Wednesday, November 25th
Thanksgiving, the best holiday of the year. No pressure, no stress, just family, food and football. Two things are constant in my house: The smell of turkey, putting me in a constant state of hunger and the sounds of the football games on the television, making everything right with the world. Well, almost everything.
For as long as I can remember, there were two NFL games on Thanksgiving. The games were aired by the networks that had the rights to each conference. Because of the size of the audience the networks would put their number one announcing team on the broadcast. The two lead analysts for the two big networks for the last five years are Troy Aikman for FOX and Phil Simms at CBS. While I didnt like either of them as players, (they both played in the NFL East. You do the math!) I had immense respect for them. They both are Super Bowl champions and deservedly so. They were successful at the ultimate level because of their physical and mental abilities. The understanding of the game they needed to play the game at its highest level is the reason they are on TV. What makes them great announcers is that they are able to convey what they see to us fans in a way that is detailed, accurate and entertaining. The combination of having great football knowledge and having used it to win gives them credibility. For most of us fans this credibility is very important. I mean, do you want a bartender describing the action? (I know, I do too, but the networks wont return my calls!) While I know a certain bartender would be very entertaining, these two have me beat. They both have established themselves as being among the best at what they do. When their network has a big game, they are going to be the ones analyzing it.
Then in 2006 the dessert of a 3rd game was added. But this game was put on the NFL Network and their broadcast has, to say the least, not quite had the big network feel to it. (Consider them the WB of NFL broadcast networks.) Now this is kind of odd considering their analyst for the first 3 years, Chris Collinsworth, is someone whom I enjoy listening to. But for two long years, he was paired with Bryant Gumbel and their partnership was not very compelling. Not quite fingernails on the chalkboard, but not quite Summerall and Madden either. Then, thankfully, Gumbel was let go and Bob Papa took his place. The pairing seemed to work well together, even though I didnt still feel that they were near the elite.
What happened next is something I still cant fathom. When John Madden, my favorite analyst in any sport all-time, decided to retire from NBC, Collinsworth was hired to take his place on the most watched NFL game of the week. Good for him, bad for us. Because in its lack of infinite wisdom the NFL Network decided to hire Matt Millen to be their new lead analyst. Now if this was 2000, I would applaud the move, since back then Millen was considered to be Madden Lite. He was a rising star at FOX and was very entertaining to listen to. As a player he had made the Pro Bowl and had FOUR Super Bowl rings. His rep was that of a working class, gutty linebacker and he brought that mentality into the booth. In fact he was so knowledgeable and entertaining that the Detroit Lions hired him as their G.M. Oops!! What followed is probably the worst tenure of any NFL executive EVER! Now you could argue about some others being in his league, but just about all of them OWNED the team, they werent about to fire themselves! The Lions during his stewardship were 31-97! Think about that. 66 games under five hundred. People here are calling for Lovie and Angelos heads and theyre 2 games under this year, 2 games under for the last 2 12 years. What do you think the people of Detroit think of his ability to analyze football? (I read something that I didnt know while I was reading up on Mr. Millen. Last year when he was on air as part of NBCs Super Bowl pregame show, Channel 4 in Detroit ran a scroll at the bottom of the screen every time his face appeared on camera: Matt Millen was president of the Lions for the worst eight-year run in the history of the NFL. Knowing his history with the team, is there a credibility issue as he now serves as an analyst for NBC Sports? Ouch! That is funny. Can you imagine? Can you imagine the anger that this guy has generated?) I wont even get in to the fact that someone let him have that job for EIGHT years, I mean it wasnt that bad for us in Chicago, two easy games a year for the Bears are good for everyone!
It seems though, that TV execs still love this guy like nothing ever happened. Because, since he was fired 3 games into the first 0-16 season ever last year, one that had his hand and footprints all over it, hes worked for NBC, ESPN and now the NFL Network. Does he have pictures? How does this guy keep getting hired? Now dont get me wrong, this is not personal, since when he was a player, I was a huge fan, especially since hes a Nittany Lion. Hes one of my boys. And I was one of those who thought he was great as an analyst before his misadventures as a G.M. But isnt TV about what have you done for me lately? I dont understand how anyone can take anything he has to say about football seriously, considering the fact of how close we still are to the wreckage.
For us hard-core fans, credibility matters. TV usually understands this, since in every sport, they repeatedly hire winning coaches and players as analysts. These people have names that are easily recognizable and bodies of work that can be admired. I cant think of any other guy, other than maybe Dick Vitale, (Detroit! Coincidence?) that had such a bad experience, then had the privilege of explaining the actions of others to us afterwards. And thats the point. He has to explain the actions of others to us. What? Not only that, he has to stand in judgment of these actions. Can you imagine the reactions of those around the league? Forget us fans, is there any peer who thinks he just had a run of bad luck, for 8 years? What a joke.
I think that if you are the NFL Network, you should act like it. Your broadcasts should be beyond reproach, you should set the standards. The league takes hard-line stances with everything else, why would they open themselves up for this issue of credibility? Wouldnt fans rather listen to someone like Bill Cowher or Mike Shanahan? Theyve had success. They know what it takes to win, during a game and over the long haul. Oh well, Ill be in a tryptophan stupor by the time the game is on anyway. Maybe in that state, what he has to offer will make sense and when I roll my eyes, it will be because Im falling asleep, not because of the keen insight of Mr. 31-97. Gobble, Gobble!!