Super 7 Announcing Awards Go To ...
These are likely the same people who think the movies of Pauly Shore were jobbed from Oscar consideration. In sports, the play is the thing, but the words and pictures that accompany them can jump the play from merely memorable to unforgettable.
Towards that end, we offer the first Super 7, the seven best of 2009 in seven different categories.
Verne Lundquist (CBS)
Dan Shulman (ESPN)
Greg Gumbel, right, (CBS)
Joe Buck (Fox)
Jon Miller (ESPN)
Kevin Harlan (CBS/TNT)
Mike Emrick (NBC/Versus)
Despite never having been the lead man on any of CBS' signature properties, Lundquist has always been the personification of professional. The versatile Lundquist, who does college football, college basketball and golf at CBS, is literate, witty and knowledgeable. Most importantly, Lundquist makes his analyst partners better by putting them in position to demonstrate their smarts.
Shulman, like Lundquist, does a lot of things well. The Canadian-born Shulman is a steady presence on the NBA and men's college basketball, but is exceptional on baseball. Gumbel is CBS' best NFL announcer and should be in Miami for the Super Bowl next month. Buck continues to be the leading sportscaster of his generation, though the commercials and the HBO talk show might leave him a bit overexposed. Miller has no peer as the best baseball voice working, while Harlan has lowered the volume and become a terrific basketball announcer and a good listen on football. In the sport, hockey, where good play-by-play is essential to assist the viewer follow the puck, Emrick describes the action better than anyone.
Television game analyst:
Doug Collins (TNT)
Joe Morgan (ESPN)
Mary Carillo (ESPN/NBC/CBS)
Dan Dierdorf (CBS)
(tie) Doris Burke (ESPN/ABC)/Clark Kellogg (CBS)
Cris Collinsworth (NBC)
Bill Raftery (CBS)
It's an axiom in the sports broadcasting business that the job of a play-by-play announcer is to tell the audience the who and when of a play, while a game analyst's role is to tell the how and the why.
No one tells the how and the why of a play better than Collins, who usually gives at least one insight a game that the listener can use at the water cooler the next day and sound like a genius. TNT should move heaven and earth to ensure that Collins, who coached the Bulls, Pistons and Wizards, never patrols the sidelines again.
Morgan is nearly as good an analyst as he was a second baseman, and he is enshrined in Cooperstown. Carillo dissects a tennis match brilliantly, and without bluster. Since leaving "Monday Night Football," Dierdorf has improved mightily as CBS' No.2 analyst, first with Enberg, now with Gumbel. Kellogg, who finally took over as CBS' No.1 college basketball analyst last year, has zoomed nearly to the top of the list, as has Burke, whose realm has expanded beyond women's basketball to men's college basketball and the NBA. Collinsworth, who was splendid in Fox's No.1 NFL booth, has regained his stride with NBC's "Sunday Night Football," after time in the studio. And there are few people who blend fun and information better than Raftery, whom CBS should consider adding with Kellogg at the Final Four.
Television play-by-play/analyst pairing:
Harlan/Collins, above with Kevin Garnett, (TNT)
Dick Enberg/Carillo/John McEnroe (CBS)
Lundquist/Gary Danielson (CBS)
Mike Breen/Jeff Van Gundy/Mark Jackson (ABC/ESPN)
Mike Tirico/Ron Jaworski/Jon Gruden (ESPN)
Announcing duos and trios tend to have short shelf lives, what with coaches using the broadcast booth as a place to get a nap, a hot shower and a quick meal before moving onto the next sideline.
When a pair works, a la Pat Summerall and John Madden, the results can be dynamic. Harlan and Collins, who primarily work the late Thursday night NBA games on TNT have established a rapport that is both entertaining and informational. Harlan gives Collins the room to do what he does best: teach the game.
Gumbel, who graciously moved to No.2 on CBS' depth chart a couple of years ago when James Brown came over from Fox, brings out Dierdorf's sense of humor in a way that never seems forced. Meanwhile, Miller and Morgan, who will start their 20th year together this year, may be baseball's best all-time booth duo.
Though Carillo and McEnroe work together with Ted Robinson on NBC's Wimbledon and French Open coverage, it's with Enberg, who made Billy Packer and Al McGuire the best three-man booth ever, that they shine. Danielson and Lundquist took some heat from the blogosphere this year about their alleged gushing over Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, but, from this vantage point, they made SEC football weekly appointment television. All that separates Breen, Van Gundy and Jackson from moving up higher on the list is curbing some of the forced shtick they bring out on NBA telecasts. And speaking of shtick, once Tony Kornheiser left the "Monday Night Football" booth for Gruden, the telecasts actually became better than listenable; they got enjoyable again.
Television studio host:
Ernie Johnson, Jr. (TNT)
Bob Ley (ESPN)
James Brown (CBS)
Rich Eisen (NFL Network)
John Saunders (ESPN)
Rece Davis (ESPN)
A good studio host not only serves as greeter, but also is a traffic controller, quarterback and point guard (how's that for mixing metaphors?).
Johnson, who must maneuver around the antics of Charles Barkley each week in the TNT studio, while setting the table before, during and after telecasts and making sure Kenny Smith and any other analysts get their "touches" as well, does it all without getting overwhelmed. He's the best in the business.
Ley is fabulous in his role as grand inquisitor on "Outside the Lines." His spot-on questioning of Denver wide receiver Brandon Marshall about the repeated accusations of domestic abuse against him made for great television this past summer.
Brown is the best of the NFL studio hosts, managing to achieve a level of dignity in a genre that encourages misplaced "jock"ularity. Gumbel shepherds the nation through the messiness of the NCAA men's basketball tournament and does it with aplomb.
Eisen's star has risen significantly since he left ESPN and became the face of NFL Network. Saunders is a worthy successor to the late Dick Schaap on "The Sports Reporters," as well as a solid host of ABC's college football coverage, while the underrated Davis is a good referee for Lou Holtz and Mark May on ESPN's college football telecasts.
Television Studio Analyst:
Kenny Smith, right, (TNT)
Tom Jackson (ESPN)
Harold Reynolds (MLB Network)
Kirk Herbstreit (ESPN)
Tim Legler (ESPN)
Tony Dungy/Rodney Harrison (NBC)
John Kruk (ESPN)
Too many studio analysts have become reduced to wanna-be tough guys who stare into a camera and deliver supposedly impressive pronouncements that ultimately mean nothing. Indeed, Smith's strength, besides carving a niche away from the bombastic Barkley, is that he addresses Johnson directly and offers cogent analysis each week. Smith could easily be a coach or general manager, but instead should remain in TNT's Atlanta's studios.
Even with the myriad of analysts on ESPN's "Sunday Countdown" set, it's usually Jackson who comes away with the interesting, insightful comment delivered at about half the decibel level of his colleagues. Like Eisen, Reynolds did fine work at ESPN, but has taken off at the MLB Network, while Herbstreit manages to be astute each Saturday, even plunked down in ESPN's unfortunate decision to take "College GameDay" on the road. Legler, who had a decent NBA career, mostly as a long distance shooter, is ESPN's best pro basketball analyst, even if he doesn't get enough time to demonstrate his wares. Dungy and Harrison have been borderline fearless with NBC this year and could be stars if they decide to stick with it. Kruk, surprisingly, has, at ESPN, retained much of the folksiness he displayed at Fox and is almost always an entertaining listen.
Wimbledon men's final (NBC)
Big East championship game (ESPN)
NCAA Men's East regional final (CBS)
Stanley Cup Game 7 (NBC)
Super Bowl (NBC)
Serena Williams' meltdown at the U.S. Open women's semifinal (CBS)
Mark Buerhle's perfect game (Comcast Sports Net Chicago)
Though none of the best images of 2009 are likely to leave an indelible impression in the national sports consciousness, there were, nonetheless, a handful of terrific marriages of words and pictures into moments of magic.
Robinson and McEnroe and the combination of NBC and BBC cameras were nearly as brilliant in July as Roger Federer and Andy Roddick turned in a Wimbledon final that may become as beloved in time as the 1980 championship match between McEnroe and Bjorn Borg.
College basketball is almost always good for one or more unforgettable moments a year, and March didn't disappoint. ESPN's coverage of the six-overtime Big East tournament game between Connecticut and Syracuse was nothing short of sensational, as was the CBS telecast of the NCAA East Regional final between Pittsburgh and Villanova. Besides the conference affiliations, the games had Raftery's presence in common. He was up to the task each time.
The NHL may not occupy the same position of prominence that it once did in the American sports pantheon, but few things on the calendar match the intensity of a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals. NBC's production and announce team was splendid documenting Pittsburgh's stunning win over Detroit in the deciding game of last year's finals. Likewise, NBC producer Fred Gaudelli and director Drew Esocoff along with remarkable camera work were spectacular at Super Bowl 44, especially on Santonio Holmes' game-winning catch. The crew expertly showed how Holmes secured the ball and got both feet down in the end zone in a game that turned out to be John Madden's swan song.
Enberg, who is a master of words, used them brilliantly to describe how Williams' profane outburst jarred the serenity of the U.S. Open at the critical juncture of her match. Finally, the local Comcast Sports Net crew in Chicago did network quality work showing Buerhle's July masterpiece, with multiple angles on Dewayne Wise's incredible ninth-inning catch over the left -center field wall.
Radio Talk Show Host(s)
Tony Bruno (Fox Radio) 10 p.m.-1 a.m. weeknights
Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic (ESPN Radio) 6-10 a.m. weekdays
Bob Valvano (ESPN Radio) 1-5 a.m. Saturday and Sunday
Chris Moore (Fox) 9 a.m.-noon weekends
Jeff Rickard (ESPN Radio) Fill-in
John Fricke and Chris Landry (Fox Radio) weekend mornings
Scott Van Pelt/Ryen Russilo (ESPN Radio) 2-4 p.m. weekdays
(All times Eastern)
Good sports talk radio both entertains and informs, and there aren't a lot of people, locally or nationally, who can manage to strike the balance. Indeed, much of sports talk has disintegrated into either "guy talk" or where the host takes the lazy approach of pushing the emotional buttons of the audience by making ridiculous statements, then sitting back as the phone calls and e-mails pile in.
Luckily, Bruno, who has meandered from ESPN to Fox to Sporting News and now back to Fox to host "Into the Night," has never had to do that. His is a silly, but smart show that educates and amuses the listener. Here's hoping Bruno can put down some radio roots and have a permanent stay.
The "Mike and Mike" duo of Greenberg and Golic has achieved an easy rapport that is neither forced nor contrived. Their differences are honest, not contrived, and they genuinely like each other. It would be nice, occasionally, to hear them take their channel to task on issues, but there are worse ways to pass time in the morning, say, the new Stephen A. Smith show on Fox.
Valvano's "V Show" is the best-kept secret on sports talk radio. The host, the brother of former North Carolina State men's basketball coach Jim Valvano, makes strong effective points and conveys passion in a manner that is never condescending or manufactured. And his radio version of the old TV game show classic "Match Game" is almost always hysterical.
Moore is a rarity among talk show hosts: he actually is respectful to callers, even the ones he disagrees with. He's also thoughtful and reasoned, again qualities we don't always ascribe to sports talk radio. Rickard, a hard worker who used to have his own Sporting News show, would be a vast and immediate improvement over Colin Cowherd, Erik Kuselias, Doug Gottleib, John Kincade, all of whom inexplicably have shows on ESPN Radio. Fricke and Landry, a former NFL scout, do the best purely football talk show on the air right now. Van Pelt and Russillo can occasionally try to hard to reach a younger demo, but they are usually spot-on, particularly in their basketball commentary.