Instead of baby steps for an industry at a crossroads, sports television moved to the Fox trot this year.

While the over-the-air networks were struggling over ways to pay for out-of-sight rights fees, a newcomer raised the ante on just about everything played with a belt, ball or stick.Without a sports division when 1994 began, Rupert Murdoch's money brought the Fox Network the NFL for $1.58 billion - not counting John Madden's large take - and the National Hockey League for $155 million - if play ever resumes.

Fox also forced NBC and Home Box Office to spend generously on Wimbledon, scared the sandtraps out of the PGA Tour with a blueprint for a $25 million World Tour, and threatened to run away with the bid for the 2000 Sydney Olympics in Murdoch's home country.

Even Murdoch's detractors have to admit that his network went from baby to full-grown player quicker than you can say First on Fox.

"The bottom line is that we were able to achieve Murdoch's dream - to make football work on Fox," said Fox Sports President David Hill. "He's a gutsy guy, a dreamer, a visionary, and he had this amazing dream to put football on Fox." Free-flowing Fox hype not withstanding, many will remember 1994 most for what we missed rather than what we gained.

"On one hand, you had the power of sports on TV expressed by the eagerness of another person co get into the game," said NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol. "On the other hand, we had these two major sports being stopped in their tracks.

"I'm sure that will be the enduring image of 1994 - that blank in the record books next to the World Series and the hockey season." What Fox can do for an encore is anyone's guess. But no one expects Murdoch to spend 1995 sitting around admiring his work.

"Our focal point right now is big events, sports or entertainment," Fox CEO Chase Carey said just before the NFL kicked off on Fox. "The reality, of course, is you can't do 52 weeks of big events, so we need the tent poles to build around."