The ballyhooed "Dream Season" produced little but sleepless nights for CBS executives.
Figuring the way out of last place in prime time ratings was to buy as much attractive sports properties as possible, the network rivaled the Denver Broncos and James "Buster" Douglas as 1990's most embarrassing losers.
Just about everything that could go wrong did for CBS:
The San Francisco 49ers were so much better than the Broncos in the Super Bowl that not even John Madden could keep viewers interested in the 55-10 blowout.
Brent Musburger, the most identifiable on-air personality in sports television, was let go on the eve of the NCAA Tournament title game. Musburger subsequently ripped CBS Sports officials, stretching the story out for weeks.
Musburger's farewell could not rescue the college basketball championship game, which Nevada-Las Vegas won in a rout over Duke.
After Al Michaels was unsuccessfully wooed by CBS to head the baseball coverage, veteran announcer Jack Buck performed unspectacularly as the replacement for Musburger.
The network got only four games from the American League Championship Series and four from the World Series en route to a $55 million loss on its $1.06 billion baseball investment.
ESPN wasn't much more fiscally successful in its first year of baseball. The cable network blanketed the season from the lockout to the unlikely Cincinnati blowout of Oakland in the World Series, pleasing some and producing cries of overkill from others.
Saying he recognized that the networks lost "significant amounts of money," Commissioner Fay Vincent said baseball intended to work with CBS and ESPN -- probably meaning an increase in the number of telecasts.
The record-breaking rights fees came when the NFL sold itself to Turner Sports as well as incumbents ABC, CBS, NBC and ESPN for an increase of a whopping 89 percent to $3.6 billion over four years. TNT struggled with its "Stadium Show" pregame, but the pairing of versatile Skip Caray and Pat Haden in the booth worked almost from the start.
Will McDonough jumped from CBS to NBC, but the NFL insider overworked the Lisa Olson-New England Patriots story and ultimately reported the wrong finding before Commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced his decision.
NBC grabbed the NBA ball from CBS, but it failed in its attempt to get Chuck Daly and Pat Riley as game analysts. Marv Albert finally got a chance to call NBA games on a national basis, but Bob Costas gave up his opportunity when a partner for Riley for the pregame show could not be secured.
NHL President John Ziegler complained about league coverage on SportsChannel America, saying the telecasts weren't available in enough homes. The new NHL television contract will be negotiated in the first quarter of 1991.
Boxing took its lumps, with advertisers souring on the behind-the-scenes maneuvering of the governing bodies and the sight of Douglas defending his heavyweight title with a jiggling chest. As a result, the networks will have far fewer boxing shows in the new year.
Home Box Office never did ink Mike Tyson to another long contract, going back and forth with Tyson adviser Don King after Tyson lost his heavyweight crown to Douglas in February in Tokyo. Showtime stole much of HBO's thunder late in the year when it bought the Douglas-Evander Holyfield delay and Sugar Ray Leonard's first bout in 14 months.