, even with the help of the local newspaper channel listings. #LOL!

[Related: the 1990 NCAA Tournament Was Chalk-Filled on Thursday, But Then Chaos Reigned For Two Weeks]

Oh right, here’s the CBS studio team for your game, Jim Nantz and TBL fan favorite Mike Francesa! Let’s assume there’s a fax(*) machine delivering updated scores to the left of Francesa off camera. Note the snowy mountain peak logo, as Denver’s McNichols Arena hosted the Final Four in 1990.

Back in 1990, the NCAA Tournament only existed on over-the-air, broadcast CBS. Social media didn’t exist, either, so the only way to tell everyone what a genius you are picking brackets probably revolved around “water cooler” chats, whatever the hell those are. As a fan you only watched the game the local affiliate decided to show, as you anxiously awaited for cutaway and updates from other games.

Sometimes this was all you got in terms of an update:

The lack of on-screen graphics is probably the most jarring aspect of watching an old sporting event. Looking back it takes your brain a few seconds to re-calibrate to a graphics-free, scroll-free screen. There’s so much empty space! And again, we didn’t have Twitter or Facebook or SnapChatz to help occupy our ADHD-addled brains during the game. If memory serves we probably just sat around and faxed(*) jokes to each other about Urkel.

The natural inclination is to always think things were better in the past, but nah, in this case the lack of scores on the screen is super-annoying. I can’t sit around and wait until a commercial break to know who is winning or losing. Gee whiz!

Beyond that? Surprisingly not that much changed. (You’ll have to trust me, since I doubt many people have two hours of free time to watch a basketball game from 25 years ago on YouTube. Probably.)

Twenty-five years later, Len Elmore is still in the mix calling games. So is Bill Raftery, who appears in the video alongside James Brown on the call of La Salle-Clemson at the Hartford Civic Center during halftime.

Actually the weirdest part of CBS’s coverage is that it cuts away not once, but twice to Jim Gray in New York to give updates on the Day 31 of the 1990 Major League Baseball lockout, which is strange since modern day studio coverage is roughly 99.9 percent about the NCAA Tournament itself. Fun fact: in 1990 baseball only had 26 teams and may or may not have been a #dyingsport.

Moving on.

Fast food companies still littered the tournament with commercials, but back in 1990 these ads weren’t nearly as incessant as they are today (or maybe the person who taped this game tried to avoid the commercials). Either way, CBS didn’t cut away in the final five minutes of the game to run a 30-second spot following every free throw attempt, like we see nowadays.

Who cares, though? Don’t these Wendy’s chicken sandwiches look delicious? Why doesn’t every fast food joint sell a chicken parm? Seems like a no-brainer.

And who knew televised collegiate sporting events always existed to help push products, like rugged, comfortable Levis 505 jeans?

At some point in the second half there’s a commercial for Gillette razors — the beeeesssssst a man can get! Really fun fact: Razors were only two blades back in 1990. Screw it, lo and behold the whole ad is on YouTube. That jingle is infectious!

Naturally the dude on the crew team loves his Gillette.

Anyways, here’s probably the most relevant takeaway from this rambling mess of a post: there was already a dancing shark on our televisions 25 years ago. Take that, Left Shark:

In conclusion, when you really sit down and think about, it’s true the more things change the more they stay the same. As the late Rick James might said … nostalgia, it’s a hell of a drug.

(*) All fax jokes are courtesy of Stephen Douglas’ in-development program for TruTV, “World’s Most Famous Faxes.”

[H/T fka WFANAudio for posting the clip on Twitter today.]

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