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Don't believe the TV network hype
Posted: Thursday October 08, 1998 03:41 PM
Did I ever tell you about my war with network TV? About how tough it is to find the truth amid the barrels of hype and inaccuracy these people dump on you? No? Well, let me count the ways:
First of all, I don't hold the announcers totally responsible for this. Were they permitted to get a clean read on the action in front of them, they'd be infinitely more accurate and tuned-in to what is really happening, but into their earphones comes a steady barrage of instructions: Promo the QB, Concentrate on the secondary, Use that feature piece on so and so, etc., etc.
How do I know this? Because I once did it. Third man in the booth for NBC one season. I was a disaster, at least that's what the critics said. Argumentative, borderline hysterical, almost totally out of controlthat's me, folks. I got into a big argument with Bob Trumpy during a Steelers game. On air. Then they pulled the plug on me. Then they canned me. That's baseball.
But my time in the booth did teach me one thing: Hype and promotion are infinitely more important than accuracy. So why does it bug me so much when I hear the slipshod work these people do? Only because I realize how easy it would be to correct the problems and present clean, well-thought-out analysis. But it seems to be a very low priority with the networks, and occasionally, when I run into someone involved in production and I mention my gripes, there is an embarrassed shuffling of the feet, and a glance over the shoulder, and a muttered, "That's for the purists. Who really cares?"
Well, I do. Fans do. They're a lot smarter than people think. Ask them who they think really does a good job analyzing the action and they'll mention Phil Simms and Matt Millen andif they pay attention to what he really says and ignore the hoo-hahJerry Glanville. And occasionally Joe Theismann. And Ron Pitts, except that he works such obscure games that no one hears him. And, when he's not getting blitzed by his compatriots in the booth, Boomer Esiason.
The rest of them? Shills, basically.
Am I being too hard on these people? Probably. But I watch eight games a week, and some of the stuff just gets to me.
The Esiason syndrome is the most interesting. He likes to get away from the clichés. He tries to tell you what's really happening out there. I particularly like it when he takes heavy shots at junk football, such as the fake short-yardage situation, when the offense tries to draw the defense offside. What does he get for his efforts? He gets hammered.
Last Monday, during the Green Bay-Minnesota game, Dan Dierdorf attacked him most viciously. It was ugly. What was Boomer's crime? He threw out this question: Since Randall Cunningham is playing the best quarterback in the NFL, is it not logical to retain him as a starter, even when Brad Johnson returns? I've wondered this myself. But Dierdorf positively massacred him, on air, for the observation.
Dierdorf, you have to understand, is the poet laureate of the Establishment, the NFL's Colonel Blimp. Suggest anything a trifle offbeat and this guy will be your enemy. And it's no fun in the booth having two guysAl Michaels being the type of person who drifts with the tidetaking shots at you. I wonder what's going to happen here, whether Boomer will crumbleremembering the way people such as O.J. Simpson and Fred Williamson were run out of the ABC boothor whether he'll retain his feistiness. I almost feel like writing him a letter: "Don't let them break you, Boomer!"
And where do the networks get their spotters from? They run a graphic on the starters, but then when the teams line up for the first snap, there are different people on the field. Not a word. It's like this never happened. An offense begins the game in a three-wideout package, the defense counters with a nickel, and it's all ignored. One word from the spotter will correct this. Forget about the announcers. Unless they're told, they usually don't have a clue as to who's on the field. But accuracy is a very low priority here.
Superstars are highlighted, whether or not they're deserving. People who aren't household names make a play, and they're ignored, as if they're unworthy.
Cincy-Baltimore Sunday nighter. Roosevelt Potts, the Ravens' fullback, is having a career game. He's blocking everything with a heartbeat. He's the reason Priest Holmes is running wild. Who gets the credit? Jonathan Ogden, the All-Pro left tackle. On Holmes's first TD Potts has knocked off two defenders, and both wideouts have executed successful crackbacks. Who do the cameras isolate on? Ogden, looking for someone to block downfield, groping, floundering, getting all the praise, even though the picture clearly shows that he's done zero. He's an All-Pro, see, and that's what people such as Paul Maguire understand.
I saw something very interesting when Arizona played Philly, also on Sunday night. The Cards went into a five-man defensive line. That's five down linemen, five guys with high numbers. What this produced was an overmatch, with the running back trying to block Simeon Rice, the end man, who steamrollered the guy and smashed into Bobby Hoying, disrupting the play. On TV, they replayed this, concentrating on the offensive left tackle, Tra Thomas, the No. 1 draft choice, with Maguire mentioning something about how he held Rice out long enough, etc. Of course, Thomas wasn't blocking Rice at all, he was blocking the guy inside Riceand holding him out, while all the damage was done out of the range of the replay camera.
Cards vs. Raiders the previous Sunday. Randy Cross gives Rice credit for pressuring the QB into a misfire. Harvey Williams, a halfback, is blocking Rice, and, of course, it's no contest. Why is a halfback blocking a DE? No reason given. What has really happened is that Mark Smith, a very underrated defensive tackle, has grabbed the shirt of the guy who should have been blocking Rice, Raiders LT Pat Harlowwho you can see screaming to the officialsthereby keeping him off Rice, who sails in over the halfback.
These are the little cat-and-mouse things that make football so intriguing, and if I can see them, with my tired old eyes, why can't the network announcers? How many plays like this, which really add the grace notes to the game and make it infinitely more interesting, are ignored? Too many to count. It's depressing.
Does anybody really care, or is it all hunky-dory as long as the supers keep getting hyped? Well, I care. Call me a purist.
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