2011 NFL Broadcasting Guide (Cont.)
Sunday NFL Countdown -- Chris Berman (host), Cris Carter (analyst), Mike Ditka (analyst) Tom Jackson (analyst), Keyshawn Johnson (analyst), Chris Mortensen (information/reporter), Bill Parcells (analyst) Adam Schefter (information/reporter), Josina Anderson (reporter), Bob Holtzman (reporter), Rachel Nichols (reporter), Sal Paolantonio (reporter), and Ed Werder (reporter).
Monday Night Countdown -- Berman, Carter, Trent Dilfer (analyst), Ditka, Jackson, Johnson, Mortensen, Stuart Scott (host), Steve Young (analyst), Suzy Kolber (reporter), and Schefter.
Monday Night Football -- Mike Tirico (play-by-play), Ron Jaworski (analyst), Jon Gruden (analyst), Kolber (reporter).
Parcells returns for his third stint with the network. He was previously an analyst in 2002 (Sunday NFL Countdown) and 2007 (Monday Night Countdown). He's interesting television, and it's always fun to watch his ESPN on-air colleagues kiss his butt at every turn. "Bill makes us better every time he's here," says Seth Markman, ESPN's senior coordinating producer for the NFL. "He'll be a major part of the Sunday show. He's got a unique perspective as someone who has coached successfully in this league for many years and then moved into the front office. In my time in the business, there is nobody that knows more football than him."
Anderson will be stationed in Chicago, so if the Bears have a good year, ESPN will be in very good position in that market. Reporters Wendy Nix and Michael Smith have moved to other assignments. Matt Millen will now focus on college football.
The long-tenured Michele Tafoya moved to NBC to join Sunday Night Football.
Dilfer is going to get more airtime and that's an excellent thing for viewers. From this corner, he's an excellent, well-prepared analyst. "Trent Dilfer is a rising star in the business and I needed to clear a place for him to have a bigger role on our NFL coverage," Markman said. "I thought putting him and Steve Young together -- they have a history together and are two quarterbacks that are really opinionated and smart but see the world very differently -- would create some memorable television at the site each week. I think after the game on SportsCenter, these guys will be off-the-chart debating decisions, quarterback play and everything that happens in games. I think adding Trent is the biggest deal regarding losing Matt or Michele."
Look for Paolantonio to get plenty of airtime with the Eagles if a major storyline develops this season.
Worth noting here is ESPN also added Hugh Douglas, Eric Mangini, Jerry Rice and Damien Woody as analysts this fall. They'll appear across the ESPN platforms on programs such as NFL Live, SportsCenter and ESPN's Audibles.
The Monday Night booth has established continuity with its current team. While I think Gruden is ridiculously over-the-top with his effusiveness for NFL players and coaches, I enjoy that guy's enthusiasm for football and I think he sees the game very well for an analyst. This column is no fan of Berman and he's long been a de facto PR staffer for the NFL. But I'll always give him his due as a highlight reader. Few have done it better in history.
WHAT CAN BE IMPROVED
ESPN's access is a double-edged sword: It provides a lot of opinions and tonnage, and much of that is good. But with so many platforms, we're also inundated with plenty of nonsense peddling from analysts who often engage in a can-you-top-this game. "The last few years, the one area I wanted to focus on was getting a little bit back on the field," said Markman. "Some of it was the last few years there were so many off-the-field stories that it took us in a lot of different directions. When I looked at the shows, I found that we could do a better job of getting people ready for their games. If that means being a little more Xs and Os this year, then I think we can do that."
That Kolber doesn't tweet from the sidelines is a serious missed opportunity for Monday Night Football. It makes zero sense and ESPN looks behind the curve here with its competitors.
More Tom Jackson is always supported here. Too often he gets lost amid Carter and Johnson's over-the-top declarations.
Patriots at Dolphins (Sept. 12, 7 p.m.), Colts at Bucs(Oct. 3, 8:30 p.m.), Chargers at Chiefs (Oct. 31, 8:30 p.m.), Bears at Eagles (Nov. 7, 8:30 p.m.), Vikings at Packers (Nov. 21, 8:30 p.m.), Chiefs at Patriots (Nov. 21, 8:30 p.m.), Giants at Saints (Nov. 28, 8:30 p.m.), Falcons at Saints (Dec. 26, 8:30 p.m.)
TRASH TALKING THE COMPETITION
"Honestly, I think all the networks do a good job. But I would say that we are the most comprehensive of all the networks... For Sunday Countdown, we think of ourselves as the ultimate pregame show to get you ready for the game. At the end of two hours, I guarantee your team will be mentioned in that show if they are playing on that day. We take that very seriously. We don't want fans to watch our show and say I can't believe they didn't mention our team."
OBLIGATORY EAGLES COMMENT
"It started with Andy putting together his staff. He made some changes where people were like, "Wow, they made their offensive line coach [Juan Castillo] their defensive line coach?" They also brought in Howard Mudd out of retirement to coach the offensive line and Jim Washburn is a lifer D-line coach. They made some noise with their coaching staff and nobody was more active in free agency. Then giving Vick $100 million, it's eye-peeling seeing the money they have spent and some of the radical changes they've made on their team. Can they come together with a shortened offseason because of the lockout? Can they bring in all these changes, from the coaching staff to the signing of blue chip players, fast enough to dominate like people expected? That's the big question." -- Gruden
SI.com: You recently hired former Browns and Jets coach Eric Mangini as an analyst for a number of programs. Mangini was restrictive with the press during his tenure. How should ESPN weigh an NFL coach or player's relationship the with press when considering him for an NFL analyst job?
Markman: To be honest with you, it's not really a factor. I'm part of the media. Am I frustrated at times when coaches or players limit access? Absolutely. But my number one responsibility is to put the best people on the shows to serve our viewers. So when I met with Eric Mangini and auditioned him, and interviewed him and heard what he would bring to our viewers, I can't let it become a personal decision on how he treated me or the media.
When Bill [Parcells] worked here, I had an unbelievable relationship with him, as close a relationship as anyone I've worked with. When he goes back and coaches teams, he treats me just like everyone else, and I get that. That is how he handles his business as a coach. Mangini was schooled that way, too. Just like Bill Belichick. I would be crazy if Bill Belichick retired as the head coach of the Patriots and said, "I want to work for you on ESPN" and I said, "Because you were never that accessible to us at ESPN, I don't want to hire you." It's vindictive. My goal is to give the viewers the best possible information, analysis and opinions from experts.
BURNING QUESTION 2
SI.com: Over the past two seasons, you've been remarkably good at identifying under-the-radar teams that are about to have huge seasons. Who do you like this year?
Gruden: My sleeper team to do some serious damage -- and I do like the Saints if [defensive tackles] Aubrayo Franklin and Shaun Rogers are healthy -- I really like the Houston Texans. I think this is their year. There is something going on there that is very interesting. They are explosive on offense. We know that. But I think the additions they have made on defense, from Wade Phillips to their first round draft choice of J.J. Watt to some free agent acquisitions, I think they can dominate the AFC South.
BURNING QUESTION 3
SI.com: How would you assess where you are as a broadcaster, and how do you respond to criticism that you fall in love with players too easily?
Gruden: I've had people tell me you don't want to be too positive all the time, you want to be more critical. I've had people tell me that I am trying to set up my next job. That's not true. I am enthusiastic about the game. It's like golf: Every shot makes someone happy. I just want to do a better job listening and telling the story as I see it. I don't have time to worry about all the critiques. I feel like I am preparing as hard as I can. If you listen to the broadcast, I would not agree that I fall in love with everybody. But I do want to be enthusiastic and I am fired up to be up there on Monday Night Football. It's an electric atmosphere.
RATINGS LOVE: Last year's Monday Night Football broadcast averaged 14.7 million viewers over 17 telecasts, the most-watched cable series for a fifth consecutive year. The Saints-Falcons finale on Dec. 27 averaged 19.1 million viewers to rank as the most watched cable program of 2010.
MUST FOLLOW ON TWITTER
Football Night In America -- Bob Costas (host), Dan Patrick (co-host), Tony Dungy (analyst), Rodney Harrison (analyst), Mike Florio (information), Peter King (reporter and SI.com football writer).
Sunday Night Football -- Al Michaels (play-by-play), Cris Collinsworth (analyst) and Michele Tafoya (sideline reporter).
The defense will get some love. NBC will do an in-game feature titled "Crossing the Line," which will offer a series of plays from the defense's view. Fred Gaudelli, the producer of Sunday Night Football, said one of the things he and Collinsworth have wanted to do the last couple of years was to show a series from the defense's point of view. "Each play in a football game is covered from the offense's point of view, so we wanted to to take a series, for both teams ideally, and do it from the other point of view," Gaudelli said. "Not that we will show the angle of the play from a different angle, but instead of focusing on the offense, we'll really try to do it from the defense. I think they've been neglected by television."
Look for more chatter between Florio and King, especially Florio. Much of NBC's web strategy is driven by Florio's Pro Football Talk, so the television arm is going to do everything possible to feature him on all things NFL. Florio and King are also joining forces for a show on VERSUS this fall. "The thing we can do better is take more advantage of Peter King and Mike Florio," said NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood. "We've created a new set for these guys so they can get more information onto the show in a better fashion. It's a big improvement from where we were"
Worth noting is a couple of viewers wrote in during the preseason to say that they worried Florio and King would become a modern-day version of Sean Salisbury and John Clayton. Viewers immediately see through the faux-fight nonsense. I don't expect NBC to go down this route.
The network replaced Kremer with Tafoya on the sideline. How will she impact the broadcast? "I don't know that it affects anything," Gaudelli said. "The fact that Al and [director] Drew [Esocoff] and I have great familiarity with Michele makes it an easy addition. Look, Michele hosts a four-hour radio show every day in Minnesota, so the conversationalist in her is as good with anyone doing her job. She knows how to talk to an audience because she does it every day for four hours a day. I don't know if an audience will pick up on that but she is very at ease when speaking to the audience."
NBC will broadcast the Super Bowl this season so you'll see plenty of promotion toward's the year's concluding moment.
Gaudelli said as soon as the first half ends, the NBC scoreboard will flash to which team is getting football in the second half. It's something he regretted not doing when NBC broadcast the Super Bowl in 2009.
After the Keystone Kops manner in which NBC Sports handled Keith Olbermann's departure before the 2010 season, the pregame show has developed a nice rhythm with Patrick, Dungy and Harrison. Michaels and Collinsworth enter their third year together in the booth as John Madden's retirement has long faded from view. Having Costas and Collinsworth interact at the game site provides value for viewers. Both are thoughtful and prepared.
How can a pregame show draw traction with viewers competing against live games? "I've learned that we have to be smarter and be able to tell people why things have happened throughout the day," said Flood. "And the key to that is having the right people to be able to tell those stories."
WHAT CAN BE IMPROVED
Dungy has proved more provocative than expected and should get even more airtime. Tafoya is smart and opinionated. I'd like to see her as part of the pregame show conversation with Costas and Collinsworth.
Saints at Packers (Sept. 8, 8:30 p.m.), Cowboys at Jets (Sept. 11, 8:20 p.m.), Eagles at Falcons (Sept. 18, 8:20 p.m.), Jets at Ravens (Oct. 2, 8:20 p.m.), Packers at Falcons (Oct. 9, 8:20 p.m.), Colts at Saints (Oct. 23, 8:20 p.m.), Cowboys at Eagles (Oct. 30, 8:20 p.m.), Ravens at Steelers (Nov. 6, 8:20 p.m.), Patriots at Jets (Nov. 13, 8:20 p.m.), Colts at Patriots (Dec. 4, 8:20 p.m.), Giants at Cowboys (Dec. 11, 8:20 p.m.), Bears at Packers (Dec. 25, 8:20 p.m.)
TRASH-TALKING THE OPPONENTS
"When it comes to Al and Cris, I really believe there is not anyone else who does it as well as those two do it. I don't think anyone approaches their level. If you are going to say that we are the best, and you are asking me why I'd support that notion, I would say because of Al and Cris." -- Gaudelli
OBLIGATORY EAGLES COMMENT
"Seeing what Michael Vick has gone through and the way he has handled up until this point has been a fantastic story. However, I think now the pressure comes on him. He has his contract, everything is going good in his life. Can he keep the same humble spirit that he has? Can he continue to avoid the negativity and dark side off the field? Because now, this is when the pressure comes from his friends, family members, from people on the street, old people that he used to hang out with. The pressure comes now because they see the $100 million advertised on television...Now is really where's he's going to be tested. Now he has a contract, he has the fame, and when you have that, you have a tendency to relax and put your guard down. Hopefully, he can continue to stay focused and not get caught up in the dark side." -- Harrison
BURNING QUESTION 1
SI.com: How will Albert Haynesworth do this season for New England?
Harrison: I think they sat down with Albert and told him: "Look, Albert, this is your last chance. You are playing on the Patriots." If [Bill] Belichick can't straighten this guy out, no one will ever touch him again. If Albert is in shape and healthy, I think he can be a very productive player. But he will never be the player that he was in Tennessee.
BURNING QUESTION 2:
SI.com: Where does your comfort level now stand as a broadcaster, and do you see yourself doing this for the longterm?
Dungy: I do see myself doing this for the longterm. I really enjoy our group and I have a lot of fun. As for my comfort level, I would say my first year on a scale to 100, it was probably a 5. Last year, it was maybe 30. I'd say this year is probably 75 to 80. Since being with Rodney and Dan over the last two years, we now kind of understand each other, how we like do things ,and who has a feel on certain things. I'm enjoying it tremendously. Hopefully, I'm there a long time."
RATINGS LOVE: NBC's Sunday Night Football was the most-watched primetime show last fall, averaging 21.8 million viewers. It was the first time a sports series topped the primetime ratings, and the show was the No. 1 show all 18 nights it appeared last season.
MUST FOLLOW ON TWITTER: Tafoya's feed @tafoyashow) is a mix of everything under the sun. Which we like. Obviously, we recommend Florio's Pro Football Talk feed @profootballtalk). That's a must for NFL fans.