'The Archangel Plucked'

Bud Collins, the balding cherub of tennis broadcasting tumbled to new lows in sports coverage with his shot-by-shot coverage of Saturday's thrilling McEnroe-Borg final. You no doubt recall last year's Wimbledon confrontation between the two top players in men's tennis, when Collins again and again shouted that "Bjorn can taste victory, but John keeps sprinkling pepper all over it." For Bud, this year's final was even spicier.

Anticipating Borg's demise, our intrepid interpreter commented, "The archangel is about to have his feathers plucked." Several games later, the Swede had recovered in Collins' opinion: "He stepped out of the electric chair for a moment." And even NBC's cutesy description for the Wimbledon finals experience -via-satellite took on new meaning as it spilled out of Collins' ever-active lips: "Breakfast at Wimbledon--be careful of the spoon at breakfast--don't hurt yourself."

What the hell is this guy talking about? For years he has been turning stirring tennis matches into towering piles of ridiculous metaphors and boring anecdotes, and no one does anything about it. Why do we put up with Bud Collins?

The answer, sad to say, is that few people can even imagine watching tennis on television without hearing Bud Collins reciting poetry in the background. We have even become accustomed to the Bud Collins I'm really-excited-and can't-speak-English routine. ("Ooh...John got it...ah. Bjorn...unbelievable!...bang, he's got it...oh no!... the Swedish assassin, YES!")

Collins, a columnist with The Boston Globe, somehow moved in on the tennis broadcasting scene just as the sport was exploding with big money and big tournaments in the early 1970s. He gained prominence in a field that had no tradition, so he created one--fill every empty moment of air time with words, any words. His style only brought out the worst in his colleagues through the years, whether they were fellow t.v. "journalists" or competitors-turned-color commentators. Everyone tried to keep up with Bud in the coining of catch phrases and use of silly tennis-chiclingo.

In print, Collins' pseudo-style sometimes comes across as mildly amusing, though he usually dwells on off-court antics and personality quirks, not the sport itself. Narrating televised matches, he distracts viewers from the most exciting points with his grunting and groaning and then leads them on field trips into his jungle of mangled metaphors under the pretense of analyzing what has just happened. Collins described a startling Borg groundstroke: "That was a Lovelace deep-throat return." Billie Jean King, his broadcast partner, couldn't muster a response.

By 1990, John McEnroe will probably have retired and opened his tennis academics all over Queens. Collins, on the other hand, could chatter on indefinitely. The outlook for televised tennis is grim. Drastic action is imperative. Bud Collins must be silenced.