Richard Deitsch puts together his dream NFL coverage team featuring Al Michaels, Bob Costas, Rich Eisen and more. Plus a conversation with ESPN's Joe Tessitore, Special Olympics coverage and more Media Circus.
Imagine having the power to create your own NFL broadcasting network. Would be sweet, right? Well, most of us, alas, don’t have Gates, Murdoch or Zuckerberg as a surname. But that shouldn’t stop those of you who love sports television from throwing out fun hypotheticals. While having coffee a couple of years ago with a sports television executive, I remember the executive telling me that one of the fun games he played with colleagues was staffing up the network for a fictional Olympic Games. The staffing went deep, all the way to archery to modern pentathlon to short track speed skating.
With the NFL preseason starting Sunday night, I thought it would be a fun exercise to create the first annual Deitsch NFL Broadcasting Network (DNBN). To keep the staffing at a reasonable level, I decided to staff up only regular season Sundays. (It would be 10,000 words otherwise.) I gave myself the ability to mix and match NFL talent from different networks, and I’m allowing myself only one SI staffer so not to be a homer. My network will run from 9 a.m. to midnight Sunday, and then we’ll replay old episodes of Around The Horn and The Best Damn Sports Show, Period overnight. If CAA, IMG, WME, IF Management or any talent agencies get on my nerves, I will replace their people below immediately.
I’m curious for your thoughts so please let me know what you would do (or how I screwed up) in the comments sections below, or hit me up at my Twitter account with feedback. The DNBN squad:
1. Al Michaels (NBC), Cris Collinsworth (NBC) and Michele Tafoya (NBC)
2. Ian Eagle (CBS), Dan Fouts (CBS) and Tracy Wolfson (CBS)
3. Mike Tirico (ESPN), Troy Aikman (Fox) and Pam Oliver (Fox)
4. Kevin Harlan (WestwoodOne), Trent Dilfer (ESPN) and Lisa Salters (ESPN)
5. Brad Nessler (ESPN), Mike Mayock (NFL Network) and Suzy Kolber (ESPN)
6. Joe Buck (Fox), Phil Simms (CBS) and Ed Werder (ESPN)
7. Beth Mowins (ESPN), Ron Jaworski (ESPN) and Charles Davis (Fox)Rules analyst:
The Skinny: I consider my top two teams the current best NFL announcing teams so I left them intact with the exception of adding the always-excellent Wolfson as the sideline reporter. I think Tirico and Aikman, both smart and prepared, would make an excellent team. Harlan does terrific work for Westwood One and while I know plenty of people think Mayock talks too much, I learn from him on broadcasts so he makes it. Mowins finally gets the regular season NFL shot at Deitsch Broadcasting Network and I have confidence she’ll rise to the challenge. I like the idea of using insiders as sideline people on some broadcasts so that’s why I assigned Werder. Charles Davis is a pro and I wanted to get him on the network somewhere. He’s also my fill-in if any analyst gets sick. Kevin Burkhardt and Gus Johnson are the emergency broadcasters if my play-by-play announcers have family or travel issues.
Pregame Studio Show
Host: Trey Wingo (ESPN)
Analysts: Cris Carter (ESPN), Bill Cowher (CBS), Tom Jackson (ESPN), Bill Polian (ESPN), Amy Trask (CBS).
The Skinny: I want smart and passionate people on set for the pregame and this group should gel. I’ll bring Matthew Berry (ESPN) on for some fantasy segments during the show. The analysts will rotate in so it’s not six people on set at once.
Josina Anderson (ESPN)
Mark Fainaru-Wada (ESPN)
Mike Fish (ESPN)
Mike Florio (NBC)
Jay Glazer (Fox)
Andrea Kremer (NFL Network)
Jason LaCanfora (CBS)
Jane McManus (ESPN)
Adam Schefter (ESPN)
Don Van Natta Jr. (ESPN)
The Skinny: A strong mix of longtime NFL insiders (Anderson, Florio, Glazer, Schefter) and outsiders with reporting gravitas (Fainaru-Wada, Fish, Kremer, McManus, Smith, Van Natta). Since sports media people have Trump-sized egos, this category has dozens and dozens of qualified people which makes it tough to choose.
Michael McCann (SI)
The Skinny: Every NFL pregame show should have a legal analyst at this point and I think McCann is as good as it gets.
Red Zone Channel option
Hosts: Scott Hansen and Andrew Siciliano
The Skinny: Both these guys do a great job so we’ll split the shift in half.
Host: James Brown (CBS)
The Skinny: Brown is always a pro and ego-free for a dude in his position.
Host: Bob Costas (NBC)
Analyst: Terry Bradshaw (Fox)
Analyst: Howie Long (Fox)
Analyst: Ryan Clark (ESPN)
Insider: Ian Rapoport, reporter
The Skinny: At my network, we put new faces on at halftime to give you a fresh perspective from the morning pregame show. Bradshaw and Long have the best chemistry of any NFL studio duo and I want Costas to do halftime essays just to annoy the people bothered by his halftime essays.
Host: Rich Eisen (NFL Network)
Analyst: Tony Dungy (NBC)
Analyst: Rachel Nichols (CNN)
Analyst: Louis Riddick (ESPN)
Insiders from onsite: Judy Battista (NFL Network), John Clayton (ESPN), Sal Paolantonio (ESPN), Mike Silver (NFL Network), Shelley Smith (ESPN), Jim Trotter (ESPN), Steve Wyche (NFL Network).
The Skinny: Eisen makes any panel work and the group of Dungy, Nichols and Riddick will be terrific letting my audience know what that week’s games meant that day. My insiders consistently do good work.
THE NOISE REPORT
(SI.com examines some of the week’s biggest sports media stories)
1. Last week ESPN announcer Joe Tessitore, the studio host for the SEC network’s SEC Nation and ESPN's College Football Final (which also airs Saturday), was named the play-by-play voice for ESPN’s College Football Primetime Thursday series. That spot was previously held by Rece Davis, who has since moved to host College GameDay. Tessitore will work alongside analysts Jesse Palmer and David Pollack with sideline reporter Kaylee Hartung.
Given his new assignment, I emailed Tessitore for a short Q&A on how it came about.
SI.com: Why do you think were you given the Thursday night assignment?
Tessitore: Oh, Richard, what assurance can you give me that my close friends and co-workers will never read this column? They will bust my chops for even answering this question. I can hear it now, 'Do you really think people give a **** about which day of the week you work on this fall?' Why me for Thursdays? I could give you some self-absorbed swollen ego response about my career arc but at this level of the business everyone is very talented and capable of having these higher profile posts. My first connection to any of this was when the ‘Rece Davis to GameDay’ news came out this past February. A few times friends would send me links where my name popped up—social media, articles and columns. If I recall, you labeled me as 'the in-house favorite.' Wow, you wield some power Richard—and soothsaying! Why am I wasting my time handicapping these past performances for today’s Saratoga card? I should just have you pick my winning horses! Seriously, I think we all know enough about how that Thursday play-by-play job has gone. It’s been held by Mike Tirico, Chris Fowler and Rece. Those three were great at defining that position.
The four of us have had many similar roles at ESPN/ABC. We’ve all worked as live-event hosts on many major events beyond football. We’ve all been studio hosts and of course we‘ve all done play-by-play—Rece and Chris, a little heavier on the hosting, and Mike and I a little heavier on the play-by-play side. Many of the production people involved with Thursday prime have told me how the versatile skill-set works well for the Thursday job considering extra demands from SportsCenter hits and CFB pregame show work. And then Thursday in-game you noticed how well Mike, Chris and Rece always did in setting up the upcoming weekend of college football and fostering conversation beyond the typical down-and-distance, identify ball carrier and 'tackle made by' style of game calling. So I guess I answered the ‘why was Thursday given to me’ question. Consider my chops busted.
How much, if at all, did you lobby for it?
I didn’t lobby for it. I never asked to move to Thursdays. I was told I was moving to Thursdays. In fact I was very happy with the crew I was working on. After some great years with Rod Gilmore, and then a few more with Matt Millen, last year I was with Brock Huard. I couldn’t have been happier. Brock is just awesome at his job, extremely well prepared and a joy to be with on the road. I was just going about my business doing SEC Nation and flying to call ESPN or ESPN2 Saturday night game and then the Fowler/Rece domino effect happened.
How were you informed that the assignment was yours?
There was no carrier pigeon launched from Mike Tyson’s rooftop. Nor did a coordinating producer send up white smoke from the ESPN Café pizza oven exhaust fan. It was a simple dinner with [executive vice president of content] John Wildhack. John is great at assessing where things are, where they can go and setting a master plan for the immediate future. In the midst of talking about anything and everything he delivered the news about Thursdays. Following that phone calls with [senior vice president of production] Mark Gross and my longtime coordinating producer Ed Placey gave me more details about how they saw my entire fall workload. The way I view it, they give me my marching orders, and I march.
How much have you previously worked with Jesse Palmer and David Pollack?
Plenty. Just not in the booth. I have worked with Jesse and David probably as much as any analysts on live remote location sets or in-studio. We have spent entire weeks on the road together for years working many on-air hours at a time when we do. The past few years of SEC Media Days have been that way with one of them or both. Then add in all the various CFB Live shows, all the weeks of SportsCenters from BCS Bowls and National Championship games with each of them. From the Rose Bowl, to Orange Bowl to CFB Playoffs in recent years there was seemingly always a day when Jesse/David were flanking me for a CFB Special, CFB Experts show, or various tapings or live shots.
Has there been an effort to create booth chemistry with Pollack and Palmer and if so, how?
Through the years the three of us have had plenty of chemistry building and some great laughs. Pollack and I have spent recent seasons phoning each other early in the workweek to just hear what we each took away from the most recent games we called. The other side with Davey is that we are constantly battling over his life-after-lineman obsession with healthy eating. I love his commitment to working out but I try to drag him over to the world of fine Italian cuisine. He once came to my house some years ago and I actually got him to devour homemade Eggplant Rollatini and Amatriciana sauce. To see Pollack carbo loading and enjoying it was a victory for the ages. Jesse on the other hand could name you each and every imported Italian cheese by region and it feels like we've tried most of them at some point dining out. He is a very close friend and has gotten to know my family well.
2. There were some terrific stories coming out of ESPN’s excellent coverage of the 2015 Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles—props to the company for its increased coverage—and that extended to the broadcasting booth where play-by-play announcer Jason Benetti got some nice exposure. The 31-year-old Benetti has a mild case of cerebral palsy which impacts his balance and ability to walk. He also has an eye condition that causes his left eye to drift. But his disabilities haven’t impacted his career arc as a broadcaster. Last year he called a combination of high school and college football, college basketball, college baseball and lacrosse for ESPN. His next assignment for ESPN is Little League Baseball, and he recently signed a new contract with the network that has him doing 50 events for the next two years. Prior to landing at ESPN fulltime, Benetti was the play-by-play broadcaster for the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs, a Nationals affiliate, from 2009 to 2014.
Originally from Homewood, Illinois, Benetti attended Syracuse University as an undergrad (where he called a number of sports) and got a law degree at Wake Forest University. As he gets older he said he has to stay active to avoid joint issues because of the body compensating how he walks. (He had corrective surgeries as a kid and had leg braces for a short time.)
Benetti said he met with ESPN Regional coordinating producer Chris Farrow in the summer of 2011 and soon after that meeting, Farrow offered him the chance to call a Preseason NIT game for ESPN3 between Syracuse and Albany at the Carrier Dome. That began his relationship with ESPN. Benetti said his agent told the company about his disability and he’s always been up front about it with employers.
“I have been open with people at ESPN and they hired me full well knowing what they were going to get,” Benetti told SI.com. “I am very appreciative of that. Once we start to talk about it, people are so willing to say, “Hey, let’s try this shot, or maybe you should lock into your camera here. My eyes don’t necessarily completely lock into the camera at all times.”
The Special Olympics was something Benetti wanted to be a part of so he reached out to ESPN management long before this year’s broadcast. He said he had been inspired by participating in an ESPN seminar featuring employees with disabilities.
“While I was there to share my experiences, I left with even further understanding on how disability comes in many different forms, and how fortunate I’ve been in the way cerebral palsy has affected me,” Benetti said. Last May Benetti got a chance to meet with Bill Bonnell and Kate Jackson, the co-producers of ESPN’s Special Olympics coverage, and sold them on what he could bring in terms of empathy and understanding. “They thought I could be effective in doing it and decided they would give it a run,” Benetti said.
Over the course of the competition he called swimming and track and field (“I called the race with as much vigor as I would any other race,” he said), working alongside Paralympic gold medal swimmer Victoria Arlen. Here’s hoping we get to see more of Benetti (and Arlen) nationally heading forward.
3. NBC announced last week that Doug Flutie had replaced Mike Mayock as its lead analyst on the network’s coverage of Notre Dame Football. On the same day that announcement became official, Mayock was the guest on the 14th episode of the SI Media Podcast. (The podcast, published weekly, features members of the sports media about their work, and interesting people about the sports media.)
In the podcast, Mayock discussed how he got his start in the industry, his experiences covering college basketball for CBS, his thoughts on the industry's coverage of NFL games, what he thinks about executives and viewers who believe he talks too much and uses excessive jargon on air. We also spoke about NBC making the personnel move (which I consider a mistake for viewers). Mayock said he has one year left on his NBC contract.
“NBC went in a direction where they felt Doug Flutie in the booth and me on the sideline was a better presentation for them,” Mayock said. “I disagreed. Going forward I have total respect for NBC. They have been really, really good to me. But for my career and what I needed to do, I needed to go one way and they felt strongly about going another way. I think both parties parted with a great deal of respect for each other.”
Mayock said his ideal broadcasting scenario is to do a full slate of college or NFL games in the fall and then come January, he focuses wholly on the NFL Draft. The broadcaster has been criticized by some, including by former NBC Sports head Dick Ebersol, of using too much jargon or verbiage on a broadcast. I asked him about that criticism and how much he believed it played into NBC sports moving Flutie into the analyst seat.
“What I never want to be is a gadget or gimmick guy,” Mayock said. “I can have some fun with 'heavy-legged waist-benders' and all kinds of different coach or scout-speak that I am privy too, but I think the important thing is to recognize the intelligence of the audience and try to help them learn why a play worked or did not work. The jargon thing, I understand that any analyst had to speak to a level where even a person that doesn’t understand much abut football can understand. ... Whenever you get into verbiage, you have to be carefully about defining it efficiently and quickly. I know I talk too much sometimes. I get excited. I get carried away. I love what I do. I think it is something I have always been aware of but it is an incredibly difficult thing to monitor while you are on a national telecast.
“I think it played a part,” Mayock continued on the issue of jargon and leaving NBC. “But you’d have to talk to NBC management. We had conversations and again I was highly respectful of what they wanted. But I’m also respectful of, in my mind there is a reason I got to where I got to as where I got doing games. I kind of have to be true to who I am … But you also have to be a communicator and I want to make sure I am being fair to both sides. So NBC had an opinion, which I respect, and at some point I still had to be who I am, which is football guy who uses some vernacular and hopefully tries to explain that. It’s up NBC to decide if I fall short of that.”
I asked NBC Sports why it opted for Flutie as a booth analyst over Mayock. Said a spokesperson:
"We were pleased with our experiment at the end of last season that placed Doug in the booth and Mike on the sidelines. However, Mike did not want to do analysis from the sideline this year and we respected his decision. We often remind all of our commentators, including Mike over the years, that we serve large, broad audiences, and our communication style needs to reflect that fact. Mike has always wanted to stay true to his own style. We respect that and wish him well.”
4. Sports pieces of note:
• If you've never read before, I can't recommend enough this Peter Richmond piece on Tommy Lasorda's late son.
• Via Tim Keown of ESPN.com: The Confession of Arian Foster.
• Sam Borden on the English soccer team that banned media access.
• Grantland’s Jordan Ritter Conn’s on a Journey to the Extreme Fringe of International Basketball.
• Via The New York Times: Here's the speech Junior Seau's daughter was not allowed to give tonight.
• The Wall Street Journal’s Kevin Clark on the NFL and Game of Thrones spoilers.
• The Denver Post’s Benjamin Hochman had a summer-long project highlighting Colorado’s love of baseball.
• Congrats to Paige Cook and his 12-year-old daughter for procuring every SI Women’s National Team cover.
• Excellent piece by The Verge on MLB Advanced Media.
• Really liked this Lindsey Adler profile of Getty Images sports photographer Elsa Garrison.
Non-sports pieces of note:
• The New Yorker republished online for the first time one of the most remarkable pieces of journalism: John Hersey’s piece on Hiroshima from the Aug. 31, 1946 issue.
• Great reporting by Tim Carpenter of the Topeka Capital-Journal on the brother of Kansas governor Sam Brownback.
• From Caitlin Flanagan of The Atlantic: The Censorship of Stand-Up Comedy on College Campuses.
• Police officers assisted with an early-morning birth at the World Trade Center last week.
• Via The Wall Street Journal: In Defense Of Sharks.
• Crazy story out of Lansing, Michigan from The Detroit News.
• From Sonia Weis: Public places where people cried
• The price (on kids) of school starting early.
• If you have never read: The story of pro wrestling in the 20th century is the story of American capitalism.
5a. The latest “It’s Sports, Stupid” podcast with Maggie Gray and me features a discussion about Ronda Rousey and Olympic cities: http://on.si.com/1E6prSl
5b. The Haskell race featuring American Pharoah's runaway win averaged 2.0 million viewers for NBC.
5c. Yahoo officially announced that NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski has re-signed – for four years – with the company. The company said Wojnarowski will shape the vision and the editorial direction and participiate in talent development for Yahoo Sports’ NBA content.
5d. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Ann Killion on a landmark summer for women in sports and whether or not it’s a tipping point.
5e. New York Times sports business writer Richard Sandomir on the folly of the Pro Football Hall of Fame denying families a spot on the stage during the Hall of Fame ceremony.
5f. CBS Sports Network will debut Time to Schein, a one-hour live weekday sports show with host Adam Schein, on Aug. 17 (6 p.m., ET).
5g. Fox Sports 1 will air Toe-To-Toe Tuesdays, a live primetime boxing series starting on Sept. 8 (9 p.m. ET) for a total of 21 shows through the end of June, 2016. The fights will be simulcast on FOX Deportes. MLB Network host Brian Kenny will host the show
5h. Longtime St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports columnist Bernie Miklasz says goodbye to his newspaper job.
5i. Frank Gifford, the Hall of Fame football player who spent nearly 30 years (1971-97) in the Monday Night Football booth, passed away at age 84 on Sunday. CBS Sports commentator Jim Nantz paid tribute to Gifford during that network’s coverage of the WGC Bridgetone Invitational while ESPN’s Mike Tirico, the current voice of Monday Night Football, said in a statement, “I am terribly saddened by this sudden news ... Frank Gifford was, is and always will be Mr. Monday Night Football. He brought a warmth and genuine nature, and a player’s perspective to the booth that few have or will ever match. He was so generous with all of us at ESPN as we became the stewards of Monday Night Football.” Here is Gifford on the July 21, 1997 cover of Sports Illustrated and, for younger readers, a story from Milton Kent (then of the Baltimore Sun) on ABC pushing out Gifford for Boomer Esiason.On Sunday night, Al Michaels, who worked with Gifford for a decade on MNF, offered a video tribute.