Decade in sports broadcasting
The versatile Bob Costas is SI.com's best broadcaster of the decade
Dan Shulman is a smooth play-by-play man in multiple sports, on TV and radio
Other decade standouts: Doris Burke, Mary Carillo and James Brown
So many years, so much noise. Here's our best and worst of the decade in sports broadcasting.
Bob Costas (NBC, HBO, MLB Network). There is no harder job in sports broadcasting than hosting an Olympic Games, a gig that requires equal parts geopolitical expert, historian, traffic cop and journalist. Over the course of the decade, whether manning the action from Sydney, Salt Lake, Athens, Turin or Beijing, hosting his thoughtful HBO shows (Costas Now, On The Record), commenting on baseball for MLB Network or providing host duties at events such as the Kentucky Derby or NHL Winter Classic, Costas has aspired to raise the level of sports discourse to a smarter place.
Best national play-by-play announcer
THE PICK: Dan Shulman (ESPN and ESPN Radio). While he might not have the same cachet as Al Michaels, Jim Nantz or Joe Buck, Shulman is the best national play-by-play announcer today. He is exceptional at multiple sports (NBA and MLB), and he and his baseball partner, Dave Campbell, form as splendid a duo as there is on radio. As ESPN's lead announcer, Shulman has made Dick Vitale palatable (at times) and deserves an award for that alone. The guy is a pro's pro.
RUNNER-UP: Al Michaels (NBC and ABC). The dominant voice during the decade in the nation's most popular sport, Michaels has smoothly partnered with John Madden (on two networks) and Cris Collinsworth. He remains at the top of his craft.
Best game analyst
THE PICK: Mary Carillo (ESPN, CBS, Tennis Channel, NBC, HBO). Honest, thoughtful and always prepared, Carillo has excelled in a sport that far too often soft-pedals commentary because of the many conflicts of interests and relationships. She provides a reporter's eye in the booth. The trio of Carillo, John McEnroe and Robinson is one of the best teams in any sport.
NFL: Troy Aikman (Fox), Cris Collinsworth (Fox, NBC), Boomer Esiason (Westwood One) Ron Jaworski (ESPN), John Madden (Fox, ABC, NBC)
Best studio host
THE PICK: James Brown (CBS and Fox). Arguably the most ego-free sports broadcaster on the air, Brown manned Fox's successful NFL pregame show for years before joining CBS in 2005 and making that show more relevant, both in content and the ratings. The broadcaster has a unique ability to defer to talent sitting around him.
RUNNER-UP: Chris Fowler (ESPN). Whether hosting Australian Open coverage or discussing Alabama-Auburn on the College GameDay set, Fowler offers competence and a steady hand for viewers.
HONORABLE MENTION: Rece Davis (ESPN), Bryant Gumbel (HBO), Greg Gumbel (CBS), Ernie Johnson (TNT), Bob Ley (ESPN), Jim Nantz (CBS), Karl Ravech (ESPN), Trey Wingo (ESPN).
Best studio team
THE PICK: Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith (TNT's Inside the NBA). The group redefined the notion that a studio show had to be scripted. Along with terrific chemistry and a steady hand in the uber-professional Johnson, Barkley has been the decade's most provocative studio broadcaster, a man with no filter and enough cash and ego not to worry about offending people.
RUNNER-UP: Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso (College GameDay). Flip a coin with Inside the NBA. This could easily have been the top choice.
HONORABLE MENTION: Fox NFL Sunday with Terry Bradshaw, Cris Collinsworth and Howie Long; Fox NFL Sunday with Bradshaw, Long and Jimmy Johnson; ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown (Chris Berman, Tom Jackson and Ron Jaworski as the principals); ESPN's Mel Kiper (ESPN) and the network's draft coverage; The NFL Network's Mike Mayock and the network's draft coverage.
Best sideline reporter
THE PICK: Doris Burke (ESPN). Here's what I want from my sideline reporters: 1. Perceptive questions. 2. Reporting I can't get elsewhere. 3. Insight into what I'm watching. 4. General competence. I'd like to thank Burke for providing all of this during the decade.
RUNNER-UP: Pam Oliver (Fox). She refuses to accept b.s. answers from her subjects.
HONORABLE MENTION: Jeannine Edwards (ESPN), Armen Keteyian (CBS), Andrea Kremer (NBC, ESPN), Roger Maltbie (NBC), Chris Myers (Fox), Dottie Pepper (NBC/Golf Channel), Judy Rankin (ABC/Golf Channel), Craig Sager (TNT/TBS), Lisa Salters (ESPN), Michelle Tafoya (ESPN).
Best national radio host
THE PICK: Bob Kemp, Sporting News Radio. Kemp now works afternoons at The Fan 1060-AM in Phoenix, but at the beginning of the decade he was the overnight host for Sporting News Radio, an informed host who backed opinion with knowledge and a healthy lack of shtick. Bob Valvano does a nice overnight weekend show for ESPN Radio and his colleague Jason Smith seems like a nice guy, but we've been waiting for a national overnight show to replace the juice of Kemp since he left Sporting News in 2002.
RUNNER-UP: Chuck Wilson (ESPN Radio through 2005, XM Radio until November 2008). Still befuddling why ESPN Radio would get rid of a guy universally liked by critics and listeners.
HONORABLE MENTION: Colin Cowherd, Steve Czaban, Mike Greenberg, Dan Patrick, Jeff Rickard, Jim Rome, Scott Van Pelt.
Best sports show
THE PICK: Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel (HBO). Over the past decade Real Sports (full disclosure: it has partnered with Sports Illustrated on certain stories and employs SI's Frank Deford) has produced exceptional sports journalism year after year. An August 2008 episode featuring a Bernard Goldberg-fronted piece on dogfighting's underworld; Gumbel's interview with a not-so-contrite Adam (Pacman) Jones; Kremer's sit-down with then-Broncos receiver Javon Walker on the death of teammate Darrent Williams; and Carillo's compelling behind-the-scenes look at the marriage of Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi was the best hour of sports television in the 2000s.
RUNNER-UP: Outside the Lines (ESPN). The Bob Ley-generaled program consistently produces outstanding television sports journalism.
THE PICK: Perfect Upset: The 1985 Villanova vs. Georgetown NCAA Championship (HBO, 2005). Perfectly told the story of Nova's unlikely run to hoops immortality by setting up the two protagonists against the backdrop of the big-money, cocaine-fueled, Morning-in-America 1980s.
RUNNER-UP: Do You Believe In Miracles? The Story of the 1980 U.S. Hockey Team (HBO, 2001): Particularly great were the interviews with the Russian players 20 years after the Miracle at Lake Placid.
Best news feature on a sports program
THE PICK: In 2004, HBO's Inside the NFL produced a heartbreaking examination of the late former Dolphins quarterback David Woodley, who died penniless at age 44. He was buried in an unmarked plot in a Shreveport, La. It was riveting television. Full marks to producer Jason Hehir for a remarkable piece of television journalism.
RUNNER-UP: Long-form features have always been an ESPN strength, and two Outside the Lines pieces from 2008 deserve to be revisited here. The first was a terrific piece on Pennsylvania prep baseball player John Challis, a beautifully filmed and written tribute about a young man lost before his time. Then there was a feature on Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, an alleged Russian mobster under indictment for fixing two skating competitions in the 2002 Olympics, including the pairs figure skating title in which the Russian team of Eelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze was initially awarded a gold medal over the Canadian duo of Jamie Sale and David Pelletier. Tremendous work.
Best talent fight of the decade
Phil Simms (CBS) vs. Steve Young (ESPN). After Young, an analyst for ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown, suggested Bucs quarterback Chris Simms may have grown up soft in a "laissez-faire kind of atmosphere" and didn't have "the mental toughness to deal with the information overload that comes with the NFL," Papa Simms responded. "There's one thing I know my son doesn't lack, it's toughness," Simms said. "He didn't grow up in a laissez-faire atmosphere, far from it. Come to my house, live around with me and let's see how laissez-fare it is. ... You know, Steve, follow football more than one day a week and you might know some of those answers." Young later clarified that his remarks were more about athletes of Chris Simms' generation.
The Berman videos. The sports world owes the editors of Deadspin a debt of gratitude for archiving these.