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Patriots' move brings the ratings

Sunday's Ravens-Patriots game, which was seen in 75 percent of the country, highlighted CBS's late-afternoon NFL coverage (other games in that window were Jets-Cardinals, Dolphins-49ers, and Bills-Seahawks). Nationally, those games generated a 15.4 overnight rating (27 share) in the 56 metered markets. It was the best rating for a CBS window in 2004 and a 14 percent increase over the five other Sundays when CBS had the late national game.

The end justified the means in this case, as CBS had the game moved from a scheduled 1 p.m. start to 4:15 to make it a national telecast.

In the Boston market, the game pulled a 38.8 rating (60 share) on Channel 4, making it the second-highest-rated regular-season game in Patriots history. (The highest was last year's Dolphins-Patriots game at snow-covered Gillette Stadium.)

The telecast was memorable in its own right for muddy shots that brought back memories of "the old days," when football fields didn't have artificial surfaces and were regularly torn up by midseason.

"Trying to keep camera lenses clean is almost impossible," said producer Lance Barrow. "You need a lot of towels, paper towels, and people moving equipment around."

"I never played on a field like this," said CBS analyst Phil Simms, "but if I were somewhere between 4 and 12 years old, that would be a whole lot of fun."

Barrow said CBS didn't do anything out of the norm to catch some of Tom Brady's calls at the line of scrimmage. "Maybe the crowd was a little quieter because they were so wet and because their gloves were soaked," he said.

But he did note one sound on replays: "The sound of feet in the mud. Next time we get a game in conditions like this, we'll try and do a sequence of shots with good audio of the feet sloshing and squishing in the mud."

One note that didn't ring true in the telecast was Jim Nantz's observation that it was the 10th anniversary of the Krafts' purchase of the Patriots franchise from the Sullivans. Unfortunately, he was wrong on two counts. Jan. 21 will mark the 11th anniversary of the Krafts' agreement to purchase the team from James Orthwein, not the Sullivans.

Emotional impact
In New England, there is great sadness over the plane crash in Colorado involving NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol and his two sons. Three people were killed in the crash Sunday morning, including Ebersol's 14-year-old son. Ebersol and his older son were hospitalized with injuries.

Ebersol, who is from and still lives in Litchfield, Conn., has been the face, philosophy, and guiding force behind NBC Sports, an out-front guy who spoke for his organization. Over the past decade, he has set the network's course away from Major League Baseball, the NFL, and NBA, saying the price and losses had gone too high.

Instead, he negotiated cost- and-profit-sharing deals with the Arena Football League and National Hockey League, though the latter hasn't resulted in any televised games as the league's lockout continues.

He also made a split-season rights arrangement with NASCAR and Fox under which NBC alternates covering the Daytona 500, then picks up the second half of the season in July.

But the Olympics were something else. Each Olympiad, Ebersol reminds the media that "this is programming that puts all generations together in front of the TV." He takes his role as executive producer very seriously, usually sleeping in his office at the Olympic broadcast center.

Yesterday, the mood of his staff at NBC in New York was somber but hopeful. Their boss would've demanded nothing less.

Dakota goes south
WWZN morning host Dakota (the on-air name of Steve Happas), infuriated the Red Sox and NESN by picking up a gossip-column item from the New York Post and speculating whether it could have involved Boston personalities.

The result: Parent Sporting News Radio apparently played the heavy in having WWZN general manager Mike Winn pull the plug on the show, which was a time-buy by Dakota.

"I'm the demo radio is seeking," said Dakota. "I'm a 35-year-old guy who is doing OK for himself. I was going to put what appeals to me on my show."

That didn't play well at Fenway.

"We made our opinion heard loud and clear," said Sox PR director Glenn Geffner. "The show crossed the line into getting personal."

As a result, the show, which began Oct. 9 to give the station a local presence during the Sox' postseason run, got the ax.

Dakota, who also irked Sox officials by giving away playoff tickets, called the situation a case of "the Sox bullying Sporting News Radio."

Interesting was the way both WEEI's morning "Dennis & Callahan" show and WWZN's afternoon "Diehards" handled the story.

John Dennis and Gerry Callahan mentioned the news, gave it one volley back and forth, then moved on. When Dakota called "The Diehards" to issue an apology, host Ryen Russillo gave him time for that, but once he tried to justify his actions, Russillo said, "Not on my show."

The development is sad because it represents an error in judgment that brought down a program that had shown promise. Even WEEI had taken notice, adding a stock report (something Happas instituted along with traffic) to some sports flashes.

"I would have loved to have seen it work out, but unfortunately it didn't," said Winn.

Rights angles
Sirius, the No. 2 satellite radio service, has added rights to broadcast all games in the men's NCAA basketball tournament for the next three seasons, plus a three-year deal to carry English Premier League soccer. The two acquisitions come on top of the signing of morning radio power Howard Stern and the already-on-the-air rights to broadcast NFL games. Rival XM earlier this month cut a deal with Major League Baseball to carry virtually all its games . . . ESPN has the weekend's US-Spain Davis Cup finals, with singles matches Friday from noon-5 p.m., the doubles match on ESPN2 Saturday at 7 p.m., and the deciding singles match on Sunday (ESPN, 3 p.m.) . . . Kevin Harlan and Randy Cross call Sunday's Patriots-Browns game (Channel 4, 1 p.m.). Channel 25 expects Falcons-Buccaneers at 1, followed by Packers-Eagles at 4:15 . . . Tomorrow's "Sports Plus" on NESN at 6:30 and 10:30 p.m. has host Tom Caron and Globe staffers Bob Ryan and Nick Cafardo debating the merits of three Patriots teams -- the 11-3 1976 club, the 2003 team, and the 2004 squad . . . Tonight's "NESN Retro" revisits the 1988 Bruins, who made it to the Stanley Cup finals against Edmonton. In studio are team members Cam Neely and Reggie Lemelin, along with Bruins analyst Andy Brickley (then a New Jersey Devil) and Glenn Anderson (then an Oiler) . . . HBO will replay the Erik Morales-Marco Antonio Barrera bout this Saturday, along with the Jermain Taylor-William Joppy middleweight bout, in a show that airs at 10:45 p.m.

Bill Griffith's e-mail address is griffith@globe.com 

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