Keyshawn Johnson will be NFL's equivalent of Barkley
Posted: Thursday May 24, 2007 2:09PM; Updated: Thursday May 24, 2007 3:00PM
When Tiki Barber left football for broadcasting this winter, every network went after him, and for good reason. The former Giants running back is telegenic, articulate and personable. Barber is even experienced -- he has his own Sirius radio show and is a regular guest on local and national television shows.
But the best rookie broadcaster of this NFL season is going to be the one who came available late: Keyshawn Johnson.
Johnson, 35, was released by the Carolina Panthers three weeks ago and apparently had offers to play with the Tennessee Titans and a couple other NFL teams. But the former No. 1 overall pick signed on Wednesday with ESPN, where he will appear on pregame shows.
Johnson has annoyed a lot of people during his 11-year NFL career, but I think he is the kind of personality that NFL broadcasts need. For years now it feels as if football has been looking for a Charles Barkley of its own. That is, a studio show commentator who can be as loose, genuine and opinionated, like Barkley on the TNT studio show. The search has been as futile and elusive as the search for the next Howard Cosell.
Shannon Sharpe? Um, no. Maybe if he learns to speak English.
Michael Irvin? Not really. Barkley is an entertainer. Irvin is a clown.
I'm not saying that Johnson will be as good as Barkley -- who is? But like Barkley, Johnson will be the same kind of magnetic personality that can give genuine life to those roundtables where the energy and hilarity often feel forced.
If you saw Keyshawn at the NFL Draft -- and a reported 20 million people watched some of the draft, so let's assume you did -- you saw how he livened up the panel of talking heads and effortlessly became its focal point. He's a natural talker. He is smoother than Sharpe and conveys more authority than Irvin. More important, he was able to fit into a broadcast team while maintaining his Me-Shawn persona that separates him from capable and likable (but not particularly memorable) analysts like Eric Allen and Mark Schlereth. Keyshawn feels like more than just another ex-player talking about football.
Keyshawn doesn't have the effortless humor of Barkley -- but then again, most professional comedians don't. And Keyshawn's brashness will turn some people off, as it has throughout his career. Football fans who haven't liked Johnson all along may have a hard time starting now.
But if I had to put money on whether Barber or Johnson would be football broadcasting's rookie of the year, I'd take Johnson, easy.
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