Sep 16, 2013
By Richard Deitsch
From : SI.com
The lead item of this week’s column is absent a familiar voice:
Hold your applause, please.
I’ve paneled a group of different voices — a mix of writers and bloggers who cover sports media — to answer a series of questions on NFL broadcasting.
The panel includes:
• John Koblin: Deadspin writer
• Steve Lepore, SB Nation, NHL and media writer
• Robert Littal, BlackSportsOnline.com founder
• John Ourand, Sports Business Daily media writer
• Jimmy Traina, writer and creator of SI.com’s Hot Clicks
• Matt Yoder, Awful Announcing, managing editor
The panel was asked a series of questions with the only requirement being to keep the answers tight. They were free to pass on any questions. For those on Twitter, you can follow any of the panelists by clicking on their names above. I’ll have Part II of the roundtable next Monday, with questions on what element should be added to NFL pregame shows, whether networks should use sideline reporters, and the confidence level the panel has on the football broadcast networks reporting on concussions with significance. Hope you enjoy:
A. Which NFL pregame show is the most effective and why?
Koblin: I really think they’re all terrible. Points to [ESPN’s Sunday] NFL Countdown for being on a couple of hours earlier, and for having Sal Pal [reporter Sal Paolantonio], Suzy Kolber and Ed Werder, and notable/reliable faces at the stadiums (Stadium reports are fun!). But, I suppose, given the ridiculousness of the format, Fox remains the most tolerable. I’m still confused how CBS’s crew remains intact.
Lepore: Football Night in America. It’s an unfair advantage, but they have it. They get to hone in on the storylines of one game and keep track of all the storylines from the afternoon games. It takes itself a bit too seriously perhaps, but I think that show is probably the best thing you’ll see airing in between the afternoon games and the Sunday night game.
Littal: The NFL Network’s GameDay Morning. It starts with Rich Eisen, the best NFL host in the business. He does a great job of keeping all those personalities in check. Frankly, they just have more fun, and in the end, a pregame show isn’t about just information. It’s about getting you excited about the upcoming games and they do an outstanding job of that.
Ourand: Each of the pregame shows has a fatal flaw. CBS and Fox have too much forced laughter; NBC’s is on as the late game is ending, so I’m rarely able to see it in full; ESPN and NFL Network run for so many hours that their effectiveness is muted.
Traina: ESPN’s Sunday Countdown is solid, as is the NFL Network’s GameDay Morning. However, I prefer Fox NFL Sunday. I don’t think there is a weak link in the cast. There is something about the familiarity of Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long and Jimmy Johnson, who have done that show together for what feels like forever. That makes the show feel genuine. Jay Glazer always provides legit news, and the show hits a perfect balance of serious football talk and light-hearted fun.
Yoder: This is like asking who’s the most effective New York Jets quarterback.
B. What is the most underrated NFL game broadcast team and why?
Koblin: I’ll answer half of this: Ian Eagle is one of the best broadcasters doing the NFL. The NFL Network should hire him for Thursday night games. He’s a No. 1 guy. Greg Gumbel, despite long ago having relinquished the No. 1 spot at CBS, still feels a little under the radar to me. He’s very good.
Lepore: Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts. A lot of times, NFL game broadcasts feel like a conversation between two men who see each other approximately 17 days a year. Eagle and Fouts are both entertaining in their own right and make for a great team.
Littal: Kevin Harlan and Solomon Wilcots are excellent on CBS. Harlan is the closest thing we get to Gus Johnson during the NFL season and Wilcots is always prepared and insightful. They understand fans don’t want to be talked down to, but want to be entertained.
Ourand: Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts call a professional game. They detail what’s happening on the field without hyperbole and histrionics. They are able to document the game without becoming part of it.
Traina: Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts — just an enjoyable listen from start to finish. Eagle knows when to go nuts and when to pull back. Fouts analyzes the game in a simple, yet effective way and doesn’t act like he invented football, which most analysts tend to do (see below).
Yoder: It used to be Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts but they’re certainly rated by this point so I’ll say Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. Aikman is serviceable in his role and Buck’s football announcing has really improved in the last few years. Whether it’s his comeback from his vocal problems or responding to criticism, he’s showing much more energy in his calls and the online narrative of him as an announcer hasn’t caught up to the current reality.
C. What is the most overrated NFL game broadcast team and why?
Koblin: Nantz and Simms. Nantz should retire and work for Bob Kraft full time. I’ve loved Simms in the past but his disastrous performance in the Super Bowl is still lingering for me.
Lepore: I don’t necessarily see them as “overrated,” but both the CBS and Fox ‘A’ teams (Nantz/Simms and Buck/Aikman) feel like they could use a shakeup.
Littal: Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. Aikman is fine, but Buck consistently thinks he is funnier and smarter than everyone else. It has gotten old. Plus, as the years have gone by, he has gotten lazy. He could not identify the “Pistol Formation” and seemed baffled that Colin Kaepernick was passing the ball effectively during the Packers-Niners game.
Ourand: No comment.
Traina: I’m going to break the rules here and not name a team, but a play-by-play guy and two analysts instead. Jim Nantz’s corniness has become hard to take over the years, and it just gets worse. He also treats every game with the seriousness of a funeral. It seems the only time he gets excited is when CBS cuts to his boss, Les Moonves, sitting with [Patriots owner] Robert Kraft in the owner’s suite. Meanwhile, Jon Gruden (ESPN) and Mike Mayock (NFL Network) seem to have a personal bet with each other to see who can talk more during a broadcast. Neither guy ever shuts up and gives you a chance to just digest the action. The ESPN broadcast in total feels frenzied with flying graphics and music and noise and Gruden screaming. By the end of the first quarter, I usually shut off the sound because I have a headache from the overall telecast.
Yoder: As far as their standings at the network go, there are more deserving teams (Ian Eagle/Dan Fouts, Thom Brennaman/Brian Billick, Marv Albert/Rich Gannon) of No. 2 status than Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf and the Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, & Tony Siragusa triumvirate. But this is NFL broadcasting, where job positioning is almost as secure as Supreme Court appointments. You’d think it was an international crisis when Fox made one minor change in broadcasters for the playoffs last year.
D: Which NFL broadcaster has outstayed his or her welcome and why?
Koblin: Marv Albert. I was really excited when CBS said he’d be coming back, but this hasn’t gone well. It’s a little like if Roger Federer decided to keep playing until he was 50.
Lepore: I think both Phil Simms and Troy Aikman have become a little stale. Nothing against the work that they do. With Gruden or Collinsworth or Mayock, I might disagree with what they say, but I feel all three just say what’s on their minds. I don’t know if I feel that way about Simms and Aikman.
Littal: I have no idea why CBS still uses Dan Dierdorf. He never seems to know what is going on, consistently call plays incorrectly, and talks way too much about absolutely nothing. He should have been put out to pasture many years ago.
Ourand: I’m trying to figure out why Tony Siragusa is still on TV.
Traina: I don’t want to be mean here, but Fox’s Dick Stockton has seen his better days. The amount of mistakes he makes during a game is astonishing.
Yoder: If we’re talking studio personnel, there’s a dozen former players who can be listed here. As far as game broadcasters, I’d like to see CBS try someone new in their main analyst spot besides Phil Simms. Nothing against Simms personally, but his analysis has gotten stale. After 20 years in that No. 1 analyst spot a change would be refreshing.
E. Which NFL broadcaster deserves more praise and why?
Koblin: Michaels and Collinsworth. Michaels still, amazingly, has his A-game (I’m not sure how he keeps the passion after doing primetime games for so many years) and Collinsworth (who, let’s remember, has been doing this for a couple decades, too) only improves every year. You feel like you’re listening to people who did their homework. Also: Mike Pereira.
Lepore: You know what, this is probably an unpopular opinion, but I think Joe Buck is a lot better at broadcasting football than he gets credit for. Ever since he came back from vocal chord problems a couple years ago, it seems like he’s found a way to ‘get into the moment’ a lot more without screaming or even going nuts.
Littal: Next to professional NFL broadcaster in the dictionary you would see a picture of Ian Eagle. Not a lot of cheap thrills. He just does his job and doesn’t interrupt from broadcast with a ‘look at me’ attitude.
Ourand: I know he’s ESPN’s top voice, but rarely does Mike Tirico’s name come up when talking about top announcers. It should. He’s got a good broadcast voice and calls game action professionally. His call at the end of the Packers-Seahawks game last year — the last game the replacement refs worked — was really good. Through all the confusion on the field, he was able to relate to viewers what was happening.
Traina: Joe Buck. He is bashed mercilessly every Sunday (and even when he’s not calling a game), and it’s not fair. Buck has become a good NFL play-by-play announcer, but for some reason, people refuse to acknowledge that. I think if people were objective and put aside their preconceived notions of Buck, and sat and listened to him call a game, they would not think he’s as bad as they want him to be.
Yoder: Two guys at ESPN who get lost amongst their 875 NFL analysts: Eric Allen and Darren Woodson. I always enjoy their insights and find them to be quite likeable without the silly antics we see from so many former players on television.
F. Yes or no: Will the Super Bowl set a viewership record this year?
Koblin: It obviously depends on who’s playing, but with the New York element — just the fact that’ll be somewhere below 35 degrees — yeah. I think people are going to tune in and stay.
Littal: Yes. Unless the Jaguars make it.
Lepore: Absolutely. I live five minutes from Met Life Stadium, so I could be speaking from bias. However, people love weird weather, from tropical storms to blizzards to football games played in the snow. Look at the NHL’s Winter Classic, which made regular season hockey a television draw.
Ourand: Yes. This will be the benefit of staging the game in the country’s biggest media market.
Traina: Obviously, the teams in the game matter, but I’ll go with yes. Curiosity from the fringe fan to see the cold weather Super Bowl will boost the numbers.
Yoder: Depends on how close the game is. If it’s competitive in the fourth quarter, then yes. The novelty of the winter weather Super Bowl will provide even more of a reason for casual observers to watch.
G. Create your dream NFL booth featuring a play by play broadcaster, analyst and sideline reporter. Who’s on it?
Koblin: Michaels and Collinsworth, a tenacious print reporter converted into the job, and Mike Pereira.
Lepore: Tirico in a three-man booth, with Collinsworth and Mayock. Seems like it’d be entertaining. Pam Oliver on the sidelines.
Littal: Kevin Harlan (play by play), Troy Aikman (analyst) and Lisa Salters (sideline reporter). What I look for in each position is professionalism with a touch of humor and ability to relate to the viewer. It’s qualities that all three possess especially Salters the best sideline reporter in the business.
Ourand: The best football booth today doesn’t even touch the NFL. My dream booth has a play-by-play man that has a big game voice — when you hear it, you know it’s a game you want to sit and watch. My analyst sees things in the game that I don’t, and is able to communicate that. And my sideline reporter weeds out information and conducts smart interviews. Chemistry is so important to a broadcast that I don’t want to break up Brent Musburger, Kirk Herbstreit and Heather Cox. My network would hire them to call my top NFL game.
Traina: Play-by-play: Marv Albert (A personal favorite who still has the chops.) Analyst: Dan Fouts (Give me a low-key guy like Fouts over the typical No. 1 analysts who are way over the top.) Sideline reporter: It doesn’t matter, because I only want to see them in a very, very limited role.
Yoder: NBC has it right now – Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, and Michele Tafoya. Their broadcast team is one of the central reasons why Sunday Night Football is one of the best broadcasts in all of television.