Covering the NFL On TV…

It is late enough in the NFL season for me to offer up my observations about the TV productions associated with NFL football for this season.  It is not as if I am awarding some sort of honorific title that anyone associated with NFL broadcasting would care about; these are just my reactions to some of the studio shows and television announcing teams that graced the airwaves this year.

For no reason in particular, let me start with CBS.  Their pre-game/post-game studio show is the best of a sorry lot.  Notwithstanding that accolade, the show has plenty of room for improvement; here is the most obvious way for the show to get better:

  • Bill Cowher has sailed by his “’Best If Used By” date.  His analyses for every game sound the same to me – – run the ball; stop the run; hold the other QB in check.  [The depth of that insight is equivalent to the depth of puddle in a parking lot.]  The only thing he leaves out is “score more points than the other guys”.  As the depth and content of his contributions to the “discussions” on the program have diminished, Coach Cowher has amped up the volume as if to make his points appear to be more meaningful.  Sadly, volume does not equal insight…

I like Phil Simms in this studio role a lot more than I liked him in the booth as a color analyst and I think Nate Burleson is a rising star in that business.  CBS should leave both of those guys alone.  I have never been a Boomer Esiason fan; the best I can say about him is that he is the same now as he was two or three years ago.  If you liked him then …  James Brown is just fine as the ringleader here.

CBS has two excellent broadcast teams calling their games:

  1. Jim Nantz and Tony Romo are each very good – – and when they play off one another they each make the other one better.
  2. Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts are also excellent – – but far less recognized because they do not get nearly the exposure that Nantz and Romo get.

Over at FOX, the problem seems to be that the network is trying to turn the pregame show into a comedy event – – with one glaring problem:

  • None of the people on the program are even remotely comedic.  I have a corn on my foot that is a funny as any of those guys.

I have no problems with either Howie Long or Tony Gonzales; they seem to realize they are there to talk about football first and silliness third or fourth.  Jimmy Johnson is better than Bill Cowher; let me leave it at that.  Michael Strahan may be wonderful on Good Morning America; I’ll never know about that because you could not get me to watch any of those “morning fluff shows” without providing me with wealth that would change the fortunes of at least 4 of my future generations.  What I do know, is that he adds little important insight to the FOX pregame shows.  Curt Menefee is a slightly heavier version of James Brown; he is just fine – and innocuous – as the ringleader here.  And that brings me to Terry Bradshaw…

  • I would much prefer to see Terry Bradshaw join Bill Cowher in retirement – forced or voluntary makes no difference to me.

Oh, by the way, someone at FOX must figure out a graceful way to “move on” from Rob Riggle and his weekly picks.  He takes 2 minutes to do a comedy routine; but it is not funny.  And here is something the FOX people need to realize:

  • Short of colonoscopies, there are few things more uncomfortable that watching someone trying to be funny – – when the bit is not funny at all.

In the booth at the games, FOX has Joe Buck and Troy Aikman as their top-shelf team.  Those guys are really good – and no, Joe Buck is not smarmy and no, Troy Aikman does not hate your favorite team.  The problem at FOX is that it is a BIG step down from those guys to the rest of their announcing crews.

For NBC’s Football Night in America, Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison do a fine job in their low-key presentations.  I prefer their understated presentations of their opinions much more than the bombast or the attempted humor at CBS and FOX.  Mike Tirico is good.  Tirico’s “problem” is that he is the NBC heir-apparent to several positions.

  1. Mike Tirico is the latter-day Dan Patrick on Football Night in America.  Problem is, that Patrick was better at that job.
  2. Mike Tirico is the latter-day Bob Costas at the Olympic coverage.  He is to Bob Costas as Adam Sandler is to winning an Oscar for Best Actor.
  3. Mike Tirico is seen as the heir-apparent to Al Michaels as the play-by-play guy for Sunday Night Football.  Mike Tirico is to Al Michaels as Colonel Sanders is to Auguste Escoffier.

Over at ESPN, the self-proclaimed “World-wide Leader” has not recovered from the decision to “move on” from the Sunday morning show that Chris Berman orchestrated.  Randy Moss and Charles Woodsen are fine; the rest of the program participants could be changed out with Manny, Moe and Jack on any given Sunday and it would make no difference.  That program needs a total overhaul.  The lead-in to Monday Night Football is significantly better than the Sunday morning show.  Adding Suzy Kolber and Steve Young to Randy Moss and Charles Woodsen makes that program work.

And that brings me to the ESPN game coverage for Monday Night Football.  Let me preface these remarks by saying that anyone at ESPN who tries to compare this announcing crew to Frank Gifford, Howard Cosell and “Dandy” Don Meredith should have his/her head placed directly to the right of Ted Williams’ head in that cryolab wherever it is.

  • Joe Tessitore needs to recognize that every 3-yard run on 1st and 10 is not the shot heard round the world.  I did not think it possible that someone else could be as hyperbolic as Kevin Harlan and/or Gus Johnson – – but Tessitore achieves that level.  Many is the game where I would swear that he is in the booth chugging quadruple espressos at every change of possession.
  • Jason Witten suffers by comparison to his former teammate Tony Romo who stepped into the announcing booth at the top of the announcing ladder and performed outstandingly.  Witten made the same jump from field to booth at a similar level, but Witten is merely OK at the job.  What ESPN needs to do is to provide Witten with mentoring and other opportunities to be on the air so that he can grow in his new occupation.  Jason Witten is not a “natural” on the air – – but he has insights that are valuable.  I consider him a work-in-progress.
  • I really like Booger McFarland; simultaneously, I hate how ESPN is using him on the MNF telecasts.  We have had a full year of the Booger-Mobile; it was worth a try, but it does not work.  It is time to send it to the Edsel Hall of Fame.  Booger McFarland has insights to offer; in addition, he is clever and – at times – funny in the way he makes his points.  He would only be better if he were in the booth with his colleagues so that they could play off one another the way human beings do in social situations.  I believe that ESPN is wasting a significant talent in Booger McFarland propping him up in that motorized contraption.  Oh, by the way, if Booger and Witten were in the booth together and interacting there as human beings who also happen to know football, I think it would help Witten’s development as a color analyst.

Finally, Greg Cote provided a commentary in the form of Carnac the Magnificent in the Miami Herald last week:

“Answer: Imprisoned-for-life Larry Nasser says his years of sexual abuse of female gymnasts should have been tried as a medical malpractice case.

Question: What’s the new and ultimate definition of ‘delusional’?”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



4 thoughts on “Covering the NFL On TV…”

  1. WOW Jack – Auguste Escoffier – you are truly a well-rounded journalist, if I may call you a journalist. After the passing of Paul Zimmerman I never envisioned his name in a sports column. Thanks for the entertainment

    1. T.C. LaTorre:

      I am not nearly a journalist. Sadly, my only “well-roundedness” involves my physique. 🙁

      However, I do like French cuisine so I am familiar with the accomplishments of Escoffier.

  2. I agree with you completely on Cowher and Bradshaw. It’s over — or it should be!

    I think you are way too generous with Jason Witten. He is no better today than he was on his debut broadcast. This dog can’t hunt. Maybe he can do pregame shows on some local Dallas radio station, but he shouldn’t be doing nationally televised broadcasts.

    1. Gil:

      Interesting to hear that you do not see improvement in Witten from September to now… At the beginning he was too hesitant and that created some awkward timing in the exchange of remarks between him and Tessitore and McFarland. I think he has gotten much better on that front over the course of the season.

      As I said, he still needs work/mentoring. I think he should be doing “film study” and “narration practice” extensively between now and the time of the NFL Draft when – I hope – ESPN will give him time during their coverage of the draft. If he comes back next August without evidence of practice, I’ll agree that his career may be short indeed.

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