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Commentator Rankings (cont.)

Posted: Thursday February 8, 2007 12:09PM; Updated: Wednesday February 14, 2007 5:52PM
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ONE AND A HALF */

Gus Johnson and Steve Tasker, CBS
I'm not going to use an elephant gun to bring down sparrows. I thought Tasker would be better by now. He's a bright guy. I've said this before; I get the feeling that the production people are taking away what he wants to do. Johnson is flatly inaccurate. He'll announce his opening graphic, without comment, while a guy who's not on it is making the stop on the first scrimmage. You never know who's in the game. Yardage is regularly screwed up. Why is it so hard? In the Jets-Houston game I counted 23 wrong yard line calls he made. Just to make sure this was no fluke, I did it again in Buffalo-San Diego and got 21. To make up for all this, Gus has turned into an inveterate yeller. "He takes the handoff AND HE'S GOING TO PICK UP YARDAGE!" Sssshh, we can hear you.

ONE *

Bryant Gumbel, NFL Network
The network couldn't find anyone in the allotted time, so they picked Gumbel, a decent studio talent who has no feel for football play-by-play. He just doesn't understand it, and he embarrasses whomever he's working with by his howlers. Even worse, though, he brings the level of the show down by constantly trying to switch off the action on the field and onto whatever topic strikes his fancy, or perhaps an extended interview with one of the anchor team, sometimes omitting play-by-play entirely.

ZERO

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Joe Theismann, Mike Tirico and Tony Kornheiser, ESPN
I've raged against this outfit for years and it hasn't done a bit of good, so I won't waste an awful lot of space on their newest clown, Kornheiser, or their play-by-play guy, Tirico, who brings you only part of the action, and none at all if there's one of those interminable guest-in-the-booth abominations. But I will say that I approached their Giants-Dallas show in Week 7 with absolute dread because I knew the T.O. stuff would be once again flogged to death in tedious and humorless terms. And they didn't disappoint me. When I die and go to hell, hell will be a Kornheiser bit on T.O.-prolonged indefinitely. What I'd like to concentrate on is one of the more dishonest things I saw in a telecast, and the perpetrator was the one member of the team who knows something about football, Theismann.

Week 6, Chicago at Arizona, a defining moment for the Cardinals and their coach, Denny Green, and their offensive coordinator, Keith Rowen. The Cardinals are driving for the victory. The Bears can't stop them, no matter what defense they throw up. Rookie QB Matt Leinart is killing them with underneath passes, the same way Peyton Manning did in the Super Bowl ... ironic, huh? Down the field they come. Theismann has talked to Rowen, who told him that he knew he could beat the Bears this way ... if only Green would let him do it, but the coach was bugged by Edgerrin James bitching about not being permitted to close out the contest. This was the knowledge that Theismann had in the booth, and at one point in the drive, he muttered, "Don't stop throwing." It just popped out.

But they did stop. They reached the Chicago 23-yard line and brought in two tight ends and two running backs, the ultimate give up. Now Theismann had a decision to make. He could lay out his knowledge of the situation, as practically any honest announcer would, and it would have been fascinating, a real coup for a guy who has been much reviled during his career. But just then Kornheiser came up with one of his grade school pronouncements ... "You have to admit it, don't you ... you're rooting for them." And Joe, given the choice, opted for the low IQ route, a little bantering back and forth with his sidekick.

Well, the Cards' heavy offense was stopped and they missed the field goal and lost the game. And in his postgame press conference Green went into some contrived rage thing about how the Bears were "anointed." And then he made Rowen the scapegoat and fired him. The viewers of ESPN could have been privy to all this ahead of time, they could have been in on a real scoop. But Theismann chose to ignore journalistic integrity and play marbles with Bozo the Clown. Personally, the whole thing makes me sick.

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