Who works (besides the players) Sunday

On Sunday, CBS will carry the AFC championship between New England and Denver, and Fox will carry the NFC Championship between San Francisco and Seattle.

Each network will use its top NFL announcing pair — CBS’ Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, followed by Fox’s Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, who will also announce Super Bowl XLVIII.

And Awful Announcing asks why:

This Saturday you couldn’t help but notice the diametrically opposed CBS and Fox announcing teams for the NFL Divisional Playoffs.  In the early game, Fox rewarded the team of rookie play by play man Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch with their first playoff assignment.  In the late game, Hall of Famer Dan Dierdorf announced his last game alongside Greg Gumbel for the eighth consecutive year.  Dierdorf had called a playoff game for CBS every year since joining the network for the 1999 season and Gumbel has been either the #1 or #2 announcer at the network save for two seasons when he hosted The NFL Today.

Only one of the broadcast teams were there based on merit – the Fox duo of Burkhardt and Lynch.  The pair received positive reviews for their work on Fox throughout the season and the network has made it known their second playoff assignment is no longer set in stone as it had been for several years.  Last year Thom Brennaman and Brian Billick replaced Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, and Tony Siragusa for the Divisional Round game.  This year it was Burkhardt and Lynch.  Fox has shown they are willing to give deserving announcers a chance on the big stage instead of depending solely on entrenched boardroom hierarchy. …

Announcing jobs in sports is one of the few professions in society that isn’t continually based on merit.  Imagine if your productivity or quality of work dropped at your day job.  You would be demoted or even fired if your work suffered a great deal.  What about the sports that these networks cover?  The Super Bowl and World Series aren’t contested between the same two teams every year, so why should networks assign the same announcers week after week, year after year to their biggest sporting events?  Fans should ask themselves – is it really the birthright of Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Joe Buck, Tim McCarver, Al Michaels, Bob Costas, Chris Berman and others to be in their positions as lifetime appointments?  Instead of a merit based system, once announcers climb the ladder to the top they stay there until they decide to walk away no matter how much criticism or praise their work may receive.

All over the sports world are examples of deserving announcers being held back from great opportunities because of the holiness of the status quo.  In fact, there’s almost too many to list in this space.  It’s the central reason why Gus Johnson left CBS for Fox Sports – he couldn’t break the March Madness glass ceiling that was Jim Nantz.  How many years has Trey Wingo deserved to be the lead studio anchor for ESPN’s NFL coverage for his excellent work?  It’s a subjective business, but consider how many younger announcers have been passed over by multiple networks that have decided to stick with older announcers who are bigger names, but well past their prime.

For multiple seasons now, media analysts and fans alike have been calling for Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts to receive a promotion from CBS, much like Fox gave Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch.  Eagle and Fouts have proven to be the best NFL announcing team at CBS over the past few seasons.  In a merit based system, they should be the ones who deserve an opportunity to call the AFC Championship Game this weekend.  They are informative, entertaining, and have great chemistry together.  However, Eagle and Fouts will never sniff that kind of opportunity as long as Nantz and Simms have working vocal cords, let alone a chance to move to #2.  CBS has refused to budge from their predetermined hierarchy, no matter how deserving younger and yes, better, announcers may be. …

Imagine how much different it would be if announcing assignments were based solely on merit and not longevity or name recognition.  What if networks rotated who got to call the Super Bowl or host the Olympics?  We got a window into that realm with Fox’s NFL Playoffs assignments this weekend and the universe shockingly did not collapse on itself.  In fact, it turned out to be a victory for everyone involved.  Fans were given a higher quality broadcast for Saints-Seahawks and Fox now has a legitimate top NFL announcing team in Burkhardt and Lynch.  If more announcers were given more opportunities across sports, it would do wonders in giving a new, fresh perspective to broadcasts and build new stars across the industry. And isn’t that more beneficial than seeing the same ol’ same ol’ year after year?

There are a lot of things, other than their failure to employ me (and other great choices), that might mystify the sports viewer about the networks. The reason Fox uses Buck and CBS uses Nantz is that that’s what their contracts specify. Buck is Fox’s number one NFL and baseball announcer, and Nantz is CBS’ number one NFL, college basketball and golf announcer. Those decisions are based on business considerations, namely ad revenue and ratings.

But when you’re on the top, you’re a target. Bleacher Report selects its own bad Super Bowl announcers …

Phil Simms

Simms is sort of like Jon Gruden-light, in that he seems to really try and avoiding criticizing many of the players he covers. He’ll spar with fellow analysts and announcers or when he’s doing something that isn’t live game commentary, but during a game, he keeps it safe. …

Troy Aikman

I have been trying to figure out how Aikman manages to use more words than any other sportscaster in the history of broadcast to say so little. Aikman will take five minutes to tell you about a 20-second play.

I don’t think the man has ever heard a cliche he didn’t like and use. And use. And use.

I think Aikman has some great insight. I just don’t have 45 minutes to wade through the wordage to figure out what it is. The game is going on and Troy’s just rambling on and on. …

Joe Buck

You know, there are some people who really like Buck’s forced enthusiasm but listening to him is like listening to a drunk guy try to convince you that he’s REALLY happy to be at the party his wife dragged him to.

Of course, there are large stretches of time when he’s not even faking it. He just sounds like he’s watching some game. You know, whatever, just some game.

Maybe that cuts it in baseball, where they play for 18 hours and the pace is slow but constant. In the NFL where the stop and start of a play, the rhythm of a game is violent and sudden? You need someone who sounds like they understand that every play is huge.

Buck calls a major play the same way he calls a minor play. ‘Oh, did that happen? A 70-yard catch? That’s interesting, first and goal.’

… which you may notice are three of Sunday’s announcers, and three of the four announcers who worked last year’s Super Bowl or will work this year’s Super Bowl.

There is a familiarity-breeds-contempt aspect to this. NBC’s Curt Gowdy, who announced seven of the first 13 Super Bowls, was also NBC’s lead baseball and college basketball announcer for most of that time. (Gowdy therefore also did 12 consecutive Rose Bowls on NBC, and did every Olympics on NBC and ABC from 1964 to 1984. He worked for ABC before he moved to NBC, yet still hosted ABC’s “The American Sportsman.) The latter stages of Gowdy’s career coincided with the rise of newspaper TV critics, and the latter weren’t kind to Gowdy toward the end of his career. (Gowdy, however, was in 22 halls of fame, and has a state park and post office in Wyoming named for him. Take that, Gary Deeb.)

Ratings may explain why some football fans prefer announcers other than the networks’ top announcers. Sports Illustrated’s Paul Zimmerman complained for decades that the top NFL announcer teams weren’t sufficiently focused on the actual game — line play and defensive schemes, for instance. The reason, of course, is that playoff games and specifically the Super Bowl and conference championship games attract more casual viewers than regular-season games. The announcers down the pecking order, who are only contract employees of the networks for the length of the NFL season, stick to the game because that’s their audience.

Readers know that I believe NFL viewers should have the right to decide on more than one set of announcers they want to listen to during the game. ESPN’s final NCAA football Bowl Championship Series game allowed viewers to choose between Auburn’s and Florida State’s announcers, in addition to ESPN’s duo. CBS did that during its NFL coverage in the 1950s and 1960s without the technology that exists today. For, say, a Bears-Packers game, if you were a Packer fan in Madison or Eau Claire (because the NFL blacked out home games in home markets), Ray Scott and Tony Canadeo delivered the game to you, while in Illinois, Red Grange and George Connor announced the game. Same video, but different audio.

The networks weren’t always locked in to announcers by ranking. Jack Buck was never CBS’ number one NFL announcer, but got to announce Super Bowl IV, won by his future partner, Hank Stram.

NBC used announcers of the participating teams in the World Series through 1976. The 1965 World Series featured Scott, who had worked for CBS, along with Vin Scully, who would later work for both CBS and NBC.

Because of that, baseball viewers got to hear the work of announcers they’d never otherwise get to hear, for better or sometimes worse:

Now, the only way you hear a local announcer nationally is if he’s also employed by the network:

And since, in this case, Nantz and Buck are full-time employees of CBS and Fox, respectively (as is NBC’s Al Michaels and ESPN’s Mike Tirico), they’re all you get, like it or not.

 

One thought on “Who works (besides the players) Sunday

  1. How refreshing not to have the words physicality and athleticism used in Sundays games. Kudos to both teams of announcers.

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