No love for Joey T. I'm also suprised Troy and Buck weren't higher.
TV Commentator Awards
The best to the worst of the NFL announcing teams
Posted: Thursday January 26, 2006 12:11PM; Updated: Thursday January 26, 2006 5:21PM
Troy Aikman (left) and Joe Buck form FOX's No. 1 team, but they aren't the best duo on the network, according to Dr. Z.
Troy Aikman (left) and Joe Buck form FOX's No. 1 team, but they aren't the best duo on the network, according to Dr. Z.
Frank Micelotta/Getty Images
Preventing, uh, presenting my Something Annual (what is it, Andrew?) my Eighth Annual TV Commentator Awards. And as a departure from my usually miserable demeanor as I rage through this lineup, let me mention a welcome trend this year.
Someone seems to have gotten the word out that when there's a game on, it's supposed to be announced. Thus there were no more of those Suzy Kolber sideline interviews, or at least very few of them, that ran right over the live action. Even John Madden and Al Michaels seem to have been brought to heel, although I did catch Michaels remark grumpily one time, in the midst of a dull contest, "We've been told not to miss a play." I don't know ... maybe it was blind luck or something ... but I, for one, welcome the change and prefer play-by-play to yack yack.
In case you're not familiar with this forum, let me mention briefly how I arrive at my rankings. I'm tougher on a network's No. 1 team, because it's supposed to be better and it has more going for it, such as better production facilities.
I'm big on accuracy, which gets far more points than a few one-liners -- you know, the kind of things that are highlighted in the TV columns in USA Today.
I'll put a bad mark next to a commentator if I hear, "Well, we haven't mentioned his name," usually referring to a defensive player. To me this is the mark of the idiot announcer. What he means is, the spotter hasn't mentioned his name because spotters usually are very big on calling out the guy on top of the pile, or a super star who happens to be in the neighborhood, rather than the true architect of a defensive success.
More prestigious crews would, I assume, have better spotters, although it doesn't always work out that way. And when, ssshhh, a blocker is mentioned, it's usually because the analyst himself picked him out of the swirl. Spotters will highlight the fellas who pull out and lead a play, looking nice and regimental in their uniforms, whether or not they make a block. And as for the almost impossible task of identifying blockers on long kick or punt returns, I only know one announcer who does it ... he always has ... and that's Ron Pitts, and that's another reason why I ranked his team number one. There, I've given it away.
Here, then, are my rankings. Play-by-play men listed first, then the analysts.
None, just like last year and the year before and the year before.
Ron Pitts and Tim Ryan, FOX -- Defending champs, and this was in spite of not having the best of production crews to work with. I'm referring to the midseason Packers-Bears game I watched in which the camera kept missing things and losing plays. Nevertheless, Ryan and Pittsie soldiered on, doing their usual smooth and informative job. You want some examples? Sure.
Carolina vs. Detroit. "The Lions are sliding their protection to the Panthers' right side," Ryan said, "so Carolina stunted back left [and got serious pressure]. Great call by defensive coach Mike Trgovac." Too technical for you? Probably, because few announcers can even spot something like this. OK, let's take it down a notch.
This was after Mike Rucker had beaten Lions' tackle Jeff Backus on a bull rush: "Watch Backus' aiming point," Ryan said. "It was wrong. That's why he didn't pick up the rush."
Pitts and Ryan make their calls quickly, not after they've had a chance to watch the replay.
"Why didn't he have help inside on that pattern?" Ryan said. "Because the other receiver ran 'em all off."
Pitts, at the beginning of a drive: "It's guys like Ricky Proehl who beat people in this situation," and Proehl proceeded to beat people for a decent gain.
Pitts always tries to highlight special teams blockers, probably because he was one himself. I've also always liked his non-straining sense of humor. "Now they're into their flop-ball," he said at the end of one game, as the kneels started.
Kenny Albert and Brian Baldinger, FOX -- I can always relax and enjoy my charting when this pair is working a game because I know Albert will spot the ball correctly and quickly (you'd be surprised how many play-by-play guys can't handle this seemingly simple task) and Baldy will not let his ego get in the way of his work, which is always fair and accurate. Best of all, he won't start wringing his hands and apologizing if a game is low scoring, as if the network is somehow cheating the fans. In fact, I think he actually prefers low-scoring games, as I do, because the line play is more meaningful, and that's his area of expertise. Matt Millen and the younger John Madden also did their best work in low-scoring contests.
Kevin Harlan and Randy Cross, CBS -- An unheard of star-and-a-half jump in the last two seasons for this duo. Harlan ranks with FOX's Sam Rosen as my favorite play-by-play men because someone, once upon a time, seems to have convinced both of them that it's helpful for viewers to know what players are on the field. Thus, they'll let you know who replaces whom, in a nickel or dime package, which third wideout is on the field, which nickel or dime defender. Hey, guys, I know the production people are just itching to tell you to cut out this nonsense and start plugging the super-stars, but just remember that you've got a loyal friend here. Don't give in!
Cross will nail an interesting development, right away, such as K.C. substituting a linebacker for a corner back and switching to a 4-4 against the Chargers in December. He's very good, picking things out on his first look, and he's also toned down the heehaw stuff from his early years and developed a wry and slightly caustic wit that hits home. Thus this twosome now occupies the network's top spot on my sheet.
Al Michaels and John Madden, ABC (when doing an important game) -- I can't help it, I've got to give them two grades, because they change radically according to the significance of the contest. You won't know the second grade for a while unless you peek and drop down in the chart -- way down. The noise, the excitement, the presentation, the extra cameras and better views -- yes, it works on me, too, imparting the feeling that I'm going to watch something special, especially if it's a big game. Madden gets up for nights like this, too. Coaches tell him things they don't give to other announcers. He'll start watching the line, just as he used to once upon a time. He'll be on top of things. It's a good show.
Ian Eagle and Solomon Wilcots, CBS -- Wilcots is the best in the business at telling you what's going on in the secondary, breaking down coverages, etc. Both of them are dedicated to giving full credit to people who perform the mundane tasks, such as drive blocking and holding point at the nose position. A slight warning, though. Fellas, you've got to be just a little more accurate in identifying blockers and defensive stalwarts. I don't have the heart to remove half a star or so for this because your sentiments are so obviously in the right place, but, hey, a friendly warning has been issued.
THREE AND A HALF ***/
Brent Jones, CBS, and Erik Kramer, FOX -- This is a strange one. Obviously they don't work together, but each of them goes under the heading of, "Wish I'd seen more." I liked what I saw of Kramer last season. Then I caught his act in Week 1 this year, working the Jacksonville-Seattle game with Craig Shemon. Yes! Quick idents. Accuracy, especially in line play, which is rare for a former QB. Then I kind of lost track of him. I just didn't catch any more of his games. I know he worked with other people. It's hard to award the fourth star on only one performance, but I wanted to get him up here somewhere.
Jones, a two-and-a-half star man last year, would also have been way up there if I'd have seen more of his work. This time, though, it's not my fault, because he left after three games to spend more time with his family. I saw his third game, Jets-Jaguars, which he worked with his old partner, Gus Johnson. What a good job he did! Spotted the nuances of the rush and the protection scheme right away, assigned blame for one sack to the center, who didn't call the correct adjustment. Very high quality observation, which Jones never had shown before. Come back next year, OK Brent?
Dick Stockton and Daryl Johnston, FOX -- Stockton goes about his job modestly, not trying to horn in on his partner's work, but what he has done, which gives this team half a star lift from last year, is to make sure that every phase of the game is described with the utmost accuracy. Doesn't sound like much, but to me it's big. Here's another one, and please don't laugh. He's the best flag man. He must keep his searchlights going for any sight of yellow, like a World War II sub-chaser in the North Atlantic, because he's on any penalty like a shot.
Johnston generally does a credible job, but he's developing a case of creeping star-itis. Dallas vs. Oakland. The Cowboys have picked up a pair of five-yard runs over the right side. The left side, particularly Larry Allen, has come up with the stumbles. But from Daryl we get the party line about how they always run left because of Allen and Flozell Adams, etc. Come on, Daryl, you played with Allen and you know what he once was and what he is now. Give us an honest critique instead of the old blah blah.
Dick Enberg and Dan Dierdorf, CBS -- Oh my, you want to know where LaDainian Tomlinson went to college and his high school before that? Ask Dick. But be careful, he'll give you that information about anybody. While the action is going on. He's better than he used to be, though. At least we don't have to hear about the cookies his auntie baked. Why am I being so nasty? Dick's not that bad, just occasionally annoying, like when he's off by as much as two yards on where a runner is tackled.
Dierdorf is a pretty smooth analyst, and he has his eyes trained on inline blocking, which got him into the Hall of Fame. And he's gotten off that Col. Blimp kick ... "If this man does not get into the Hall of Fame, it will be the worst travesty since ... " etc. Yeah, he'll occasionally miss things, but he's usually pretty accurate when chronicling the development of a play.
TWO AND A HALF **/
Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, FOX -- Well, I hate to do this, because Troy was one of the most honest and informative players I've ever talked to. He really helped me throughout his whole career. But what can I say when the area of line play, particularly on defense, is so ignored by this team? OK, Aikman's strength is the passing game, patterns and coverages, and I can take an overload in this direction, but I can't take what seems to affect so many young announcers after a few years -- plugging the stars.
Packers-Bucs, Week 3. Favre throws an interception on the first series. His fault? My goodness, no. It never is. "The receiver didn't get separation." (Then don't throw the freakin ball, Brett!). I'm even hearing organizational copping out, as the Packers sink to 0-3. "They're in a little bit of their transitional mode with their franchise," Buck says, and, yeah, I'd expect it from him, but I think Aikman has to think through the whole idea of whether he wants to be a dead-on analyst or an industry flak.
Oddly enough, Frank Gifford, when he first started with CBS, was highly critical, almost a ripper. Then a year or two later he blanded it out and lost his bite. I asked him about it. "I played alongside some of these guys," he said. "Now they're mad at me. Their wives don't talk to my wife. It's just not worth it."
I have a lot more notes about the Aikman-Buck team's constant lauding of the stars, to the neglect of people who actually do the work, but I'll bag 'em and hope that things turn around. And, of course, this being the No. 1 team, their shows are all cluttered up with all sorts of technical, artsy craftsy crap that merely obscure lineups, formations, yard lines, etc. Once I mentioned this to their director, Artie Kemper, and he kind of went off on me.
"You might know your X's and O's and how to chart a game," he said, "but you know absolutely nothing about our business." What I do know, though, is how many times I have to look at a closeup of the quarterback's head, barking signals, instead of the start of a play.
Sam Rosen and Bill Maas, FOX -- I have never dropped a team a full star before, but Maas never has been so full of himself as he is now. Good things first. He appreciates and likes to talk about the work of the guys with the 70's and 90's on their backs, the ones I also favor. And Rosen, as I've mentioned, is meticulous about letting you know exactly which group of fellas is on the field. But for God's sake, Billy, let poor Sam catch his breath once in a while.
"You got that, Sam? Let me explain it one more time." (Yeah, I got it already). "You see, Sam, this is the way they lined up for that play. Sam, are you awake? Hey, somebody bring that ice over here." Poor Sam. He's not exactly an eedjit, ya know. But the worst of this is that Maas has gotten so dogmatic that even when he's dead wrong about something, he'll continue to flog it.
Bears sitting on a lead against the Panthers in Week 11 and Thomas Jones runs out of bounds with about six minutes left. "Don't go out of bounds," says Maas, who does not know that at that stage of the game the clock keeps running on an out-of-bounds play. "That's the last thing you want to do."
Even worse was his call in the Panthers-Falcons game in Week 13. "The Panthers are in their Rhino Package," Maas says. "No. 47, Davis, [Thomas Davis, a 231-pound combination linebacker-DB] is in for Chris Gamble, the cornerback." Well, Sam is a guy who calls what he sees on the field. "Davis in for linebacker Brandon Short," he says, and I thought Maas would start pounding his shoe on the table.
"No Sam, it's the Rhino, the Rhino Package is what it is. They took out Chris Gamble is what they took out." And as he's saying it we see No. 20, Chris Gamble, come walking across the screen, on the way to his position.
Maas' malaprops? Is it fair to mention these howlers, or is that not playing fair? This is the third year I've heard him say, "Time to button down the hatches." How about, "The story here is the Bills' run defense or lack thereof it?"
Finally, my last complaint, and I promise I'll move on. Week, 16, Green Bay vs. Chicago. On Week 14 (Green Bay-Detroit) we heard the entire "will he or won't he?" Favre debate on ESPN. A week later on Monday night (Green Bay-Baltimore) we had to hear it again. And now, for the third week in a row, it's whipped to death by Maas and Rosen. I held up a white flag. Mercy, have mercy.
Whoops, one more nasty thing to say. It concerns Jay Glazer, the sideline guy for this team, and general FOX scoop-man. One of his scoops was about Tiki Barber's Giants contract and how a special bonus would kick in if he'd gain over 900 yards. That led to the speculation that the Giants were holding back on his carries to stiff him out of his bonus. A wire service actually picked up this junk and ran with it. Right. Got that coach Coughlin, and GM Accorsi, and you too, John Mara? Never mind about winning games, we're going to save the club some money. And guys like Glazer actually earn applause for this kind of journalism.
Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, CBS -- Gasps of surprise. Why this is ... this is ... the network's No. 1 team! Books have been written, wars fought, campaigns launched to keep this twosome pristine. "Who is this ugly little savage to snarl so boldly at the British Lion?" (Eduardo Cianelli in Gunga Din.) There is nothing personal involved here. Both Simms and Nantz are very nice people. It's just that ... just that ... well, I don't learn anything from their show.
Phil is enthusiastic. Obviously he likes what he's doing. Nantz is smooth and low key. Now the bad news. Simms has picked up the annoying habit of telling us, "I told you so," even though there's no evidence of it beforehand. It's like a bettor constantly letting us know how much he won, but after the fact. Always after the fact. Never before. How many times? Oh, too many to count. It's an ongoing thing.
Dallas-Denver, Thanksgiving Day: "I knew it was going to the right side." (after a TD pass to Jason Witten. No mention beforehand). "I knew Dayne was going to be good this year." (After his TD. No mention until then). And so on.
Plug, plug, plug the offensive stars. Miami-New England, Week 10. Brady throws into double-coverage and his pass is intercepted. "He threw it perfect. I can't believe it's intercepted." Tedy Bruschi makes a great play, undercutting the interference to spill Ronnie Brown for a 1-yard gain. We learn of Brown's smooth transition to pro ball. Vince Wilfork fights the double-team to stop Ricky Williams cold. Simms tells us how happy Williams is this year.
Kansas City-San Diego, Week 8. Not too far apart is this collection of pearls: "They've got 'em backed up. They need a three and out." And then, "The defense needs a stop now." And, "the offense has to score this series." And, "when you're down, 14-0, you can't let it get wider."
Enough already. It just gets hard to listen to.
Don Criqui and Steve Beuerlein, CBS -- Dull, fairly competent, unless you ask them to really spot something. OK on the obvious stuff. Criqui is kind of old world, i.e., a reverse is always a "double reverse," and so forth. Sometimes they miss a beat or two.
Tennessee-Cleveland. The Titans Pro Bowl DE Kyle Vanden Bosch leaves the field early in the second quarter. "We're glad to see him back in the game," Criqui says in the final period. Except that he had only been out one series.
Bill Macatee and Rich Gannon, CBS -- Macatee is OK, a pro, although he's pretty shaky on down and distance, and he's really slow picking up penalties. He ought to enroll in the Dick Stockton School of Flag Detection. Somehow I expected more of Gannon, although I don't know why. He never had much to say to us as a player. And I learn very little from him now.
One thing bothered me. He was doing the Patriots-Kansas City game, and the essence of it just slipped away from him. He went through a long diatribe on the Patriots' defense, which got overrun at the end, but he missed the key element, the fact that the front seven, playing with very little relief help, simply got exhausted. They couldn't get off their blocks. Maybe it's asking too much from a QB to figure out what the defenders are going through.
Gus Johnson and Steve Tasker, CBS -- Tasker was a great analyst as a player. You'd always go to him to find out what was going on. For his first few years with the network, he seemed to be coming along, then I'll bet that one of those production airheads got hold of him and said, "Steve, you wanna keep your job here, you've gotta keep mentioning the big names."
Now he's a shameless plugger. Miami vs. San Diego. The drama of this game, the heroic performance put up by the outmanned Dolphins, is buried under a landslide of plugs, all on the Charger side. First Gates, then Neal, then Tomlinson, then Brees, then McCardell. The show is a mess. The referee is not identified until the fourth quarter. The guys who recovered two key fumbles are not mentioned.
Houston-Indy, Week 10, is only slightly better, although I laughed out loud at Johnson's reference to the "old, silver-haired, bespeckled," Tom Moore, the Colts' offensive coordinator. He's a worthy competitor for Maas in the malaprop dept., but in clichés, he's got the field to himself. How about four of them in one sentence? Oakland-San Diego, Week 6. Al Davis ... "He's a legend, a rebel, an innovator, maverick, a little bit of everything, Mr. Davis, 76 years young." (I didn't count innovator).
ONE AND A HALF */
Curt Menefee and JC (Jayice) Pearson, FOX -- Menefee was fine when he was working with Pitts, but now that he's got to carry the load, he's weak. Neither he nor Pearson know a thing about line play, but they give it a try -- kind of -- anyway. Oh, they're into plugging the stars, all right. Carolina vs. Minnesota, Steve Smith gains four yards on a crossing pattern, and Freddy Smoot stops him short of a first down and forces a punt. Good play, right? Uh uh, just an excuse for another plug, this time about Smith's greatness, etc.
Green Bay-Seattle, and Walter Jones is anointed. The best tackle, agreed, "and maybe the best player in football," Menefee says. Why stop there? Why not the best who ever lived?
I don't think they always know what they're saying. Carolina has challenged a call that Smith is down on the Vikings' 1, instead of in the end zone. "Why challenge it?" Pearson says. "It's gonna be a touchdown anyway." Hey pal, ever hear of a fumble?
Mike Tirico and Sterling Sharpe, ESPN -- The network's second unit, which is better than the first, but that's really not a compliment, is it? I'll give Tirico credit. I actually caught him laughing at some of the nonsense Sharpe came up with. But I'll tell you something. Sterling's observations in the Oakland-Giants game at the end of the season were really entertaining.
First we got the lesson in some flaky kind of orthopedics for receivers, getting their shoulders over their feet, or something. I tried it later, in the bathtub, and wound up falling on my face. Well, we got a complete roster of receivers with shoulders over feet, and then Plaxico Burress made his second drop of the night. "He did a great job, getting his shoulders over his feet," Sharpe said.
But a drop, Sterling, a drop! You know, when the ball hits the guy's hands, then the ground. "He dropped the ball," Tirico said. "He just couldn't secure it," Sharpe said.
Then Terrell Buckley fell down when Doug Gabriel ran a go at him. It should have been a TD, but the ball was overthrown. "He lost his footing," Sharpe said, "but it was nice technique."
Oh, there's more, but you get the idea.
Mike Patrick, Joe Theismann, Paul Maguire, ESPN -- The Three Stooges will be broken up next year. Maybe we can get them together for one grand reunion or something. They move out of the absolute cellar to make room for our honored guests. I swore that I would not flog this team anymore, but I simply had to mention one parting bit of "I'm not quite sure what I'm saying," courtesy of Theismann.
Wild Card game between Washington and Tampa Bay, officiated by Mike Carey. Things began to get a bit rough.
"This game has the potential to get out of hand," Joe said, "and I'm sure Mike Carey's gonna keep it that way."
Al Michaels and John Madden, ABC (bad game) -- They trail the previous contestant because at least the ESPN guys announced the game. When it was a clunker, and the Monday night crew had its share, M&M would simply leave the game and roam the pastures of discourse and debate.
For three straight weeks I said to myself, and to the Flaming Redhead, when she was listening, "This is the worst job of announcing I've ever heard." I'm sure you know the stretch I'm talking about, sort of a Monday night Death March -- Seahawks 42, Eagles 0 on Dec. 5, Falcons 36, Saints 17 on the 12th and then Ravens 48, Packers 3 on the 19th.
Now these were some pretty horrible matches, and you can't really blame M&M for their lack of enthusiasm --the kind of enthusiasm that lifted them to four stars when they were into the game. Except I do blame them, simply because the old Madden, and also Matt Millen, the best there ever were, I believe, would have considered this a challenge. They would have searched for the odd and quirky on the field, a whiffed tackle, some crazy piece of equipment, anything ... and found them. And the shows were entertaining because they worked them, they earned their paycheck. What a difference between that and the poor excuse for announcing they present now.
Things happened on the field, despite their indifference. Michael Vick is hurt on a penalized late hit by Ronald McKinnon. He can't stand up in the huddle. He has to leave the game. No mention is made until much later. Ditto when SamGado was lost for the season in the Ravens game. It came in the middle of a long interview with Favre, discussing the breathtaking news of whether or not he will or won't return. ("To tell the truth, I don't know"). No word about Gado, an interesting young player.
Shoddy work. None at all, actually. And no stars.
NOT ENOUGH LOOKS
They came, they went, some I never heard of. The only fairly mainstream team I did not get to see, unfortunately, was Thom Brennaman and Tim Green of FOX. Sorry, but our paths just didn't cross.