NFL broadcasters are, by and large, a conservative lot. Studio analysts often stay in the same gig for a number of years. Same goes with the top broadcast teams outside of the occasional roster tweak or two for a just-retired player or a recently unemployed big-name coach.
But this offseason produced some seismic shifts in the NFL broadcast marketplace. And you can blame one very famous septuagenarian for that.
"When you get somebody with the magnitude of John Madden retiring, that does set off some shock waves," said CBS Sports and News president
True enough, but we're here to provide a breakdown of the good-hair folks who bring you the league you love. Below, SI.com offers an NFL broadcasting guide to the season.
The perennially underrated Dan Fouts, who played the straight man for
The improving Solomon Wilcots will work with Kevin Harlan after partnering with Eagle last year. Randy Cross, who previously worked with Enberg, was demoted to a lower team. CBS is broadcasting the Super Bowl this season, so be prepared for an avalanche of publicity for Jim Nantz and Phil Simms come January.
CBS preaches stability and understated coverage. What's old is usually new. The network employs no sideline reporters and keeps its focus on the nuts and bolts of the game. You won't see
The ridiculous amount of laughter on the set of
Patriots at Jets (Sept. 20, 1 p.m.) Steelers at Bears (Sept. 20, 4:15 p.m.), Ravens at Patriots (Oct. 4, 1 p.m.), Jets at Saints (Oct. 4, 4:05 p.m.), Patriots at Broncos (Oct. 11, 4:15 p.m.), Titans at Patriots (Oct. 18, 4:15 p.m.), Ravens at Vikings (Oct. 18, 1 p.m.), Texans at Colts (Nov. 8, 1 p.m.), Jets at Patriots (Nov. 22, 4:15 p.m.), Titans at Colts (Dec. 6, 1 p.m.), Chargers at Cowboys (Dec. 13. 4:15 p.m.), Ravens at Steelers (Dec. 27, 1 p.m.)
"I think it is really a given that when they were doing the NFL together there has never been a better team than
"I think the Vikings would have had just as good a record with
The in-game focus on
"We are going to get back to basics, delivering hardcore X and O's football, which is what the fans want," said MNF executive producer
With its cross-platform strategy and more staffers than most NFL teams, ESPN will continue to send waves of on-air people at the viewers. The core of its pregame show (Chris Berman, Mike Ditka, Tom Jackson, Keyshawn Johnson and Steve Young) remains the same. Chris Mortensen is at his best on Sunday mornings and Sal Paolantonio and Ed Werder have a long track record of solid reporting.
Tom Jackson's role. The network desperately wants to make Keyshawn Johnson the breakout star of the show. It's a mistake. Johnson isn't nearly the water-cooler provocateur ESPN thinks he is, and he takes air time away from Jackson, who regularly says thoughtful and thought-provoking things. You can't fake sincerity, and Jackson has it. We'd like to see him in the center chair on Sunday NFL Countdown, and we wish ESPN would also push him more externally. Trent Dilfer should get more prominence on ESPN's signature football shows. He'll be the best thing about Monday Night Countdown, which occasionally runs out of time for all its voices. .
All games start at 8:30 p.m. ET. Colts at Dolphins (Sept. 21), Packers at Vikings (Oct. 5), Falcons at Saints (Nov. 2), Steelers at Broncos (Dec, 9), Ravens at Packers (Dec. 7), Vikings at Bears (Dec, 28).
"I think we have the most comprehensive studio shows, and what I think are the best studio shows." --
"Well, I think anytime you have a veteran quarterback with 10, 12, 14 years of history in the same offense, where he has been to two Super Bowls and multiple MVPs, Pro Bowls, I think it only helps. He will be a better leader, teammate and coach on the field because of that. Those are all huge winning edges in huge games." -- Gruden.
The network brass is high on Charles Davis, who shined two years ago during the BCS coverage. He makes his NFL-analyst debut alongside the veteran Dick Stockton. Fox Sports president
"On the game coverage we had been stable for many years, and I think it was just time to freshen our lineup up," said Goren. "We are lame duck with the BCS this year and Charles has done a wonderful job for us, so we were looking to try to bring him over. Trent Green also became available and we felt he was worth a shot."
Fox made a couple of major off-camera moves:
The trio of Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long and Jimmy Johnson has owned the ratings for years. Jay Glazer is the NFL's premier scoop machine on Sundays, and best of all, he revels in the dynamic that pits him against ESPN's army of information people. Curt Menefee isn't as smooth as James Brown, but he's improved as a traffic cop and allows the talent around him to shine. Frank Caliendo has outlasted his early critics to become a tenured member. Pam Oliver quietly does a professional job year after year. Charissa Thompson is hard to take seriously as a reporter, especially after her performance in the ABC reality show,
Fox isn't afraid to go outside-the-box, even when the idea is ridiculous (such as
Saints at Eagles (Sept. 20, 1 p.m.), Falcons at Patriots (Sept. 27, 1 p.m.), Vikings at Steelers (Oct. 25, 1 p.m.), Falcons at Cowboys (Oct. 25, 4:15 p.m.). Vikings at Packers (Nov, 1, p.m.), Giants at Eagles (Nov, 1, 4:15 p.m.), Cowboys at Packers (Nov. 15, 4:15 p.m.), Bears at Vikings (Nov. 29, 1 p.m.), Cowboys at Giants (Dec. 6, 4:15 p.m.), Packers at Steelers (Dec. 20, 1 p.m.), Eagles at Cowboys (Jan. 3, 1 p.m.), Giants at Vikings (Jan. 3, 1 p.m.), Packers at Cardinals (Jan. 3, 4:15 p.m.)
"I just look at Scoreboard. Our pregame show is the No. 1 pregame show in its time slot for 15 straight years. That is unprecedented in sports and there are only a handful of television shows that have been No. 1 for any length of time ... We dominate, and not just our pregame show. Other networks competing against
"I believe there is something to be said for going through an offseason with teammates because every guy can depend on the guy that is next to them. That's why you go off to training camp, that's why you spend the offseasons together, and I think that pays dividends when you get into the season. That would be my concern: Four weeks ago, Brett said he was not sure if he was physical capable of getting through an NFL season."
Plenty, but none bigger than Collinsworth replacing Madden as the network's No. 1 analyst. "I know it's my job to take on the burden of being the guy who follows John Madden," Collinsworth recently told SI.com. "Nobody in their right mind would volunteer for this job. It's not a good professional position to be in. Yet it is my job. Dick Ebersol asked me to do it, and I honestly thought about telling him that it was a career trap. You don't want to be the guy that follows John Madden, but I am."
The most tinkered pregame show in history gets tweaked yet again. Bob Costas will broadcast from the game site each week and engage Al Michaels and Collinsworth in a conversation at the start of the broadcast. It's a smart move in theory, though the Fox Sports brass can tell you about the difficulties of an onsite, pre-game telecast. They ended that experiment after one production-nightmarish year.
The blunt Rodney Harrison has star potential as a studio analyst, given his no-holds barred opinions as a player. Dungy is well-connected in league circles and obviously respected. But does he have the personality to call people out when needed? And can he be objective about his protégé,
"I think you can be objective and I think you can do your job," Dungy said. "I hope my job isn't just to be critical, but there are times as a coach you have to point out mistakes that your players make and you point that out and you move on. I think I'll do the same thing in the booth. I am working with Michael Vick but I talk to a lot of guys, including a lot of my former players with the Buccaneers and the Colts, and many of those guys are still in the league. I don't think it is anything unusual, and I don't think it will impact my job."
Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann are back for the highlight portion of the studio show, which fans might never catch if the CBS and Fox games end late. (NBC can't contractually air NFL highlights until 7:15 at the earliest). Peter King and Andrea Kremer remain solid performers, but take my word on Mr. MMQB with a dollop of caveat emptor: I work with the guy and like him personally.
Tiki Barber's role. It's remarkable how little NBC Sports is
All games begin at 8:15 p.m. ET: Bears at Packers (Sept 13), Giants at Cowboys (Sept. 20), Cardinals at Giants (Oct. 25), Patriots at Colts (Nov. 15), Eagles at Bears (Nov. 22), Steelers at Ravens (Nov. 29), Eagles at Giants (Dec. 13).
"This trio of talent is unsurpassed probably in the history of television. In Bob you have the best host/anchor in the sports world of his generation. In Al, you have unquestionably the best play-by-play guy of his generation. And Cris, in the 12 years the Emmy's have given an Emmy for studio analyst, he's won 9 out of the 12 times. Two of the last three years he's won the award for the best game analyst. We have a treasure trove of talent to bring to this show every Sunday night." -- Ebersol on Costas, Collinsworth and Michaels.
"It's like an old poker show: The Vikings are all-in with Brett Favre because if this does not work out, you have to think there will be some issues in the locker room because there is some obvious loyalties to Tarvaris Jackson and
Will Millen's disastrous tenure with the Lions (the franchise went 31-97 from 2001-08) undercut his credibility? He will have to win over a new generation of viewers -- especially in Detroit -- who know him only as a bumbling executive. "I don't look back," Millen said. "What's done you can't do anything about. It's already gone. All you can do is deal with what is in front of you. It's about starting over, and I'm OK starting over. I like starting on something different."
Marshall Faulk really does a terrific job. He's equally versed on players on both sides of the ball, which is a rarity for a running back-turned broadcaster. Alas, we can't say the same about Deion Sanders, who is more flash than substance. Bob Papa has established himself as a national-level broadcaster and was a notable improvement over
I'm on the record about Michael Irvin. How many chances should an underwhelming and unprepared broadcaster get, especially with so many retired players itching for a national gig? NFL Network executive producer
"We do it every day in July. We do it every day in November. We don't even call it offseason or in-season. The guys and girls here are working at such a high level ... No one here is knocking any other network because the people who do it there are the best of the best. But I know that our roster is so deep." --
"I was there when he was a baby, his first four years [in Green Bay]. I am watching him throw today in practice, and he looks to me like he's making all the same kind of throws. It looks like his arm is sharp, fresh and healthy. I don't know if he's feeling any pain or not, but he looks sharp. It's interesting to be able to jump right off the bus and jump right in the huddle and run this offense. It's all familiar to him." --