This offseason, Shutdown Corner’s Frank Schwab and Eric Edholm will look into what is overrated and underrated in all aspects of the NFL. We fully expect your angry emails and comments that are sure to follow.
OVERRATED AND UNDERRATED: Broadcaster
Eric Edholm: Jim Nantz
Granted, anyone who has to caddy for Phil Simms — and that’s what it feels like, watching them butcher a Jets-Patriots game — should be given some kind of get-out-of-jail-free card.
But Nantz, CBS’ signature voice, treats the NFL as his canvas too often, and his strokes are too broad and showy. Things that work for a golf broadcast, or even college hoops, fall short on the gridiron.
Nantz is given respect as if he’s one of the stewards and historians of the game, and though he’s as professional as they come in handling anything that comes at him during a broadcast, he can be a bit hammy or stale.
He doesn’t wax poetic like he does at Augusta or cap his broadcasts with terrible March Madness puns during NFL broadcasts. But he tends to lean too heavily on his personal anecdotes and refuses to challenge Simms on his own ridiculous statements (which is a column unto its own).
I much rather would watch and listen to Mike Tirico, Greg Gumbel (pretty underrated, I might add), Brad Nessler, Kevin Harlan, or even Thom Brennaman or Joe Buck call an NFL game.
Frank Schwab: Jon Gruden
Yeah, this isn’t breaking any new ground. The same criticisms others have of Gruden are the ones that drive me crazy on “Monday Night Football.” Mostly, that he seems to be overly positive about everything in case he gets back in the NFL game.
That’s not the main issue I have, though. It’s expectations. Gruden knows the game maybe as well as anyone on the planet. He’s got a great personality. The quarterback camp stuff he does in the offseason is very good. And there are times he is great during games.
If you want to hear an announcer having a great game, re-watch Gruden on the Washington-Philadelphia opener on Monday night last year. He did an expert job breaking down Robert Griffin III’s issues coming off knee surgery, and a lot of them held up for most of the season. And I want that Gruden all the time. Yet too often he’s the “look at this part of the replay … right … HERE!” color commentator (known as Theismann-ing) or giving a glowing compliment he’s trying to pass off as analysis and I can only hear his “You wanna talk about a guy … ” that leads to some gushing solioquy so often before I hit mute.
I thought Gruden would be a superstar after he moved from coaching to broadcasting (obviously ESPN did as well), and he still might be. Every once in a while you’re reminded he can break down football like almost nobody else. Once those moments become the norm for him, I’ll enjoy “Monday Night Football” a lot more.
EE: John Lynch
I remember talking to Lynch late one night at a Super Bowl right after he retired and thought to myself: He just explains football in a clean, crisp and yet exciting way.
Now with a few years of broadcasting under his belt, I can say that Lynch has gotten only better at his craft.
He has deft touch of knowing when to add detail and texture to a call, and when to be critical or praiseworthy, without it ever being heavy. Lynch prepares for broadcasts the way he did in his playing career and there’s no doubt he cares about his work.
There’s a real art in taking complex football strategy — coverages, route concepts or just the abstracts of the game — and making it palatable and thought-provoking. You must do it in a way so as to not make the savants roll their eyes but also in a fashion that engages the more green fans.
I’d love to hear Lynch do a Super Bowl one day. He’d be great at it, and that’s the kind of audience where you attract a lot of once-a-year viewers.
Lynch is a rising star in his business, but he still doesn’t get his proper due. He and Kevin Burkhardt — who earned a playoff broadcast with the Seahawks-Saints game in January, and completely nailed it — are the best game broadcast duo in the NFL that hasn’t gotten its proper due.
If you listen to that playoff game, you can hear that the duo really let the 12th Man crowd speak for itself. They didn’t feel the need to tell you how loud it was. That’s veteran, savvy touch right there. Silence is golden, and patience is a virtue.
FS: Matt Millen
Actually, most times I’d probably pick NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, but I know some people appreciate him. Others rip him for talking too much or using too much inside-football terminology, but I (and others) would argue that’s what makes him great. He tries to present the game in an intelligent way. There are a lot of great NFL minds who break down film during the week to explain why plays worked or didn’t. They watch each play numerous times. Mayock gets to see it live and then tries to break it down with seconds to think about it. That’s hard. And he does it very well. I think he’s the best in his field when he does NFL games (he’s a different guy on Notre Dame games, but that’s another story).
But some others also like Mayock’s work, and I assume I’m the only one left who wishes Matt Millen had a big-time NFL announcing gig.
I’m not here to defend Millen as the Lions GM. He made just about every bad decision a GM can make. If your first comment is to inform me he was terrible running the Lions, I already know. But I don’t think that means he can’t analyze the game. Dick Vitale was bad coaching the Pistons before becoming a great college basketball announcer (I’m referencing the Vitale from 20 years ago when he was great — go back and watch a classic game with him sometime -— and not the guy playing the character of Dick Vitale we suffer through now). Many others are great announcers without being great after not making much of a mark elsewhere in the sport. Mayock played nine NFL games. Bob Uecker hit .200 and he’s in the Baseball Hall of Fame. And Millen, at least once upon a time, was a great color guy.
I don’t believe Millen has been a great fit on ESPN’s college football broadcasts. His stint back on the NFL Network’s Thursday night games a few years ago wasn’t memorable either. Maybe he can’t recapture what he had, but I’d like to see him on an NFL broadcast regularly again to find out. His fiasco in Detroit has caused people to forget that at one point he was considered the next John Madden, when he was paired with Dick Stockton as Fox’s No. 2 team. And they were great. Then Millen went to the Lions and we can’t see him again without thinking about Charles Rogers and Mike Williams.
Millen is a personable guy (go watch the “A Football Life” episode featuring him if you disagree) and has done this job very well before. Maybe he just isn’t as good of an announcer as he was long ago and I’m living in the past. But it seems he’s probably never going to get a good NFL color job again because of mistakes he made running the Lions, and that’s too bad.
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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab