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Capital One's The Match Sets the Tone for Sports Events During the Pandemic

Tom Weir@@tomweirsportsFeatured ColumnistMay 25, 2020

Success of Capital One's The Match included raising $20 million in COVID-19 relief.
Success of Capital One's The Match included raising $20 million in COVID-19 relief.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

No sport accommodates and celebrates casual conversation and pointed banter better than golf, a point that was joyously made over and over again during Capital One's "The Match: Champions for Charity" on Sunday.

Somewhere amid all the chit-chat and needling, Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning defeated Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady, but that was hardly the point, as this made-for-TV event clearly lived up to its promise to provide a few hours of relief (plus $20 million) from all things COVID-19.

Brady was humbled by several awful early shots, and the NFL's GOAT even had to confess to a national audience that he had split his pants, but he still hit the shot of the day.

Mickelson ran his motor-mouth like a NASCAR engine in the home straightaway and read greens loudly and at length for Brady as if they were Sunday morning sermons.

Mickelson had plenty of advice for Brady throughout the event.
Mickelson had plenty of advice for Brady throughout the event.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Manning drained some big putts early but also provided some much-needed trash talk that showed he still enjoys tormenting his old Southeastern Conference rivals. Heck no, the greatest player in University of Tennessee history said about wearing red and black like playing partner Woods always does on big days.

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"Those are Georgia Bulldog colors," said Manning on the TNT broadcast, with utter disdain. And he wasn't going to give Georgia coach Kirby Smart a pic to post on social media.

Tiger, meantime, was simply Tiger. He landed in fairways as if he was playing with a homing device. But when's the last time we watched Woods cruise through 18 holes without a single mention of his nagging back issues? (Aren't we all like that now, knowing better than to mention a stiff neck or a sore knee when there are far bigger physical issues plaguing the globe?)

The enduring highlight no doubt will be how Brady responded to ribbing from Charles Barkley, who was broadcasting from indoors (and later failed miserably on his "bogey challenge"). Having struggled through the first seven holes, Brady suddenly came alive, just like the guy who once rebounded from a 28-3 deficit in the Super Bowl.

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With some wickedly awesome backspin, Brady holed out from more than 100 yards on No. 7 and then offered the perfect followup: "Suck on that, Chuck."

Let's just call it Barkley's greatest assist ever.

Was it a perfect day? No, not at all. The start was delayed 45 minutes by a hellacious downpour. Throughout the day, raindrops pelting microphones caused a perpetual crunching sound. And the communication system to the players' carts didn't always work.

But it was still a good day, a very good one for a program that served as something of a pilot show for anyone who hopes to televise or stream a sporting event as we work through the pandemic.

So what can others learn from Capital One's The Match?

First, there's no need to pipe in crowd noise, as is apparently being contemplated for NFL play. If artificial cheers had been added to Sunday's broadcast, it would have come off as amateur hour. We know where we are. We know the stands and the galleries are probably going to be empty, or no better than half full. At a time when everyone is in touch with harsh realities, there's no need to pander to sports fans with a giddy laugh track.

Manning tees off with Woods in waiting.
Manning tees off with Woods in waiting.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

As for banter, Sunday's event had a roster of great talkers that might be tough to duplicate. Brady told a story from his first training camp, when Drew Bledsoe played a prank that left the rookie with purple feet for weeks.

Manning said that if he were trying to get in Brady's head with a strategic pick for a caddie, he'd have gone with brother Eli (two Super Bowl wins versus TB12), Nick Foles (Philly Special!) or Bill Belichick (such a bad breakup).

The show also got great cameo performances. Brooks Koepka gladly paid up on his $100,000 offer if Brady could get a par on the front nine. Russell Wilson offered 100,000 meals from Wheels Up to anyone who could hit his tee shot within 12 feet of the flag on the par-three 16th. Ironically, the only miss came from Tiger, even though the competition was on his home course at Medalist Golf Club in Florida.

The players' carts—which were all up for auction—were a nice added touch, especially Manning's. One side of his golf cart celebrated his Indianapolis Colts era, and the other paid homage to his second Super Bowl team, the Denver Broncos.

Tiger referred to his partner as "Paydirt" when Peyton rolled in a 15-foot putt to win the fourth hole, but Mad Hatter would have been a better nickname. Among Manning's headwear was a NOLA hat for his New Orleans hometown, another that had Tennessee's state flag and another with Colorado's.

Mickelson's and Woods' custom golf carts.
Mickelson's and Woods' custom golf carts.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Take a tip, sports leagues. Relax those uniform restrictions. Let players pay tribute to the ones who got them here, or loved ones who have suffered or are suffering.

Picking up the in-game quips that entertained on Sunday might be possible in an empty basketball arena, but probably not in hockey. And really, at a time when we're all supposed to be pulling in the same direction, just how much down-and-dirty trash talk does the public want?

For the must-listening that would add the most to a broadcast, I'll nominate the NFL's coach-to-quarterback communications. Let the public eavesdrop on that, and it's broadcast gold. Coaches would of course protest, and technical challenges would include blacking out the opposing team's ability to listen in, but it's doable. And it would add a ton more interest than phony fan noise.

TV sports are what gave us instant replay and infinite camera angles. Now—with everyone getting Zoom fatigue as they search for the mute button—is the time for the sports broadcast industry to take its imagination to the next level. No more settling for those two-question interviews with coaches at halftime. Don't just allow us into the locker room. Let us live there.

Capital One's The Match set an excellent tone for this confusing period. Now let's see who can match it.

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