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TASKER DRAWS THE BILLS FOR HIS FIRST BROADCAST ASSIGNMENT

It won't take very long for Buffalo viewers to see how Steve Tasker is doing as a National Football League analyst on CBS.

The retired Buffalo player has been assigned to work alongside play-by-play man Gus Johnson for the Bills' opener Sept. 6 at San Diego.

"I don't know how happy that I am doing a Bills game at the start," said Tasker. "I'm sure I'll be criticized for being too critical of the Bills, and San Diego will say that I'm too much of a homer. I'm going to get it from both ends, I'm sure."

Tasker, who lives in East Aurora, actually got the assignment in a trade involving Beasley Reece. Tasker was supposed to work the Seattle-Philadelphia game and Reece the Bills game.

But the CBS affiliate in Philadelphia just signed Reece as a sports anchor and wanted him to work the first Eagles game and the trade was made.

The San Diego-Bills game will be the first CBS broadcast of a Bills game since the network won the rights to the AFC package.

The game will be the first regular season game played by quarterback Ryan Leaf since he signed with the San Diego Chargers as the league's No. 2 pick.

In looking at film of Leaf, Tasker said, "the guy has a huge arm. The only question marks are on the things that you can't test him on. Like, can he raise the level of those around him?"

Tasker also has seen enough of the Bills' new quarterback, Rob Johnson, to declare him "a bargain" compared to the more expensive Leaf and No. 1 pick Peyton Manning of Indianapolis.

"He's got three years in the NFL under his belt and not many bruises so he has the body of a 22-year-old," said Tasker of Johnson. "You get a lot of things with Rob Johnson that the other guys have yet to experience."

If Johnson has a good game in the season opener, it might be a little easier for Tasker.

"If the team struggles, well, I'm there as a color analyst," said Tasker.

On Sept. 13, CBS has assigned Ian Eagle and Mark May to cover the Bills-Miami game.

Sabres going public

The Buffalo Sabres as educational television? What a concept!

Sources have confirmed that the National Hockey League team is discussing a deal to have 10 of its games carried by WNED-TV, Channel 17. Why WNED? It is the only way the team can get the games carried on Canadian cable television.

Last season, the Sabres made a deal with WB-49 to carry 10 games. However, that station isn't carried on Canadian cable. Channel 17 is.

If a deal is made, the Sabres won't be able to carry commercials because Channel 17 is a public television station. The Sabres are primarily looking at the deal as exposure into Canada.

The move could be a temporary solution. Don Moran, Channel 29's general manager, recently said Sinclair Broadcasting would be able to compete for the rights to Sabres games once its deal to program Channel 23 -- Channel 17's sister station -- goes through. However, Channel 23 also isn't on Canadian cable.

Tennis on television

While CBS gets most of the big matches at the end, a real U.S. Open tennis fan couldn't live without the USA Network. Both networks use John McEnroe as its top analyst.

The main difference in network coverage is that CBS uses Mary Carillo and Tony Trabert and USA uses Tracy Austin and Barry MacKay.

USA carries 92 hours of tennis over 12 days and nights, with CBS carrying 35 hours.

Talking a blue streak

Purists undoubtedly are pleased to learn that Disney Sports executive Steve Bornstein has announced that once ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 own the rights to broadcasting NHL games, the glowing puck that Fox has tried during its contract officially will be put away. The puck did help Fox get one huge rating when it premiered. But it obviously didn't have any long-term benefit, which is probably why Disney is ashcanning it.

If there had been some sort of ratings success with it, Disney undoubtedly would have considered using it. As it stands now, all the glowing puck did was remind viewers how difficult the game is to follow, which isn't exactly the smart thing to do.

Around the dial

Have you heard Pete Weber on ESPN radio the last few weekends when it is carried by WGR-AM? Weber has been a substitute commentator on his off days from the Empire Sports Network.

If you missed Dominik Hasek's performance on HBO's series about a sleazy sports agent, "Arli$$," set your VCRs to 3:20 a.m. Sunday. That's when it will be repeated.

Without revealing too much, let's just say that Hasek has some fun at his own expense dealing with what used to be considered a very sensitive issue.

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