2010 NFL Broadcasting Guide
Fox adds the first 'rules analyst' to its pregame and game coverage
ESPN's Jon Gruden says he'll be more critical in 2010
The NFLN's hiring of Theismann is as uninspiring as it is unoriginal
There is no programming more valuable in television than the National Football League. Last season an average of 16.6 million people watched regular season NFL games, which was 105 percent higher than the average primetime viewership (8.1 million) for the Big Four networks.
Each NFL broadcaster increased its numbers during the regular season from the previous year, from ESPN (up 20.2 percent) to NBC (16.7 percent) to Fox (12.4 percent) to CBS (6.1 percent) to the NFL Network (48.4). The robust ratings extended into the playoffs with a record 106.5 million watching the Saints beat the Colts in the Super Bowl on CBS, topping the previous alltime mark held by the 1983 finale of "M*A*S*H," which was seen by 106 million viewers.
"Looking at the TV landscape, if you had to pick out one property that you would place some money in terms of stability and consistency of ratings year after year, you would pick the NFL," said CBS Sports and News president Sean McManus. "There is no sport that translates as well to television."
But what about the people who bring you the league you love? Here's SI.com's NFL broadcasting guide to the 2010 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)
2. Greg Gumbel (play-by-play) and Dan Dierdorf (analyst)
3. Ian Eagle (play-by-play) and Dan Fouts (analyst)
4. Kevin Harlan (play-by-play) and Solomon Wilcots (analyst)
5. Gus Johnson (play-by-play) and Steve Tasker (analyst)
6. Bill Macatee (play-by-play and Rich Gannon (analyst)
7. Don Criqui (play-by-play) and Steve Beuerlein (analyst)
8. Spero Dedes (play-by-play) and Randy Cross (analyst)
In what should be an entertaining team for viewers, Eagle replaces Dick Enberg and will partner with the perennially underrated Fouts on the network's third team. Fouts has worked with some of the play-by-play giants of his era, including Enberg, Keith Jackson, Verne Lundquist, Al Michaels and Brent Musburger, and is the rare former star player with experience as a play-by-play broadcaster. He still calls college games for Sports USA.
"Dan understands all facets of broadcasting and that's rare," Eagle said. "Chemistry you can't force, but I've always thought my biggest strength is adjusting and bringing out the strength of my partners. In this day and age you are judged as a combo, and maybe now more than ever. It's not how I sound, how he sounds, it's how we sound together. Dan has a fun side and I think I can bring that levity out. And trust me, over a long season, that's important." (Eagle should know. He's the voice of the New Jersey Nets.)
Tasker moves up one spot from last season while Dedes, the 31-year-old television voice of the Los Angeles Lakers and a thoughtful game-caller, will be paired with Cross.
Same as it ever was. CBS traditionally preaches understated game coverage and pathologically avoids major shake-ups in talent. The network employs no sideline reporters and keeps the focus on the nuts and bolts of the game.
WHAT WE'D CHANGE
Here's a short definition of hilarious: Chris Rock; The Comedy Central Roast of William Shatner; Chappelle's Show. Of course, on The NFL Today, everything is hilarious based on the amount of laughter on the set. Yes, Sharpe and Esiason are occasionally funny, but given the levels of laughter emanating from pals Cowher and Marino, you'd think we were watching The Office. We're not. Dudes, please dial down the chuckle festival.
Last year viewers needed to watch ESPN's Adam Schefter or Fox Sports's Jay Glazer if they wanted info on Cowher's coaching status. That's embarrassing. Cowher occasionally referenced that he was not going to talk about any jobs during the regular season, and while one can respect Cowher for not wanting to provide specifics about potential future employers, it's hard to stomach his not confirming for viewers whether he did or did not meet with an NFL team. As I wrote last year, "Such a mild admission would be much better than joking off coaching-search questions with lame segues."
Bengals at Patriots (Sept. 12, 1 p.m.), Colts at Texans (Sept. 12, 1 p.m.) Ravens at Bengals (Sept. 19, 1 p.m.), Dolphins at Vikings (Sept. 19, 1 p.m.), Patriots at Jets (Sept. 19, 4:15 p.m.), Colts at Broncos (Sept. 26, 4:15 p.m.), Titans at Cowboys (Oct. 10, 4:15 p.m.), Dolphins at Packers (Oct. 17, 1 p.m.), Ravens at Patriots (Oct. 17, 1 p.m.), Bengals at Falcons (Oct. 24, 1 p.m.), Patriots at Chargers (Oct. 24, 4:15 p.m.), Titans at Chargers (Oct. 31, 4:05 p.m.), Dolphins at Ravens (Nov. 7, 1 p.m.), Bengals at Colts (Nov. 14, 1 p.m.), Colts at Patriots (Nov. 21, 4:15 p.m.), Bengals at Steelers (Dec. 12, 1 p.m.), Dolphins at Jets (Dec. 12, 4:15 p.m.), Jets at Steelers (Dec. 19, 4:15 p.m.), Dolphins at Patriots (Jan. 2, 1 p.m.), Bengals at Ravens (Jan. 2, 1 p.m.).
TRASH-TALKING THE COMPETITION
"I think we are primarily about the game on the field and I think we've tried to lessen the effect the announcers might have on the game. We've tried to stick to the basic fundamental coverage of the game itself. Not to say we don't have some really good personalities, but we really try to stick to basics more. I think week in and week out for the football fan and the casual viewer that plays very well." -- McManus
OBLIGATORY REX RYAN COMMENT
"For any coach, the most important thing is to be yourself, and I don't think there is any question Rex is the kind of guy players respect because he is very consistent with his message. When he says things, he is still very respectable. He respects the game. He certainly does not lack confidence but this is a football team that needed some. I think in a lot of respects it is refreshing to have a Rex Ryan in the NFL because he is being himself. The one thing you cannot do is be something you are not." -- Cowher
SI.com: Will we see you in broadcasting five years from now?
Cowher: I think it's conceivable but at the same time I am keeping my options open. I had a chance to go to a couple of training camps last year and watching the Super Bowl from the sidelines got my juices flowing. CBS has a family-like atmosphere and I came from one in Pittsburgh. I feel like in the right situation, I would entertain going back, but I feel fortunate and blessed that I am a part of it here at CBS."
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 (analyst), Ditka, Jackson, Johnson, Matt Millen (analyst), 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), Kolber (reporter), Tafoya (reporter).
"We're going to take it to the next level," said Monday Night Football producer Jay Rothman. And what exactly is the next level? "How we document the game level and how we use our technologies better to help break down the game," Rothman said. "We have a better understanding of each other. It's like a Broadway show. The more you work together, the more reps you have, the better you will be. This year will be hardcore football with an entertaining spin."
Along those lines Gruden says he will be more comfortable in his second year in the booth. "I kind of know the drill a little bit but I still feel nervous up here," he said. "I get into the game sometimes too much and forget I'm analyzing it. You have to be a great listener in a three-man booth. The real good analysts stay on line with what's being said up here. What I do well is I try to be myself and hopefully bring enthusiasm and legitimate excitement for every game. I try to be positive whether that's right or wrong. I try to see the good things going on here and call it like it is. I don't want to focus on the negative but I try to see things on the brighter side. And I try to be prepared."
Thankfully, ESPN has put an end to assigning Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic to its opening week NFL broadcast, a designation done clearly to promote the Mike & Mike brand above all. Brad Nessler and Dilfer will call Chargers-Chiefs on Sept. 13, which gives the always prepared Dilfer a chance to strut his stuff in front of a large audience.
Remarkably, the talent above has not changed from last year. Neither has the enthusiasm from ESPN executives for all things Gruden. "He's got the juice, man," said Rothman. "He's got just a unique ability to inform, educate, entertain. He's creative as hell. He looks at things differently. He's fun, energetic; he has the juice, and the glam factor. He's a rare bird, man. He raises the level of camera operators, replay folks, he gets people to perform."
WHAT WE'D CHANGE
This has been said in this space before, but Johnson tends to dominate Countdown far too much, especially since the set should be led by the measured and thoughtful opinions of Jackson.
"I see myself as a kind of a chameleon when it comes to the groupings that we've had, the changes that's we've had, and the adjustments that I've had to make over the years," Jackson said. "I know I started out closer to Boom [Chris Berman].... But I think I have effectively understood more and more about TV, and when more is less and less is more."
Berman remains a house organ for the NFL but Countdown is where he excels. We'd just like to see him comment as little as possible on issues of relevance because we can already get the same opinion from the NFL's communication department.
Schefter and Mortensen have increased their reach significantly via Twitter and it's odd that Paolantonio and Werder, both excellent reporters, have not done the same.
Lastly, Gruden's enthusiasm and knowledge of the game is enjoyable, but he does need to dial down the superlatives. "He's going to be more objective this year," Rothman predicted. "I think it's a goal of his. But to his credit, he's a positive person. I'll defend him by saying you'd see that if you are around him. He's not a negative guy. He's a not a downer or a naysayer. He doesn't want to be critical to create a headline. Yet he can be critical, and you saw that in his "QB Camp" and you'll see more of that."
Ravens at Jets (Sept. 13, 7 p.m.), Saints at Niners (Sept. 20, 8:30 p.m.), Packers at Bears (Sept. 27, 8:30 p.m.), Patriots at Dolphins (Oct. 4, 8:30 p.m.), Vikings at Jets (Oct. 11, 8:30 p.m.), Giants at Cowboys (Oct. 25, 8:30 p.m.), Steelers at Bengals (Nov. 8, 8:30 p.m.), Eagles at Redskins (Nov. 15, 8:30 p.m.), Jets at Patriots (Dec. 6, 8:30 p.m.), Saints at Falcons (Dec. 27, 8:30 p.m.).
TRASH-TALKING THE COMPETITION
"You know what? I think the guys that are calling our game are credible, they work their asses off and they are very much in the know. It's not just reading Internet clips or articles. Jon and Jaws watch every frame of tape and every play and analyze everything, and their analysis and opinions are based on what's on tape. They do read but it's not based on secondhand information. I just think we have two of the most credible guys and I believe our play by play guy is unmatched in terms of his knowledge and talent and how he steers the ship. We have a good thing going and we relish it. We never give up on games. We work until the clock hits zero." - Rothman
OBLIGATORY REX RYAN COMMENT
"I always had this thing about the football Gods. I told our teams that when you die you go to heaven and you watch football games. Acting like that, they'll strike you dead. There's a certain etiquette or sportsmanship we have all been taught since Day One. Don't give your opponent anything to put on a bulletin board. Obviously, this guy is who he is. He sticks to his guns and I do admire people who do that. But I can tell you that it motivates the guys I have talked with." -- Gruden
SI.com: The New York Times wrote that "Jon Gruden must learn to call a game as if he will never coach one again." Can you be critical of players and coaches?
Gruden: I think they want me to call the game and probably be more critical of the left guard or coach, the owners or the facilities. They want me to be more critical, to say the least. It might happen a little bit this year. I've been humiliated on sports radio and I've heard the negative comments, so I'm going to try to be critical the right way. I'm not going to beat a dead horse. There is a lot of negativity that surrounds every player, coach and GM in this league. I'm going to try not to pile on.
SI.com: You turned 47 on Aug. 17. Is it realistic to think that a 47-year-old with your success will never go back into coaching?
Gruden: I want to do this long enough where I can have Jay Rothman or [ESPN president] George Bodenheimer say, "You know, man, you are not good enough. We are going to go in another direction." I'd also like them to come down and say we'd like you to keep doing this. I've done nothing but coach. I want to do this long enough to see if I'm any good at it and if I really like it. But I'm not going to lie to anyone. I love coaching. I love teaching and being with players. And I miss it. But this is exciting and I get to be around guys, which scratches the itch."