2009 NFL Broadcasting Guide
John Madden's retirement caused domino effect in broadcasting industry
New faces in new places include Dan Fouts, Jon Gruden, Matt Millen
Broadcasting tandems for every network, plus more news and notes
NFL broadcasters are, by and large, a conservative lot. Studio analysts often stay in the same gig for a number of years. Same goes with the top broadcast teams outside of the occasional roster tweak or two for a just-retired player or a recently unemployed big-name coach.
But this offseason produced some seismic shifts in the NFL broadcast marketplace. And you can blame one very famous septuagenarian for that.
When John Madden surprised NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol last April with his decision to retire from broadcasting at 73, it set off a domino effect amongst a number of networks. NBC announced that Cris Collinsworth would replace Madden on its Sunday Night Football broadcast, and followed that move by hiring former Colts coach Tony Dungy and veteran NFL player Rodney Harrison for its Football Night in America studio show. With Collinsworth no longer available as an analyst for The NFL Network's eight-game broadcast package, the league-owned entity hired Matt Millen to replace him. ESPN also made a bold move with its signature NFL property: After three uneven years as an analyst-cum-raconteur on Monday Night Football, Tony Kornheiser was jettisoned for Jon Gruden, the telegenic former Tampa Bay coach.
"When you get somebody with the magnitude of John Madden retiring, that does set off some shock waves," said CBS Sports and News president Sean McManus. "There are a generation of football fans who grew up with John in their living room, and as great as some of the analysts are today, there will never be another John Madden. From an emotional, business and creative standpoint, it was one of those world-changing events that happens only once. But as we all know -- and as John would be the first to say -- what really is important in the end is the game."
True enough, but we're here to provide a breakdown of the good-hair folks who bring you the league you love. Below, SI.com offers an NFL broadcasting guide to the season.
The NFL Today -- James Brown (host) Bill Cowher (analyst), Boomer Esiason (analyst), Dan Marino (analyst), Shannon Sharpe (analyst), Charley Casserly (information), Sam Ryan (reporter) and Lesley Visser (reporter).
1. Jim Nantz (play-by-play) and Phil Simms (analyst)
The perennially underrated Dan Fouts, who played the straight man for Dennis Miller during their tenure on ABC's Monday Night Football, is given a more prominent role at CBS after 11 years with ABC as an NFL and college analyst. Fouts is that rare former star player with experience as a play-by-play broadcaster. (Two years ago, he called Pac-10 games.) His addition should help Dick Enberg, who remains elegant with his language but has understandably lost a step as a game-caller from his halcyon days.
The improving Solomon Wilcots will work with Kevin Harlan after partnering with Eagle last year. Randy Cross, who previously worked with Enberg, was demoted to a lower team. CBS is broadcasting the Super Bowl this season, so be prepared for an avalanche of publicity for Jim Nantz and Phil Simms come January.
CBS preaches stability and understated coverage. What's old is usually new. The network employs no sideline reporters and keeps its focus on the nuts and bolts of the game. You won't see Christian Slater in its booth. Jackie Slater is a possibility.
What We'd Change
The ridiculous amount of laughter on the set of The NFL Today. Shannon Sharpe is occasionally funny, but given the levels of laughter emanating from pals Bill Cowher, Boomer Esiason and Dan Marino, you'd think we're watching a Comedy Central Roast of William Shatner.
Patriots at Jets (Sept. 20, 1 p.m.) Steelers at Bears (Sept. 20, 4:15 p.m.), Ravens at Patriots (Oct. 4, 1 p.m.), Jets at Saints (Oct. 4, 4:05 p.m.), Patriots at Broncos (Oct. 11, 4:15 p.m.), Titans at Patriots (Oct. 18, 4:15 p.m.), Ravens at Vikings (Oct. 18, 1 p.m.), Texans at Colts (Nov. 8, 1 p.m.), Jets at Patriots (Nov. 22, 4:15 p.m.), Titans at Colts (Dec. 6, 1 p.m.), Chargers at Cowboys (Dec. 13. 4:15 p.m.), Ravens at Steelers (Dec. 27, 1 p.m.)
Trash-Talking The Opponents
"I think it is really a given that when they were doing the NFL together there has never been a better team than Pat Summerall and John Madden on NFL football. I think that is an unquestioned fact. And I like to think now that they are no longer together that the two guys that we have in the booth, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, really are carrying on that tradition of being the best in the NFL booth ... I'm proud to have Jim and Phil up in the booth also carrying on the great tradition that John and Pat set so amazingly well when they were with CBS all those years. -- McManus
Obligatory Brett Favre comment
"I think the Vikings would have had just as good a record with Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback as with Brett Favre. I think a lot of people underplay Jackson's ability ... He played very well down the end of the season last year ... You bring in a Brett Favre to the Jets because you're looking to win the playoff game. But when you look at the regular season, if the Jets would have kept Chad Pennington, I believe they would have won 10 games." -- Simms
Sunday NFL Countdown -- Chris Berman (co-host), Cris Carter (co-host), Mike Ditka (co-host) Tom Jackson (co-host), Keyshawn Johnson (co-host), Chris Mortensen (information/reporter), Adam Schefter (information/reporter), Bob Holtzman (reporter), Rachel Nichols (reporter), Wendi Nix (reporter), Sal Paolantonio (reporter), Michael Smith (reporter) and Ed Werder (reporter).
Monday Night Countdown -- Berman, Carter, Trent Dilfer, Ditka, Jackson, Johnson, Matt Millen, Mortensen, Stuart Scott (host), Steve Young (analyst), Suzy Kolber (reporter), Schefter and Michele Tafoya (reporter).
Monday Night Football -- Mike Tirico (play-by-play), Ron Jaworski (analyst) Jon Gruden (analyst)
The in-game focus on MNF has switched from a football-cum-entertainment-based broadcast to a heavy emphasis on X's and O's with the hire of Gruden. The former NFL coach has a chance to be very good, based on his preparation and personality. But Gruden is only 46 and it's hard to believe he'll stay out of the game for long.
"We are going to get back to basics, delivering hardcore X and O's football, which is what the fans want," said MNF executive producer Jay Rothman. "We have two dynamic football guys in Jaws and Jon Gruden to help deliver that." Matt Millen's Lions tenure was a disaster, but he was a terrific broadcaster at Fox and CBS prior to taking executive job. The hard-working Adam Schefter becomes one of the network's 7,200 NFL reporters. If his Twitter frequency is a predicator of future success, he'll be the greatest information guy since Thomas Paine.
With its cross-platform strategy and more staffers than most NFL teams, ESPN will continue to send waves of on-air people at the viewers. The core of its pregame show (Chris Berman, Mike Ditka, Tom Jackson, Keyshawn Johnson and Steve Young) remains the same. Chris Mortensen is at his best on Sunday mornings and Sal Paolantonio and Ed Werder have a long track record of solid reporting.
What's We'd Change
Tom Jackson's role. The network desperately wants to make Keyshawn Johnson the breakout star of the show. It's a mistake. Johnson isn't nearly the water-cooler provocateur ESPN thinks he is, and he takes air time away from Jackson, who regularly says thoughtful and thought-provoking things. You can't fake sincerity, and Jackson has it. We'd like to see him in the center chair on Sunday NFL Countdown, and we wish ESPN would also push him more externally. Trent Dilfer should get more prominence on ESPN's signature football shows. He'll be the best thing about Monday Night Countdown, which occasionally runs out of time for all its voices. .
All games start at 8:30 p.m. ET. Colts at Dolphins (Sept. 21), Packers at Vikings (Oct. 5), Falcons at Saints (Nov. 2), Steelers at Broncos (Dec, 9), Ravens at Packers (Dec. 7), Vikings at Bears (Dec, 28).
Trash-Talking The Opponents
"I think we have the most comprehensive studio shows, and what I think are the best studio shows." -- Stephanie Druley, senior coordinating producer for NFL studio shows.
Obligatory Brett Favre comment
"Well, I think anytime you have a veteran quarterback with 10, 12, 14 years of history in the same offense, where he has been to two Super Bowls and multiple MVPs, Pro Bowls, I think it only helps. He will be a better leader, teammate and coach on the field because of that. Those are all huge winning edges in huge games." -- Gruden.