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Congratulations, ESPN: first Jim Valvano, then the Baltimore Colts-New York Giants game

December 14, 2008 | 10:12 am

It's so easy to criticize ESPN for its sometimes overbearing ownership of sports, of its pregames and postgames and the games; of the weekly, daily, minutely talk shows; dissections of plays, blow-by-blow accounts of player arguments at practice that soon become daylong crawls, until it all seems just silly and pointless blathering.

And then, in honor of Jimmy V Week, a series of basketball games devoted to the cancer cause of the late coach Jim Valvano, we were treated to Valvano's emotional, inspirational "Never give up, don't ever give up," speech given in 1993 when he had only a few weeks to live and when he needed help getting on and off the stage, in which he told us all to laugh and cry every day. The speech is at the bottom of this post, courtesy of The V Foundation. It was a speech given off the cuff from a man who knew his life was over, and seeing it does make you laugh and cry. It is uplifting. It should be shown as often as possible.

Even better, after a Xavier-Cincinnati game played in a caldron of neighborly enmity in which six technical fouls were called and a Xavier player head-butted a Cincinnati player in a series called the Crosstown Shootout (a name devised by my husband, Xavier's onetime sports information director), came ESPN's documentary on the so-called Greatest Game Ever Played. The compilation of game film, much from the vault of former Baltimore Colts Coach Weeb Ewbank, just, wow.

The Colts' Lenny Moore would be a huge star today, his lanky arms, his loping speed. Johnny Unitas, how the game-winning field goal was kicked in the first-ever overtime in NFL championship history and Johnny U. just walks off the field, head bent down, no goofy celebration dance or tossing of a helmet, just walking away. So cool to listen to Michael Strahan and Art Donovan comparing notes, Donovan with his big ears, Strahan with the big gap in his teeth.

I hadn't ever seen the game and all those goose bump moments, but also realizing, holy gosh, these guys were playing on icy dirt! There was no grass, just clumps of dirt. Feet were slipping out all over. And those squatty goal posts, right in the end zone, and all the hats in the crowd. When did men stop wearing fedoras and overcoats?

This I want more of. How cool to see someone come up with video or tape or anything from the game when Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points, or any game Oscar Robertson played in. Or Jerry West. That's what I wish ESPN Classic was -- a channel that showed UCLA's basketball titles, all 11 of them. A channel actually showing classics. And not, for example, the 2001 International Challenge of Champions semifinals billiards champion that was on at 8 a.m. Sunday.

If I were running ESPN Classic, there would be more 1958 Giants-Colts and less 1998 Storm Flagship Open bowling. Because I'm spoiled now. ESPN can do it. So do it more.

Here is the Valvano speech:

-- Diane Pucin