Media

Grading the NFL Broadcasters

The truth is, most NFL announcers are lousy. They’re corporate and milquetoast, directed largely to stay away from controversial topics for the sake of protecting the shield.

Perhaps the most infamous example of this phenomenon occurred in September 2014, when Chris Berman and Trent Dilfer were praising the league and the Baltimore Ravens for their “quick and decisive” response to the Ray Rice incident. This embarrassing parade of ball-washing continued for several minutes, but then the punt was blocked.

Television networks outlay billions of dollars to broadcast NFL games, so it’s not surprising that national broadcasters hype up the product rather than critique it. But this lack of transparency makes it difficult to connect with any announcing duo, because it’s tough to bond with people who are deliberately feeding you horse manure.




But like them or not, all of these fine commentators will soon be a near ubiquitous presence in our lives –– just like our favorite NFL teams. So why not break them down?

NBC:

Best in the business: Sunday Night Football is the highest-rated show on television, and for good reason. This crisp broadcast is the premier NFL telecast of the week, featuring star-studded teams and plenty of high drama moments.

Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth have slipped a little bit in recent years, but they remain the best announcing pair in the league. Michaels, 71, pays close attention to the action and is a natural narrator. That’s what happens when you’ve been behind the mic for some of the most iconic moments in recent sports history, from the 1980 Miracle on Ice win to the earthquake-interrupted Game 3 of the 1989 World Series.




It’s clear that Collinsworth, 57, is one of the most prepared color commentators in all of sports. A 2015 Wall Street Journal profile breaks down his immense preparation routine, which includes watching at least six hours of game footage for each team’s offense and defense on four laptops at his home office in Cincinnati.

Though they seldom dedicate significant time to discussing off-field issues –– Collinsworth in particular seems uncomfortable when the conversation veers from X’s and O’s –– they won’t shy away from lambasting idiotic coaching decisions or poor plays. When the Colts spectacularly botched a fake punt against the Patriots last year, for example, the first words out of Collinsworth’s mouth were, “What the heck?”




What’s going on with Mike Tirico? After broadcasting Monday Night Football for 10 seasons on ESPN, Tirico jumped over to NBC Sports earlier this year. Given that NBC ponied up $225 million to broadcast five Thursday night games this season, it seemed logical that Tirico would step into the TNF booth until Michaels is ready to step aside. But apparently the NFL has other plans.

According to the New York Daily News’ Bob Raissman, NFL execs told NBC Sports it wants Michaels and Collinsworth in the booth on Thursday nights. “We like the idea of having the same booth announcers from Sunday night and Sunday afternoon to carry over to Thursday,” said Brian McCarthy, the NFL’s VP/Communications.

Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, CBS’ No. 1 team, call Thursday night tilts, but their Sunday schedule has been reduced. Michaels and Collinsworth will take on Thursday duties in addition to their regular SNF schedule, which means fatigue could set in.

Tirico has been a national NFL voice for a decade. This is a classic example of NFL overreach.

Make the Bob Costas halftime soliloquies stop: Please.

 

Final Grade: A-




ESPN:

Monday Night Football shakeup: With Tirico moving to NBC, veteran play-by-play man Sean McDonough will take the reigns alongside Jon Gruden on MNF. He’s going to be great.

Much like Joe Buck, McDonough’s surname helped propel him to a prominent broadcasting role when he was in his mid-20s. His father, Will, was a legendary Patriots beat writer and columnist for the Boston Globe. After attending Syracuse University’s prestigious Newhouse School, McDonough became the Red Sox’s lead TV voice just four years after graduating college.

His experience working with color personalities in the booth, including Bill Raftery and iconic Red Sox analyst Jerry Remy, means he should be able to mesh with the spastic Gruden. This broadcast shouldn’t miss a beat.




Is Gruden annoying or just enthusiastic? He’s both, and that’s okay –– most of the time.

The “this guy” and “that guy” routine can get tiring, but at least Gruden demonstrates an unyielding passion for the sport and stays up on current players and trends. He does his homework, notoriously waking up at 4:00 a.m. to fit in all of his preparation.

He’s much more of a cheerleader than a critic, but that’s not a black mark in today’s day and age. At least Gruden has a pulse, which is more than you can say for many bootlicking color commentators who populate the CBS and FOX teams.

The Randy Moss hiring is awesome: ESPN traded one polarizing Minnesota Vikings great for another this offseason. Cris “get a fall guy” Carter is out of the mix, and Moss has taken his place on the Sunday morning and Monday night analyst desk.




Moss isn’t afraid to take shots at the league, such as when he trashed the NFL’s stringent marijuana policy in a recent interview with Sports Illustrated. It will be refreshing to have that kind of candor on a Sunday studio show.

ESPN blew up its Countdown crew this offseason, bringing in cornerback Charles Woodson and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to work alongside Moss. Tom Jackson, Keyshawn Johnson and Mike Ditka won’t be missed.

 

 

Final Grade: B




CBS

Best team: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Evan Washburn

Fouts’ wry sense of humor is a great foil to Eagle’s enthusiasm. CBS rightfully promoted Eagle and Fouts to their No. 2 team last season, which is where they’ll be this year as well.

Oh, and Washburn is one handsome man. Male sideline reporters can be pretty, too.

Worst team: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson (sorry Tracy, it’s not your fault)

From a technical standpoint, Nantz is okay. He’s a TV veteran who’s been behind the mic for plenty of big calls, so he understands the concepts of pacing and letting the action speak for itself. But man, he’s such a smug douche. Anyone who carries around a picture of burnt toast in their wallet to instruct servers on how to prepare his breakfast is a total hardo.

But the real issue with this team is the blathering and incoherent Simms. In addition to misinterpreting reality –– he frequently lauded Peyton Manning last season for throwing incomplete passes and interceptions –– he just doesn’t make any sense. As WEEI’s Kirk Minihane points out, Simms and his parade of malapropisms went winless against the English language last season.




Nuttiest announcer: Chris Simms

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Though this Simms appears at least to have a grasp of the English language, his thoughts are just as nonsensical as his father’s. Case in point: his incessant bashing of Tom Brady throughout the Deflategate.

Plenty of national know-nothings lambasted Brady throughout the interminable saga, but few spewed as much ignorance as Simms. As recently as this June, he said taking a few hisses of air out of a football is akin to a basketball team playing on a lower rim than its opponent. Somebody better tell Aaron Rodgers that, considering he says he likes to overinflate his footballs.

Mercifully, Simms is on the sixth broadcast team this season, meaning he’ll be resigned to calling Jaguars and Browns games.

Final Grade: D




FOX

Best team: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews

Nepotism is the primary reason why Buck achieved such great heights in his broadcasting career at an early age. But he’s remained FOX’s leading sports voice for 20 years because he’s damn good. Few people understand the power of imagery more than Buck, who almost always lets the action speak for itself.

Aikman is average as a color analyst, but he’s informed and can string together coherent sentences. That puts him way ahead of Simms, his equivalent at CBS.




Andrews has taken some heat over the years for her work, but she deserves credit for asking Richard Sherman one of the best followup questions in sideline reporter history when he was ranting and raving in the aftermath of the 2014 NFC Championship.

 

 

“Who was talking about you?” Perfect.

Worst team: Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Laura Okmin

Marv Albert has the classic, authoritative announcer’s voice. But when his son Kenny speaks, it sounds like he has peanut butter stuck to the top of his mouth. Albert’s grating voice and cookie-cutter broadcasting style is a losing combination, especially when paired with Johnston, who’s never said anything interesting in his life.

But hey, at least Tony Siragusa is out of our lives.

Awkward: During a recent episode of HBO’s Real Sports, FOX sideline reporter Laura Okmin said her bosses benched her for a couple of games last season in favor of a young female reporter with no NFL experience. The Sporting News reports that that woman is former Golf Channel personality Holly Sonders, who will rotate on FOX’s No. 6 announcing team this season.

Shameful on FOX’s part, and awkward for Okmin and Sonders. Hopefully they won’t run into each other at an airport layover this fall.

Final Grade: C+

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