Mic Check: Critics Weigh In On The Best, Worst NFL Game Analysts
Accolades for NBC’s dynamic broadcasting duo on "Sunday Night Football" and appreciation for the CBS team of Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts were among the sentiments from an editorial roundtable assessing the announcing teams of the NFL’s network partners. THE DAILY spoke to four members of the media who comment often on the presentation and announcing of NFL programming -- Newsday’s Neil Best, the Tampa Bay Times’ Tom Jones, Sports On Earth’s Will Leitch and the Houston Chronicle’s David Barron -- about their favorite, most underrated and overrated announcing teams. This comes after a separate panel weighed in on the network’s NFL pregame shows in yesterday’s issue. Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
that Collinsworth and Michaels are the top combo
Neil Best, Newsday: The combination that I like the best is NBC’s Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth. Primarily because, as much as I like CBS’ Jim Nantz and Fox' Joe Buck as play-by-play guys, I just think that Michaels still -- after all these years -- does the best job of not only calling the action but also staying on top of the larger narrative of these games. I like Collinsworth for his blunt opinion.
Tom Jones, Tampa Bay Times: Michaels and Collinsworth. Collinsworth is the most interesting analyst on TV. His analysis is humorous; at the same time it’s also spot on. And I don’t think he’s afraid to call anybody out either. Michaels is pretty much the perfect announcer. Almost never makes a mistake; the economy of words that he has is perfect.
David Barron, Houston Chronicle: Michaels and Collinsworth. Their style is relaxed but also I think generally they have moments where they can conform their style of broadcasting to the importance of the game that they generally have. In other words, they bring the casual fan into the game well, but they also have sufficient knowledge and sufficient skill that they can get you involved in the game just by the matter of their exchanges once it gets into a tight game.
Will Leitch, Sports On Earth: I tend to like the NFL Network guys: Mike Mayock and Brad Nessler. They’re pretty good. As a team, NFL Net does a really good job. For CBS, a lot of people used to rip on Dan Fouts when he was on “Monday Night Football.” But I actually think he’s pretty good on CBS. He’s with Ian Eagle and Eagle’s very good too.
Q: Who are some others you like and why?
Best: I like Joe Buck’s occasionally-sarcastic sense of humor. It turns some people off, but I find it makes the game seem not all that serious. Jim Nantz brings his own kind of style, which wears well over time. I like ESPN’s Mike Tirico because he’s also worn well into doing a lot of different things for ESPN and I never really hear criticisms of him. My favorite might be Ian Eagle, also because of his ability to work humor into what he’s doing and not always take himself seriously.
Jones: I like Tirico and Jon Gruden on ESPN. Tirico is really good, and Gruden is interesting and funny. I’m a big Ian Eagle guy as far as a broadcaster play-by-play guy. He’s really strong. John Lynch is getting there for Fox; he’s a pretty decent analyst. And then I like Joe Buck and Troy Aikman on Fox. I would rank them my third favorite team, behind Tirico and Gruden who are number two and Michaels and Collinsworth as my number one.
Barron: I like Phil Simms and Jim Nantz. One play-by-play guy I really enjoy is CBS' Kevin Harlan. Kevin is good on television, but I think he’s particularly effective doing radio broadcasts for Westwood One.
Leitch: I like Joe Buck more than most people. I’ll take him over Nantz and Simms. I think the general issue with Nantz has always been it’s pretty obvious he’d rather be doing The Masters.
Q: Who is underrated when it comes to the NFL booth?
Best: In general, the team of Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts might be the most underrated. They work well together. Phil Simms might be the best of all in terms of talking about technical football elements in ways that people can understand.
Jones: Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts are very underrated. They are CBS’ best crew. Personally, I like them better than Jim Nantz and Phil Simms.
Barron: Fox’ Dick Stockton has been around for so long that you tend to forget about him.
Leitch: Dan Fouts is a little goofier than he was when he was on “Monday Night Football.” He’s better than I think he’s given credit for.
Q: Which announcers are overrated?
Best: I’ll say Gruden only because I do think that he has -- assuming he stays at it -- great potential to be a guy who does it forever, like a John Madden, if he chooses not to go back to coaching. But he still has to be careful about being too technical and too gushy as opposed to critical. The same could be said of Mike Mayock at the NFL Network, where he is also a guy who knows the sport inside and out like Gruden does and has to learn to strike that balance until you’re not overdoing it and fans don’t know what you’re talking about.
Jones: I’m not a big Nantz and Simms guy. I don’t think they’re bad at what they do, but I’m not sure I’d have them as my number one team on a network.
Leitch: I don’t think there’s any question that it’s Fox’ Gus Johnson. The problem with Gus Johnson is that it’s not real. All of it. All the screaming. He’ll use the same cadence for a Northwestern-Chicago State game in the middle of November as he will for a national championship game. It’s not real. It’s fake. It’s bluster. And frankly, the sports world has enough of that.
Q: Which announcing team do you find the most disappointing and why?
Best: I would reluctantly say the NFL Network only because of Mayock. Even though he’s extremely knowledgeable and works extremely hard, he has to stop talking in ways that people don’t understand. I have nothing against Brad Nessler at all, but I was a huge Bob Papa guy and I didn’t understand the decision to let Papa go a couple years ago.
Jones: I like Fox’ Kenny Albert a lot. His play-by-play is really good. But I’m not a big fan of Fox’ Tony Siragusa and Daryl Johnston. I just think they clown around a little too much.
Barron: I sometimes wonder if CBS’ Dan Dierdorf doesn’t fall back into accepted habits. He falls back more on clichés as opposed to adjusting to the times.
Leitch: I actually find the whole NBC production disappointing because they’ve got tons of talented people on there. I think Michaels is a professional and Collinsworth is good. It still feels somehow strangely more corporate than the other networks. It always feels like they are putting on a show for an advertisers’ benefit, kind of buffeted by Costas’ desperately-want-to-be-Edward-R.-Murrow routine at halftime during a sporting event sponsored by Ford Trucks and 5-hour Energy.