Choose your own announcer

Sports Business Daily reports that the National Football League is in the process of renewing its over-the-air broadcast contracts with Fox (for NFC games, including most Packer games), CBS (for AFC games and games where the AFC team is the road team, such as Sunday’s Packer game) and NBC (for Sunday Night Football).

The league is close to renewing TV deals with all of its broadcast partners that will result in massive rights fee increases of more than 60 percent across the board, underscoring the unrivaled strength of NFL programming.

For the first time, each of the broadcast networks will pay an annual average of at least $1 billion for the rights to carry NFL games. The expected windfall from CBS, Fox and NBC will be worth more than a combined $24 billion over the next eight years. …

Combined with ESPN’s annual average of $1.8 billion a year for “Monday Night Football,” DirecTV’s out-of-market “Sunday Ticket” deal, the league’s planned Thursday night game package that it is preparing to shop, Sirius Satellite Radio, Westwood One radio and Verizon’s mobile deal, the NFL could wind up generating close to $7 billion annually in national media revenue starting in 2014. That represents a whopping 64 percent increase over the $4.28 billion that the NFL received from national media before the most recent round of renewals.

As part of the contracts, there is one innovation I’d like to see: the fans’ opportunity to choose their own announcers for the CBS and Fox broadcasts. The technology is available, because it’s been done well before now.

The first NFL-wide TV contract was with CBS in 1963; before then, CBS and NBC had contracts with individual teams after DuMont exited broadcast TV. (NBC briefly exited the NFL after it replaced ABC in covering the American Football League for the AFL’s final six years of existence.) Until 1963, the NFL only had a contract for the NFL championship, which led to the odd spectacle of CBS’ covering the NFL regular season, but NBC’s carrying the Packers’ first three appearances in the NFL title game.

When CBS took over NFL coverage (and remember this was well before computers or anything digital), CBS hired a set of announcers for each team. Packers fans (except in Green Bay and Milwaukee for home games, which were blacked out) watched Ray Scott and Hall of Fame halfback Tony Canadeo announce their team, while fans of the Packers’ opponent watched their own announcers call the same game. (For the rest of the country, CBS chose one of the two announcer teams. In one season, 1964, one team’s announcers called one half and the other’s announcers called the other half.) This was, remember, back in the days when none of what you watched had any computer contribution at all. (Video was sent by land line from the game site to CBS in New York to the individual stations.) The tech needed to send two different audio signals to TV stations was more complicated than it is in today’s era of the Second Audio Program and digital subchannels.

The advantage for viewers of specific teams is that that their announcers became more knowledgeable about their teams because, like the teams’ radio announcers, they watched them every week. Fans did not have to put up with name mispronunciations, inaccurate facts, or faulty analysis because, in the Packers’ case, Scott and Canadeo saw every play of every game.

(The list of ex-Packers or announcers with Green Bay or Wisconsin connections to have called Packer games is relatively small, compared to former Cowboys or Giants or 49ers. Besides Canadeo, the longest-serving ex-Packer announcer is Paul Hornung, who worked for CBS from 1975 to 1981, and did preseason games for several years afterward. Jerry Kramer worked for CBS in 1969. Bart Starr worked for CBS in 1973, including Super Bowl VIII, and 1974. Gary Bender was the Packers’ radio announcer before coming to CBS, where he worked NFL games from 1975 to 1981 and in 1986. Willie Davis worked for NBC from 1970 to 1975; his replacement for the next two seasons was his defensive linemate, Lionel Aldridge. Former Brewers announcer Merle Harmon called games for NBC from 1979 to 1983. Kevin Harlan, son of Bob — yes, that Bob — worked for NBC in 1991 and Fox from 1994 to 1997, and has worked for CBS since 1998. James Lofton called NBC games in 1997. Ron Pitts, a defensive back for the Packers in 1990 and the son of Packer running back Elijah Pitts, has called games for Fox since 1994. Bill Maas, who played nose tackle in 1993, called Fox games from 1998 to 2006. Sean Jones worked for Fox in 2001, and John Jurkovic worked for Fox in 2002 and 2003. Former Brewers TV announcer Matt Vasgersian worked for Fox from 2005 to 2009.)

CBS ended the team-announcer practice after the 1967 season. NBC never had team announcers while it carried AFL and AFC games, and neither has Fox since it began carrying the NFL in 1994. Since the Packers have been good for nearly 20 years, Packers games have been called by better announcers, usually Fox’s or CBS’ first or second announcer teams. (Fox’s lead team, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, called the first six games of the Packers’ current 18-game winning streak; CBS’ lead team, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, who called the Broncos–Packers game earlier this year, get Sunday’s Raiders–Packers game.) But Packer fans of the ’70s and ’80s teams (if that’s what you can call them) remember some truly awful CBS and NBC announcers assigned to cover, well, the Gory Years teams.

The nadir might have been during the 1994 season, Fox’s first on the NFL, when analyst Jerry Glanville said of a spectacular Brett Favre play that they were cheering in “Owosso.” (Glanville was Favre’s first coach before the Falcons traded Favre to Green Bay.) Harlan replied that he was a Wisconsin native, and he had no idea where “Owosso” was. (One state to the east, Jerry.)

This came to mind not because of Sunday’s Fox broadcast, but because of Saturday’s Fox broadcast — the Big Ten football championship game. Fox’s Gus Johnson is an acquired taste, to put it mildly …

… but I’m guessing Wisconsin Fox stations received complaints about Johnson and analyst Charles Davis for their apparent bias against Wisconsin, beyond mentioning the game-ending “Hail Sparty” play only about 4,966 times. (I write that as someone who doesn’t usually complain about announcer bias, and as someone who was once accused of bias against both teams I was covering that game.) Fox’s sideline reporter, former Minnesota coach Tim Brewster, was a case study of passive–aggressive behavior in the difference between how he talked about Michigan State vs. how he talked about Wisconsin. Fox host Kevin Frazier also said the UW Marching Band was directed by “Michael Leckron.” And how many times do Badger and Packer fans have to listen to “Wisconsin” with the emphasis on the first syllable (Bob Griese of ABC), and “Green Bay” pronounced as if it’s one word (ex-Packer Paul Hornung formerly of CBS, who should have known better)?

The alternative is to turn down the TV sound and listen to the radio, but that’s not an alternative in the digital age. Radio audio is several seconds ahead of TV video and audio (whether delivered over the air, by cable or satellite, or online), so you can’t really have a satisfying viewing experience mixing TV with either Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas or Wayne Larrivee and Larry McCarren.

These bigger TV contracts will mean increased costs to consumers. If you have cable TV or satellite, you’ll pay more. The networks will increase ad rates for their NFL advertisers, and since advertising is part of the cost of doing business, those advertisers’ products and services will cost more. So what added value can CBS and Fox provide their viewers for more expensive TV service and for more expensive products and services?

The answer is to give viewers their choice of announcers. It’s hard for fans to complain about bad announcers if they have more than one choice, particularly for announcers who follow one team all season.

The networks would have to hire more announcer teams, since CBS and Fox broadcast up to eight NFL games per weekend. (There are 16 games in all but the bye weeks; NBC does Sunday Night Football, ESPN does Monday Night Football, and the NFL Network does Thursday night games the second half of the season.) This would be less expensive than it seems, because most NFL announcers on CBS and Fox are part-timers, paid by the game.

Both networks already have some natural teams to which to assign their analysts. Fox could assign either ex-Cowboys Troy Aikman or Daryl Johnston to Dallas (or both, since they used to work together on Fox), former Viking assistant coach Brian Billick to Minnesota, ex-Buccaneer John Lynch to Tampa Bay, ex-Bear Tim Ryan to Chicago, and Jim Mora Jr. to either Atlanta or Seattle, since he coached the Falcons and Seahawks. CBS could assign ex-Charger Dan Fouts to San Diego, ex-Raider Rich Gannon to Oakland, Solomon Wilcots to either Cincinnati or Pittsburgh since he played for the Bengals and Steelers, ex-Bill Steve Tasker to Buffalo, and ex-Jaguar Steve Beuerlein to Jacksonville. Perhaps an announcer trade or two could be arranged to allow ex-Raven Tony Siragusa to call Ravens games for CBS, or ex-49er Randy Cross to call San Francisco games for Fox.

Assuming Larrivee couldn’t be persuaded to move to TV (and he has considerable TV experience with WGN-TV, ESPN and the Big Ten Network), the natural play-by-play guy for Packers games would be Harlan (who sounds nothing like his father; Bob had no explanation for Kevin’s voice when I once asked him), since he grew up in Green Bay. There is also a natural color commentator choice, someone who started doing college games this fall … Brett Favre. (He’s going to be announcing games for someone someday.)

Technology today makes this much simpler to do than in the 1960s, when CBS did it, or in the 1990s, when ESPN Plus had separate announcers for Big Ten games carried on over-the-air TV. For all the innovations TV’s seen over the past couple of decades — stereo sound, continuous score-and-time graphics, first-down lines superimposed on the field, HD video and now digital TV and subchannels — this seems like a natural next step. (And if Fox or CBS is interested in me, you know how to reach me.)


Why the Packers win

One of my favorite NFL analysts,’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback,  knows why the Packers win:

What are the Packers’ secrets? First, the personnel:

• Great players: All championship teams must have a few. Rodgers and Charles Woodson will be Hall of Famers. If they continue to perform at their current levels, Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji could be, too. Donald Driver and Chad Clifton have had great careers, and Greg Jennings is getting into that territory.

• Undrafted players: The Packers have 16 on their roster … Football is a team sport, and for team sports, little-known role players are as important as great players. Unlike highly drafted crybabies who think the rules don’t apply to them — Exhibit A, the Detroit Lions — undrafted players listen to the coaches and give you what they’ve got.

• Home-grown: Since Ted Thompson took over as general manager in 2005, he has rarely traded away draft choices. All NFL general managers say they want to build through the draft, then many blink and give up picks. Thompson never blinks, holding his picks and trading for others. In Thompson’s seven drafts, he has selected an average of nine players per draft, versus seven that the league hands each club. He has had 17 first- or second-round choices in that period, versus the 14 the league hands out. And the Packers scout the sixth and seventh rounds as intently as the first. Many Green Bay players were late choices, selected by a point in the draft where many teams were just winging it.

• Green Bay won the Brett Favre mess: Had the Packers not shown Favre the door, Rodgers would have departed. Offloading the franchise’s most accomplished player was wrenching. Leaders make decisions for the future rather than the present — if only those in Washington, D.C., thought this way — and Green Bay made a smart decision for the future regarding Favre.

• The only NFL roster with five tight ends, as TMQ has noted before: Green Bay has five tight ends, and has won 18 straight games. Why don’t other NFL teams notice this rudimentary fact? Multiple tight ends allow for multiple offensive sets that confuse defensive game plans. All contemporary defensive coordinators have some experience dealing with multiple wide receiver sets. Most don’t have experience dealing with multiple tight end sets.

• Aaron Rodgers: Quarterback is the most important position in football, and Rodgers is football’s best quarterback. Accuracy and decision-making are the key attributes of an NFL quarterback — practically all of them have strong arms — and Rodgers excels at both. He throws accurately while moving, creating roll-out opportunities. He runs, but only in an efficient manner, mainly when he sees a clear lane to the sidelines. On a third-and-5 against the Giants, Rodgers saw a clear lane to the sidelines and ran for the first down, then stepped out of bounds. This is the way Joe Montana used to run. When the quarterback consistently picks up first downs by efficient runs that don’t expose him to hard hits, the offense prospers. …

Now Green Bay’s tactical secrets:

• Sideline passing: Both Manning brothers excel at hitting receivers along the sidelines; for Rodgers, this has become his forte. Twice against the Giants, Rodgers hit Jordy Nelson with perfect strikes smack on the sideline for big gains. On the Packers’ touchdown drive that made the score 35–27 Green Bay, both big plays were sideline receptions.

The deep sideline pass is the hardest throw in football, so only the best offenses feature this action. When a receiver is smack at the sideline, the quarterback knows there will be only one defender — by definition, there’s no defender on the sideline side. Working the sideline is a way to create one-on-one matchups. The throw must be perfect. If it is, the sideline route is the hardest for even the best cornerback to defend.

• Pass first, then rush: Victory can happen with a rush-first offense, as the Broncos are showing. But passing plays gain more yardage per attempt than rushing plays. Green Bay employs this simple insight to start most games pass-wacky; once the Packers have a lead, they switch to rushing to grind the clock. Passing early to build a margin, then running late after the opposition defense begins to tire, is an ideal formula. It’s the Packers’ formula.

• Canadian influence: Green Bay quarterbacks coach Tom Clements played quarterback for Ottawa, Hamilton, Saskatchewan and Winnipeg of the Canadian Football League. In the CFL, it’s move the chains or lose. First downs matter more than deep strikes. The Packers’ offense operates as though it assumes only three downs, like in Canada. Plus Joe Philbin has been the offensive coordinator in Green Bay for eight years. The Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots offenses of the past decade were successful partly because of coaching stability.

• Funky defenses: Pittsburgh, Baltimore, the Ryan Brothers and others have been using oddball fronts with two or one defensive linemen, married to a zone rush. Green Bay employs this tactic too. In a zone rush — a better term than zone blitz — five to eight defenders are in a position to rush. Only four actually do, but the offense doesn’t know which four will be coming. At least one defender who looked like a rusher before the snap drops into one of the slant lanes, since every quarterback’s standard anti-blitz tactic is the quick slant.

Against the Giants, on one down Green Bay showed a conventional 3–4 front. Then two defenders walked up for what appeared to be a six-man blitz. At the snap only four rushed, with Matthews dropping into a slant lane that Eli Manning thought would be uncovered. The Giants had a receiver open deep, but because a rusher was in Eli’s face — after the choreography, Jersey/A had five to block four but lost track of one rusher who came toward Manning unopposed — he never looked deep. Manning threw what he thought would be a safe quick out; Matthews intercepted the pass and returned it for a touchdown.

Lots of funky fronts and jumping around pre-snap cause Green Bay to surrender yardage — statistically, the Packers’ defense is not flashy. But these tactics also generate defensive touchdowns, against [the Giants], against the Steelers in the Super Bowl and in other games. Nothing drops a 16-ton weight on your head like watching the opponent’s defense score.

There are two other big factors:

• Mystique: The Packers have won four Super Bowls, 13 conference and/or league titles. Green Bay has the oldest consistent winner in football. The place is Titletown. Vince Lombardi is looking down. The Packers exist in a college-town atmosphere — they are even the sole NFL franchise with college cheerleaders, not professional cheerleaders, on the sidelines. The aura around the Packers is unmatched by any other NFL organization.

• Bicycles: Packers players ride bicycles to the opening of camp, an annual summer ritual attended by thousands of children. Cheesy? Well, it is Wisconsin. Corny? Gets the season off on a fun note. And Packers faithful sure are having fun.

Yes, we are.

Presty the DJ for Dec. 9

Imagine having the opportunity to see Johnny Cash, with Elvis Presley his opening act, in concert at a high school. The concert was at Arkansas High School in Swifton, Ark., today in 1955:

Today in 1961, the Beatles played a concert at the Palais Ballroom in Aldershot, Great Britain. Because the local newspaper wouldn’t accept the promoter’s check for advertising, the concert wasn’t publicized, and attendance totaled 18.

After the concert, the Beatles reportedly were ordered out of town by local police due to their rowdiness.

That, however, doesn’t compare to what happened in New Haven, Conn., today in 1967. Before the Doors concert in the New Haven Arena, a policeman discovered singer Jim Morrison making out in a backstage shower with an 18-year-old girl.

The officer, unaware that he had discovered the lead singer of the concert, told Morrison and the woman to leave. After an argument, in which Morrison told the officer to “eat it,” the officer sprayed Morrison and his new friend with Mace. The concert was delayed one hour while Morrison recovered.

Halfway through the first set, Morrison decided to express his opinion about the New Haven police, daring them to arrest him. They did, on charges of inciting a riot, public obscenity and decency. The charges were later dropped for lack of evidence.

The number one album today in 1972 was the Moody Blues’ “Seventh Sojourn”:

The number one single today in 1978:

Today in 1988, a poll was released on the subject of the best background music for sex. Number three was Luther Vandross …

… number two was Beethoven …

… and number one was Neil Diamond.

Neil Diamond?

The number one single today in 1989:

Today in 2003, Ozzy Osbourne crashed his ATV at his home, breaking his collarbone, eight ribs and a vertebra in his neck.

Birthdays begin with Sam Strain of the Imperials and the O’Jays:

Joan Armatrading:

Jack Sonni of Dire Straits:

Nick Seymour played bass for Crowded House:

Jakob Dylan of the Wallflowers:

Zak Foley of EMF: