Sports

Firn ’16: Ranking the NFL’s TV broadcast teams

By
Sports Columnist
Friday, September 25, 2015

After many months of hibernation, America’s sport is finally back in action. Once again, air pressure takes a back seat to touchdowns. Once again, Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays are football days. Once again, Al Michaels and Jim Nantz are important people in my life.

Broadcasters are the voices and faces of TV programs starring men who grunt behind masks. The human brain is wired to connect images to sound, and these guys are the interpreters. They input the chaos on the field and spin it into a narrative that fans can easily digest alongside a beer. The good ones are expressive, insightful and informative. The bad ones are cliched, inane and rambling. The good ones strike a balance between entertaining and calling a football game. The bad ones just get in the way.

Like it or not, broadcast teams play a prominent role in the NFL fan experience. So while the analysts sit in the booth and rank the teams, I sit at my desk and rank the rankers. Below is a worst-to-first breakdown of the lead broadcast teams of the four major NFL TV networks.

4. Fox — Joe Buck, Troy Aikman

For Fox’s top duo, experience matters. This pair has been together longer than any other on this list, and it shows in their camaraderie. They are as steady as they come. You know exactly what you’re getting with Buck and Aikman.

Unfortunately, what you’re getting isn’t very exciting. Buck’s commentary is quick and reliable, but it’s also smug and monotone. Aikman’s analysis is focused and on-point, but it’s also superficial and redundant. These guys are rarely wrong and rarely offensive. No one sticks more to the script.

Stating the obvious only gets you so far. They won’t make you mute the TV, and they won’t try to steal the show, but they also won’t excite you or teach you anything new.

3. CBS — Jim Nantz, Phil Simms

Together since 2004, this pair is the second-longest tenured of the bunch. The strength of the CBS broadcast starts with the golden voice of Nantz. Sure, sometimes it feels as if I’m watching golf rather than football, but Nantz has the smoothest delivery in the business. His commentary is cool and collected, but when fireworks fly, he knows how to get the people going.

Too often, though, Nantz’s even-keeled play-by-play is undermined by Simms’ erratic analysis. His rambling drivel and frequent verbal crutches are at best comical and at worst unbearable. His antics have even spawned a Twitter account devoted to tracking his most ridiculous quotes.

I want Jim Nantz to narrate my life. But if Simms is beside him saying things like “If you’re gonna blitz, you’re a blitzing team,” I don’t always want to hear him call a football game.

2. ESPN — Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden

Yes, Tirico can be a bit bland. Yes, Gruden can be a bit goofy. But no team is more entertaining. Tirico’s play-by-play provides the steady, unspectacular yin to Gruden’s off-the-wall yang. In a world full of Bucks and Aikmans, ESPN’s broadcast is refreshing and unique. Gruden’s ear-to-ear smile does sometimes venture into absurd caricature, but he consistently balances it with the sharp insight of a former NFL coach. This team accomplishes the tricky task of entertaining while also informing.

1. NBC — Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth

Simply put, this team is the gold standard. Al Michaels is the voice of the NFL. It’s hard to say anything bad about Michaels after 29 years in the booth. His play-by-play is unparalleled — crisp, original and packed with insight.

Cris Collinsworth is not the legend that his partner is. He always seems to deliver a few nonsensical head-scratchers per game, but he also adds more value with his football acumen than any other color commentator. Collinsworth picks up on intricacies that are only perceptible to a league veteran and breaks them down in relatable ways that casual fans can appreciate. If there’s a criticism of NBC’s duo, it’s that sometimes they gush over a certain player or story. But at the end of the day, it’s Michaels and Collinsworth I want calling the biggest games of the year.

Announcers are often easy targets for sulking fans. It’s hard not to ruffle a few feathers in a job that requires you to speak objectively to millions of partisans. It’s a lot easier to poke and prod the guy announcing your team’s loss than to admit that your team sucks.

Some broadcasters are good. Some are bad. Some are forgettable. Some are unforgettable for the wrong reasons. Here’s hoping that NBC secures the rights to all future Super Bowls.

Mike Firn ’16 does his textbook readings in Jim Nantz’s voice. Contact him at michael_firn@brown.edu.

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