Each week, SI.com's Richard Deitsch will report on newsmakers from the world of TV, radio and the Web.
ESPN toots its horn with the fervor of Louis Armstrong, but Monday was easily one of the best days in the network's history. Its signature program -- Monday Night Football -- delivered the biggest cable television audience of the year.
New England's come-from-behind victory over Buffalo drew 14 million viewers and a 10.3 rating, topping the previous cable mark set with the June 22 episode of TLC's Jon and Kate Plus 8. Even with the ignominious reviews given to the announcing team of Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, ESPN's broadcast of the Chargers-Raiders game (the second game of Monday's doubleheader) pulled in 11,945,000 viewers, the second-largest audience for any cable program in 2009. The opening game also marked the regular-season debut for Jon Gruden, the former Bucs coach and the most visible of a trio of high-profile broadcasters who debuted last week in new roles. Here's my analysis:
Gruden: The three-man booth can be a logistical nightmare because of the number of chefs cooking the groceries. But Gruden instinctively found his place with colleagues Mike Tirico and Ron Jaworski. He didn't dominate the game coverage, showed a sense of humor and gave viewers some interesting nuggets to digest. "Tom Brady does more before the ball is snapped than any quarterback in the league," Gruden said after Brady completed a short pass to Kevin Faulk in the opening quarter. "He's going to motion a receiver across the formation, take a look at the defense, read to clear the blocking pattern, and make sure Kevin Faulk gets out in the route. Tom Brady does more for this offense above the neck than most people realize." Gruden played nicely off Jaworski. Both men amplified the other's points.
Obviously, it wasn't a perfect debut. Gruden referred a couple of times to Patriots lineman Matt Light as "Todd Lyght" (strangely, neither Tirico nor Jaworski corrected him) and claimed Brady was a global superstar. (If Tom Brady walked down the streets of Lhasa, Lima or Lisbon, we'd bet 9 out of 10 people would not recognize him. Gisele is another story.) Gruden also incorrectly predicted the Patriots would opt for an onside kick prior to their final touchdown. He later gave Bill Belichick and his staff credit for kicking it deep. Gruden was critical when he needed to be. Both he and Jaworski got on Terrell Owens when he dropped makeable catches. Worth noting here is that Tirico called an excellent game.
Cris Collinsworth: NBC announced last April that Collinsworth would replace John Madden on its Sunday Night Football broadcast. In my opinion, he worked seamlessly with Al Michaels in his first two regular-season games (he called games Thursday and Sunday). In the latter, Collinsworth was forthright about Jay Cutler's early troubles (he called the quarterback "a bomb" and declared "Jay is not getting help from receivers but he is pretty awful right now.")
Collinsworth told SI.com earlier this year that he knows he's not for everyone. "I offend people," Collinsworth said. "I know that. There are a lot of people who don't like a football analyst on the games doing that. They just want a straight calling of the game and there are a lot of places that they can hear that. But that's not what I do."
One of his critics last week was Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who tweeted during last Thursday's Steelers-Titans game: "Can I ask ur opinion on Cris Collinsworth [sic] commentary guys? Hmmmmm a bit critical on guys dont ya think?"
Collinsworth's coverage analysis was also interesting. "I really think that Charles Woodson is messing with Jay Cutler here," Collinsworth said, diagramming why the Packers cornerback stopped a quick screen in the second quarter. "He acted like he was coming on a blitz, so Cutler checks to this quick screen to the outside. [Now watch] Woodson go back out and make the tackle."
Tony Dungy: He was candid, prepared and delivered the goods as a studio analyst on NBC's Football Night in America. On his former player Marvin Harrison, Dungy said, "Marvin does want to play. He can play. But Marvin wants to get paid." On Cutler's maturity: "The thing that I have not seen from Jay Cutler is the leadership ... Jay Cutler can make all the throws. He is going to help them move the football on offense. But is he going to lead them in the tough situation when they really need him?" Dungy also calmly explained how the Cowboys were spreading the football around in the wake of Owens' departure.
Rodney Harrison, the former Patriot who also debuted on the show, appeared nervous and set a record for the fastest NFL analyst to use the phrase "butt naked." (Harrison was speaking about being hazed as a rookie in 1994). Beat writers around the NFL say Harrison has great potential, so we hope he'll grow into the role. But Dungy had a great first night.
"When I saw that postgame press conference last night, I thought he looked completely immature. He acted like he didn't even care." -- NFL Network analyst Jim Mora, on Bears QB Jay Cutler.
"Thirty other teams told us who the starting quarterback was going to be, and for competitive disadvantage, he decided he wasn't going to tell us. Eric Mangini can take the fun out of a 10-year-old's birthday party with Big Bird there. That's how miserable this guy is becoming. Cleveland deserves better. This is a proud franchise with great fans and you have one of the most stifling, if not the most stifling, of all head coaches in the NFL there." -- CBS NFL analyst Boomer Esiason
• On a plane with Chris Mortenson and I'm in first class he is in coach, being team player I sent my lunch back to him!" -- ESPN NFL analyst Merrill Hoge, Sept. 15, 8:19 a.m.
• I've listened 2 Mike & Mike for 5 minutes and I already want to turn the game off. Why does ESPN think this is a good booth combo? My god." -- Yahoo! Sports football writer Charles Robinson, Sept. 14, 10:28 p.m.
• "Mike Lupica sez PeteCarroll's team is underachieving. Right, cause Carroll's the one who's been livin off his rep & mailin it in 4 years."-- ESPN The Magazine senior writer Bruce Feldman, Sept. 7, 5:37 p.m.
• The next time either ESPN or the NFL Network has an opportunity to interview NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, I'd suggest they pull out the tape of Bob Costas' interview Sunday night. The NBC broadcaster asked direct and thoughtful questions about the potential end of revenue sharing and the salary cap, Goodell's relationship with DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, and blackouts. ("Given the present economic circumstances in the country," Costas asked, "would it make sense to suspend the blackout rule for a year and figure out what to do after that?") Best of all, he bypassed the usual backslapping that goes on when Goodell appears on the set of one his broadcast partners.
• ESPN and CBS analyst Patrick McEnroe (more on him below) impressed me by pressing Serena Williams in an on-court interview (following the Williams sisters victory in the doubles championship Monday) about her behavior during her semifinal loss to Kim Clijsters. McEnroe was booed by the crowd (probably a first for the popular figure) when he asked a follow-up question to a non-answer by Serena. He also took a shot from Venus Williams, who said, "I think the crowd is saying, 'Patrick, let's move on,'" It was, but McEnroe's job was not to move on. His work here is appreciated.
• Say a prayer for former USA Today baseball beat writer Rod Beaton, who is in a nursing home and battling Parkinson's disease. Beaton last wrote for the paper in October 2005 and was one of the good guys in the business, even prompting sympathy from Barry Bonds.
"On his last baseball season, 2002 or 3 or 4, Rod was stuck in a couch and could not get up," wrote Beaton's wife, Maria, in a post this week on SportsJournalists.com. "No one noticed he was struggling to get up from the couch until Barry Bonds walked by and said, "You need some help?" And he gave Rod a good pull and helped him up, then looked at him a little more closely and remarked, "You don't look too good. What's wrong?" When Rod told him he had Parkinson's, Barry shook his head and told him, "That sucks. I'm sorry." Rod told me he meant it. I refused to believe Barry could be that nice spontaneously, but Rod was adamant that Barry has a heart and showed it. He was visibly touched by Barry's gesture."
• Props to ESPN's Monday Night Football camera crew for a couple of spectacular angles of Buffalo kickoff returner Leodis McKelvin's fumble in the fourth quarter of the Pats-Bills game.
• If Twitter serves as an indicator of real-time opinion, ESPN's decision to assign Greenberg and Golic to call the Chargers-Raiders ranked somewhere between allowing that horse into the city of Troy and Shelley Long's decision to quit Cheers. The duo (who were joined by Steve Young for a booth that never jelled) was crushed by mainstream critics, fan sites and the competition.
• One of the great traditions at the Grand Slams is that the champions get to address the crowd. Unless, of course, CBS is running late on Monday night. It's tough to give Dick Enberg the hit here but the broadcaster becomes the fall guy for not allowing U.S. Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro an extended opportunity to address his family in Spanish. (The Argentine did give an abbreviated shout-out to his parents).
The silencing of Del Potro angered plenty of viewers, especially Spanish-speaking ones. My SI colleague Jon Wertheim received a ton of e-mails on this subject following the match. None was kind to CBS.
"There were elements of the presentation that had to take place before we got off the air," said CBS spokesperson Leslie Anne Wade. "Checks, trophies, and cars. But he [Del Potro] was given the microphone to speak Spanish. You would have loved to have the freedom of time to let the full moment play out naturally, but Dick was just trying to fit everything in. He is really a gentleman who celebrates a moment like that more than anyone. Historically, people know that about Dick Enberg."
Enberg's class isn't at issue, nor is his storied broadcasting career, but he should have improvised and allowed Del Potro his time, damn the consequences. Also, his weak-kneed defense of Roger Federer, who lost his cool and cursed at a linesman ("It wasn't venomous," Enberg explained) was a ridiculous attempt at protecting Federer, who does not need the protection. He was properly called on it by his colleague and friend, Mary Carillo.
• Someone needs to increase the size of the graphics during CBS's The NFL Today's Football Faceoff segment. You can't make out the results of the viewer vote unless you have an JumboTron in your home.
• I've written it before: CBS and ESPN need to stop putting Mary Joe Fernandez -- one of the nicest people in the sport and an improving analyst in terms of breaking down matches -- in the ridiculous position of interviewing Federer. The Swiss star's agent is Fernandez's husband, Tony Godsick. Or at least let the viewers in on a conflict of interest the size of Antarctica. And I could not agree more with Wertheim, who wrote that it "was awkward when Patrick McEnroe and Fernandez, who both draw a check from the USTA, were weighing in on the appropriateness of the tournament response to Serena-gate."
• Memo to NBC: Jay Lenobelongs on your Sunday night broadcast about as much as James Denton did on Monday Night Football.
• If Tennis Channel wants to be taken as seriously as the big boy sports networks, it needs to upgrade its U.S. Open studio host next year. Kevin Frazier's shtick might work for the Entertainment Tonight crowd but hardcore tennis fans (uh, your audience) expect a broadcaster who can ask poignant questions of his analysts or offer some insight about a tournament that many consider the most important two weeks of the year. It might have been easier had he and analyst Lindsay Davenport not hosted U.S. Open Tonight some 3,000 miles away, in Culver City. On a positive note, Ted Robinson was his usual excellent self, the on-court tennis coverage was solid, and analyst Jimmy Connors might be the healthiest looking 57-year-old on the planet.