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Was ESPN fair to Derek Anderson?; NFL pregame misses

Forever chronicled on YouTube with the rest of the memorable postgame meltdowns in NFL history, Cardinals quarterback Derek Anderson lashed out recently atArizona Republic reporter Kent Somers after Somers asked why Anderson had been laughing with lineman Deuce Lutui during the fourth quarter of a blowout loss t the Niners.

What prompted the question from Somers? ESPN's Monday Night Football cameras had captured Anderson laughing with Lutui, which prompted pointed criticism from MNF analyst Jon Gruden. (Worth noting is Somers also received texts and emails from viewers who had seen the footage).For NFL broadcasters, it raised an interesting question: Is everything that happens fair game for the cameras, and how far should announcers go with analysis of things they can't hear? I side in the camp that the cameras should be the eyes for fans at home and MNF had every right to show Anderson. But whether Gruden was fair with his criticism without knowing the conversation is open to debate. SI.com contacted Gruden and Monday Night Football producer Jay Rothman to weigh in on the subject.

"It is our job to document the game and part of that are the emotions and things that go on, not just on the field," Rothman said. "It is not our intention to dig dirt. Just have you've seen Tom Brady riling up his team on the bench, we're there to document the game, be it on the field or sidelines. In the case of Derek Anderson, it is unusual to see that type of emotion. It appeared to us -- not knowing the context -- to be down [by 18 points] in the game and with the game and season on the line, it seemed odd.

"Relative to my mind in the truck, some of the quarterbacks that we cover, be it Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees or Philip Rivers and on and on, it was just unusual to see that emotion. As far as what Jon said, Jon did preface it by saying we don't know what they are talking about. However, as a coach, Jon gave you an opinion from his point of view based on what we showed them from the truck. I think it was Anderson's reaction in the postgame conference from a local writer that elicited that reaction. That situation blew it out of proportion."

Rothman is right that had Anderson not blown up, the story would have had less juice. But it was Rothman's cameras that ignited the fuse that led to the postgame questions. Gruden did not trash Anderson in full -- he said that he thought the game bothered Anderson -- but was clear with his criticism (which is ironic, given one of the main criticisms of Gruden is that he falls in love with football players at the same rate Elizabeth Taylor did with leading men).

"My comment was based on the entire football game," Gruden said. "I think a lot is being said about my comment and Derek's reaction, the smiling during the game and after the game at the postgame news conference. But when you fumble the ball on the first play of the game and for two-and-half to three hours it is an incredible struggle -- I think they had five first downs at the time, down by 18 points, an interception forced into coverage, the season is on the brink, and obviously it is a decisive knockout by the 49ers -- as a coach, I don't remember seeing that from any of my players or from any other players of any other broadcast that I've seen. I wasn't trying to dig dirt or be too negative at all, but that was a reaction on the field that I don't recall seeing given the circumstances of the entire night."

NBC's Football in America crew includes a recently retired coach (Tony Dungy), player (Rodney Harrison) and a former player and longtime commentator (Cris Collinsworth). Here is a transcript of their discussion after SI.com posed the question of the cameras catching Anderson laughing.

Harrison: "If I am getting my butt kicked, there is nothing, nothing whatsoever for me to crack a smile at it. Guys work too hard. Guys sacrifice so much, the time, the effort, the pain, the sacrifices in your relationships, there is nothing funny about getting your butt kicked. There is nothing funny about not playing well. He is the quarterback and he has been awful this year. So, yes, I think the criticism was well deserved. There is nothing funny here. If a guy makes light of a situation, you don't laugh about it. You say, "You know what? We're going to get better." We're going to keep trying to get it done or change what we have done in the past. But you don't laugh about it. There is nothing funny about getting your butt kicked."

Dungy: "I didn't see it. I read about it. I do know as a coach there are times that camera is always on you and there are times during the game they can catch you. I'd have to see the whole thing, and obviously Derek Anderson was upset about it after the game. All these guys compete. I don't think there is anybody that wants to lose or play bad or feels good about playing bad. People have told me, 'Hey, you don't take it seriously, or you don't look like this impacted you enough. I don't know that I would put that on a guy, that he doesn't care because he was laughing on the field. I'd have to know the context in which it happened."

Collinsworth: "I have to admit I turned the game off at that point too, but I have seen the replay a bunch of times. I have not heard Jon's comments [live]. But I'm going to say I didn't like it too much. I've been in that situation. And I understand that Rodney's personality might be different, but I think the term that's used is gallows humor, occasionally when times are at their absolute bleakest. Whether it's at a funeral or whatever the case may be, someone can say something to try to lighten the mood or to make your quarterback feel better.

"Obviously, the guy did not have a great day. You are out there for 3 ½ hours and, yes, you are embarrassed. But I just don't think it makes any sort of statement about the preparation or effort of a guy if he gets caught off-handed in one brief moment where somebody says something and you kind of laugh it off. He may have been saying, 'Hey, I'm going to get killed in this press conference. You have any ideas?' And the guy could have come up with something. It could have been anything at the moment. It may have been totally related to the game. You have no way of knowing.

"I have certainly commented on bench situations in the past but you tend to say, 'Listen, I have no idea what they are talking about' or at least do something to set it up in advance. But if it makes Jon uncomfortable, it makes Jon uncomfortable. We all have been caught on camera at one time or another doing something or saying something where if you are not there in the moment, you don't fully understand it."

Harrison: "Let me interrupt you real quick. What else needs to be said if you are getting your butt kicked? I've been in the situation where we're losing and the guy sitting next to me is starting to talk about what is going on tonight. I turned to him -- and it was a good teammate of mine -- and yelled at him. I kind of went off on him. As a leader, you are the quarterback. You have not played well this season. What is funny? There is nothing funny about losing.

"I'm not saying the guy did not prepare. I'm not saying his heart is not in it. I mean, he was once a Pro Bowl player. But there is nothing funny about getting your butt kicked. There is too much hard work, too much sacrifice, too much effort and too much money spent by everyone to sit there and laugh. There is nothing funny about it."

Collinsworth: "But you don't know what it is. What if the guy said, 'Man, I might haven't gotten you cut today with the way I blocked,' and the quarterback comes back and is smiling and says, 'Don't worry about it. It was me.' You know what I mean? You just don't know what the conversation was."

Harrison: "Exactly. But I am just telling you how I would have responded as a player in that situation. I have had situations where I've walked into the locker room after a huge loss and I've seen young players and veteran players laughing and joking, and I've gone up and confronted those guys. There is nothing in that span of four to five hours that's funny when it comes to football, preparation and the ability to win a football game. That's just my opinion. I don't care if it's Cris Collinsworth sitting next me to on a bench. If you said something I did not like and it not have anything to do with the game itself, I would tell you, 'Hey, get away from me.' "

Collinsworth: "I am not disagreeing with you from the standpoint depending on what's said. If they are getting their butts kicked and the guy said, 'Where are we going to party tonight?' obviously, it's a different issue. You just don't know what was said in that moment and short of them willing to tell us what it was, I can't pass judgment on somebody with a blanket statement of no matter what it was, he [Derek Anderson] is wrong. I could not go that far."

Harrison: "Yeah, but we do pass judgment every week when we offer our opinions."

Collinsworth: "No doubt about it."

Outside of Michael Irvin, most NFL pregame analysts will eventually provide some interesting insight and analysis. Of course when you are on the air weekly, you're also bound to get some things wrong. Here's some of our favorite misses this season:

• "The Colts beat the Cowboys in Dallas." -- Fox NFL Sunday analyst Jimmy Johnson, when asked for his Super Bowl prediction, Sept. 12

• "Carson Palmer wanted Terrell Owens there. Now he's there...Now it's all on you Carson Palmer. The pressure is on his shoulders. They [the Bengals] have one of the best defenses in football. I'm glad they kept their defensive coordinator, Mike Zimmer. They'll be a playoff team this year." -- CBS NFL Today analyst Boomer Esiason, Sept. 12

• "I say the Tennessee Titans make it; the Houston Texans make it; the Steelers make it; the Chiefs and the Washington Redskins." -- CBS NFL Today analyst Shannon Sharpe, predicting playoff teams, Sept. 12

• "I believe that Randy Moss -- for the first time, a wide receiver will be the MVP in the National Football League. Tom Brady will have an unbelievable year -- close to 5,000 yards. Randy Moss, I believe he'll have close to 1,800. He's motivated by his profession. He is motivated that he doesn't have a contract." -- ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown analyst Cris Carter, Sept. 19

• "You won three out of your last 40 games and I'm going to say you are going to win five more than that this year -- the Detroit Lions." -- ESPN Sunday NFL Countdown analyst Mike Ditka, Sept, 19

• "They are not going to win it. They are not going into the playoffs. But the Buffalo Bills, in the first month of the season, will cause problems in the AFC East." -- ESPN Sunday NFL Countdown host Chris Berman. Sept. 19

• "They may not win the division. I think they will be really strong in December. Let's see what happens with their record. That's the dangerous thing with Minnesota while they figure things out." -- Berman, Sept. 19

• "The Dolphins match up well with every team in the AFC East. They can win it and be a contender for the Super Bowl." -- NFL Network analyst Irvin, Sept. 26

• "I've played against both, and trust me, Donovan McNabb presents way more problems to a defense than Michael Vick does." --NFL Network analyst Warren Sapp, Sept. 26

• "Matt Ryan hasn't been as sharp as you would like since his rookie year. Watching him in preseason and then watching him in the first two games this year makes me think, are we looking at a guy with a great rookie year like Ricky Mirer did, and then things start stopping up?" -- ESPN Sunday NFL Countdown analyst Keyshawn Johnson, Sept. 26

• "I'm really not surprised. For Minnesota the time is now, particularly with Brett Favre at quarterback. You're trying to take advantage of Favre's presence and maybe build a new stadium. Adrian Peterson is great. The Vikings defense is great...Minnesota is a good football team and Randy Moss now makes them a great football team." -- Fox NFL Sunday analyst Howie Long, Oct. 6

• "Washington has always been a soap opera with no stability. McNabb gives them that instant stability." --Fox NFL Sunday analyst Michael Strahan, Oct. 6

• "The consensus around the country is that this is a home run for the Minnesota Vikings because they really haven't had a deep threat. Opposing teams have been crowding the line of scrimmage to stop Adrian Peterson with single coverage on the outside to take away the underneath routes. Now with Moss as the deep threat, opposing defenses won't be able to do that." -- Jimmy Johnson, Oct. 10

• "Most people don't have one good quarterback. He does have two...I would stay with Kevin Kolb. He's been hot."--NBC Sunday Night Football analyst Tony Dungy, Oct. 17

• "He's still a manager. I'm waiting on him to take the reins and become a leader of that team. He hasn't done that yet."-- Irvin, on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, Oct. 24

• "As long as Peyton Manning is alive and well, the Colts will make the playoffs."-- NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci, Nov. 14

• "The best team in the AFC has a losing record and they're not even playing this week, that is the San Diego Chargers, led by Philip Rivers who will do something you [Dan Marino] didn't do, which is win a Super Bowl this year...I'm telling you right now. You watch them closely. They're one of the best teams out there. They're going to get healthy coming off this bye. They're going to get Vincent Jackson back. Watch out for the San Diego Chargers."-- Esiason, Nov. 14

• "Second half of the season, he [Randy Moss] will score six touchdowns. This team, the Tennessee Titans, win the AFC South." -- Sharpe, Nov. 14

• "Jed York said this team will make the playoffs and it looks like San Francisco 49ers are not dead yet."-- Sapp, Nov. 21.

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