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TV Commentator Rankings

From the best to the worst of the NFL announcers

Posted: Thursday February 8, 2007 12:09PM; Updated: Wednesday February 14, 2007 5:52PM
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Dick  Vermeil worked for both the NFL Network and ESPN this season.
Dick Vermeil worked for both the NFL Network and ESPN this season.
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A new problem has arisen, as I attempt to make some sense out of the many charts that define my Ninth Annual TV Commentator Rankings column. The problem is how do you rate a team when one member is obviously much stronger than his partner? In the old days, I didn't think about it much. People generally were paired up in regimental fashion, but the new NFL Network has neatly skewed that arrangement.

So what I will do, for the first time, is give individual rankings in the case of NFL Net talent. You will also notice that Dick Vermeil will be ranked as an individual for his NFL Net duties, and as part of an ESPN team. I understand that this is a complicated business, but who ever said it would be easy. Once again, some people will be left off because I just didn't get enough looks.

FIVE *****

ESPN No. 2 team of Brad Nessler, Ron Jaworski and Dick Vermeil
Like lilies of the valley that raised their heads during the recent warm spell, only to fade into oblivion when the frosts came, they appeared only once. This was for Oakland-San Diego in week No. 1 as the second ESPN game, and the brilliance of their work only pointed out the insipid quality of the network's A team that had preceded them.

Nessler comes from college football, where they work at the job a lot harder, and he was smooth as silk as the play-by-play man. Vermeil and Jaworski? Well, it was like sitting in a team's film room watching a game with the coaches. Everything nailed perfectly on the first look, without benefit of replay, everything laid out without hype or cheapness. And the nuances they caught make you wonder why no one else can see these things.

Example: Randy Moss raises his arms in disgust because his quarterback, Aaron Brooks, has failed to see that he was open. And yes, he did look open at the time, and about 90 percent of network announcing teams would have pointed that out. Jaws nailed him in his tracks, telling us that the ball was already gone when cornerback Quentin Jammer dropped off his coverage on Moss, creating the impression that Randy was free. And Moss was merely doing a cheap trick to embarrass his QB. Yes! That's what is known as analysis.

Dick Vermeil (teaming with Bryant Gumbel) on NFL Network -- We saw him near the close of the season. I'm sorry it wasn't more often. How good? On just about every play you are told exactly what has happened ... "Griffith missed his block and Ware slipped in for the tackle" ... "Johnson didn't read the blocking and hit the wrong hole" ... "good job by DeAngelo Hall of getting a bump that disrupted the pattern." Everything on the first look. No hype, no hysterics, no plugging the superstars. Why can't they all do that? Because the production people really don't understand the excellence of this kind of work.

FOUR ****

Sam Rosen and Tim Ryan, FOX
Last year Rosen worked with Bill Maas, who has since fallen from grace and was an infrequent contributor this season. Ryan worked with Ron Pitts, who, unfortunately, had a weaker collection of partners in '06. But the chemistry was bound to be good when two guys who work as hard as these do were paired. I've always appreciated the way Rosen is meticulous in telling you exactly who is on the field. Ryan can break down the work of the front lines as few others can. I can find only two faults. At least in one of their games I saw (Jets-Lions), the production people kept coming in on the play after it started and driving your humble narrator nuts. And when they did Green Bay-Chicago they fell prey to a common disease, Favritis. You know, every pick comes with a copout ("That's just Brett trying to win," etc.), and for some reason the rest of their work gets eroded when the disease strikes. They straightened themselves out the following week.

Kenny Albert and Brian Baldinger, FOX
Baldy has the ability to make the people with him better. The best week I saw Pitts have was when he did the first St. Louis-Seattle game with Baldinger. I like the way Baldy challenges the obvious. When Torry Holt's touchdown put St. Louis ahead with 1:44 left, Baldy didn't share in the jubilation. "I hate to say this," he said, "but did they score too early?'' Right on. They certainly did. Seattle had enough time to storm back and win the thing.

Cris Collinsworth, NFL Network
Surprise, here's a wideout who understands line play, and defense, and just about everything else. He sees things on the first look, he's not afraid to challenge the beloved idols. So why doesn't he get the extra star? Because a few weeks of working with Bryant Gumbel almost broke him, and by Week 15 he was missing plays and getting wrong looks. And when the 49ers' tight end, Vernon Davis, pulled an idiot stunt, putting his foot on top of the pylon after scoring a TD, thereby costing his team 15 yards on the kickoff, Cris chimed in with, "What a great kid he is! We had a chance to sit down with him last night." Oy!

Someone in the network must have taken pity on what he was seeing, the destruction of a valuable human being, and by the wild-card playoffs they gave Collinsworth a solid pro to work with, Tom Hammond. And presto, he was back to his old self. "You don't throw a screen pass at non-rushers..." "They started in a man to man, but now they're back in a two-deep zone." Whew, that was close.

Marshall Faulk and Deion Sanders, NFL Network
At halftime of the Atlanta-Dallas game, Vermeil's voice went. Faulk and Sanders were snatched off the anchor desk and rushed into service. "I can't watch," I told The Flaming Redhead. But they were just terrific. "Didn't Vick see that Crumpler was open?" Gumbel said at one point. Both guys jumped him immediately. "He couldn't. He rolled to the other side." Everything just seemed so easy to them, so obvious. There was no fooling around, even from Deion, who seems like he's playing some sort of theatrical part when he's on the desk. "You can't throw a shoot pass against Hall," he said, when Tony Romo had messed up on a short throw. "You have to do it against a cornerback who's playing off his man."


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