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People still ask anchor Dan Patrick if he's having a bad hair day, says Judy Fearing, senior VP-consumer marketing at ESPN.

Ms. Fearing, 41, is referring to one of the many "This is SportsCenter" self-promotions that in the last year have captured sports fans everywhere-and the judges for Advertising Age's own AA Best Awards, who named it Best of Show among TV spots for 1995.

As the cornerstone of ESPN's 24-hour sports programming, "SportsCenter" has acquired a cult following. Ms. Fearing's aim was to solidify the powerful ESPN brand image as not just a TV network but as a huge sports fan itself.

Sports fans see that claim. During the fourth quarter of 1995, the 11 p.m. (ET) airing was seen by 15.2 million U.S. households in an average month, according to Nielsen.

Based on the premise that "SportsCenter" anchors convey a distinct personality, the TV spots, give sports fans an exaggerated documentary look at the show's inner workings.

"The opportunity existed through advertising to make `SportsCenter' the epicenter of sports," Ms. Fearing says. "We asked ourselves, `What would that center or sports activity look like, and who would be there?"'

How about anchor Charley Steiner punching out the Syracuse Orangemen mascot? Or anchors Keith Olbermann and Mr. Patrick performing surgery on Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh's knee, just to get the inside scoop?

Still to come: new spots, including one where Mr. Steiner is dealt to Fox's "Melrose Place" for actor/soccer player Andrew Shue.

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