With another regular season over, it’s time to hand out my awards for the best and worst in NFL TV. Lots of hardware to hand out. If you want to see past awards, you can check the inaugural, 2nd and 3rd annual awards.
Best Play by Play: I’m going to go Against the Grain this year. I could be obvious and go with Al Michaels again or even Jim Nantz, but I’m going to choose Gus Johnson, CBS. The man can rise to the occasion. He should be calling better games instead of the “E” game. But, he’s always assured of calling a game every week, but I hope CBS promotes him. As it has been pointed out, the Law of Gus Johnson means he’ll have something crazy happen like a Hail Mary or the famous Brandon Stokley play from last year. We’ll have an example coming up of the Law of Gus Johnson taking effect, but because of it, it means that he’ll have an exciting game and it means that there will be a scream, a “Ha! Ha!” or a moment that will be etched in our memories. Gus never disappoints. He gets Best Play by Play this season.
Best Game Analyst: Cris Collinsworth, NBC. I know many of you don’t like Collinsworth, but teamed with Al Michaels, he’s stepped up big time. Are there times when Collinsworth makes head scratching statements? Yes, absolutely, but he picks up trends, is right on top of plays and with Michaels, can tell how a replay review is going to come out. When Collinsworth was teamed with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, he often had to play the contrarian, but with Al, he can concentrate on talking football and Cris does a very good job.
Best Studio Show: The Original Red Zone Channel, DirecTV. This is the best and only way to watch football. Just completed its 6th year and 102 shows, the Red Zone Channel bounces from game to game and quite effortlessly with host Andrew Siciliano. Red Zone Channel spawned its own knockoff, NFL RedZone, but the original is still the best and when there’s a dead moment, Andrew goes to highlights or discusses fantasy stats. The show is produced extremely well and nothing comes close.
Best Studio Host: Andrew Siciliano, DirecTV. Yes, Andrew is the best studio host. He knows just about every player who comes on the screen. He can do play-by-play when he has to and he weaves us from game to game with humor and funny one-liners. He’s done it for 6 seasons now. I just wish DirecTV produced a pregame show for the playoffs because it’s right about now where I miss having Red Zone Channel.
Best Studio Analyst: Steve Mariucci, NFL Network. Mooch has grown into a very good analyst and using his coach’s knowledge, can break down plays with the best of them. He’s also learned to come in quickly during highlights and get out. He’s very good on NFL Network’s GameDay Morning, NFL GameDay Highlights, NFL GameDay Final and Thursday Night Kickoff.
Most Valuable Network: NBC. Sunday Night Football won the primetime ratings every week it was on. It averaged 21.8 million viewers. When Dick Ebersol got NBC back into the NFL in 2006, this is what he envisioned, the number one primetime series and high viewership. He got it in spades this season. All NBC needs is a cable package and it very well could get that when Comcast takes over and the network is combined with Versus sometime this year.
The Gus Johnson Call of the Year: Considering the Law of Gus Johnson, I am now instituting this new award. Let’s go to Week 10, Houston and Jacksonville tied at 24 with 3 seconds left and the Jags have one more play. It’s a Hail Mary and you know what happens next. We even get a “HA! HA!” Classic Gus.
Best NFL Insider: Jay Glazer, Fox. He’s back after a one year absence. Sure, he has huge conflicts of interest training certain NFL players for mixed martial arts, then reporting on them, but he gets the scoops. The tapes he obtained showing teams knocking down gunners on the sidelines were just amazing. Great stuff.
Best Announcing Team: Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, CBS. They may not make headlines and Nantz isn’t someone to make controversy or make political statements like Al Michaels, but he’s a solid play-by-play man. Simms can see trends and isn’t afraid to go out on a limb, and he’s not afraid to admit he’s wrong when he makes a mistake. Nantz and Simms mesh well and you know they’re going to call a good game.
Most Improved Presentation: Football Night in America, NBC. Last year, I gave FNIA the Worst Studio Show Award. This year, it’s much better. Keith Olbermann is gone leaving Dan Patrick to do the highlights and that works out very well. Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison have grown comfortable in their roles as studio analysts. I can do with one interview instead of the normal two from the game sites so I can watch more highlights. I’ve grown tired of Bob Costas’ act, but he’s still better than most of the broadcasters on TV and radio. The show is much better than last year.
Best Game Coverage: Sunday Night Football, NBC. The game production is one of the best and led by Fred Gaudelli and Drew Esocoff, I love how we just see football. There are no silly crowd cutaways and the games are done right for fans. Very rarely do we see mistakes during the production and NBC’s crew is one of the best. We see two teams on the field, but the one giving you the game is the third team that you don’t see. They’re working hard so you can enjoy the game.
Rookie of the Year: Mike Pereira, Fox. I don’t know why other networks haven’t done this before but Fox’s move to hire former NFL Director of Officiating Mike Pereira was a stroke of genius. Fox gave him similar resources to what he had in New York at the NFL offices and giving him the ability to cut in to discuss a controversial play. For a while, Pereira had predicted every replay review correctly. He did get one wrong, but that’s to be expected. Mike’s explanation of plays go so well that he’s a welcome addition to the games and he’ll be in the booth during the Super Bowl in Dallas for any replay reviews.
Most Touching Moment: Terry Bradshaw’s Tribute to Don Meredith, Fox. With someone else, this could have turned hokey and over the top, but with Terry Bradshaw, it turned out just right. Terry gave his heartfelt feelings on what Don Meredith’s passing meant to him along with some advice that Dandy Don gave to him just as he was about to go into television and he ended it by singing “Turn Out the Lights” and the lights did go out. Perfect.
Worst Play-by-Play: Joe Buck, Fox. I’ll get killed by my friends at Fox Sports PR for this, but Joe has really grated on me this season. He often takes the role of play-by-play man and analyst. He tries to make Troy Aikman agree with him and that is not his job. Throughout the season, he’s gotten worse and I really dread him calling Super Bowl XLV in February.
Worst Game Analyst: Joe Theismann, NFL Network. Here’s a guy who returned to the booth after two years in exile following his removal from Monday Night Football by ESPN. A disastrous guest stint for NBC in last year’s Wild Card playoff game should have been a clue as to what we would see this season. Joining last year’s Worst Game Analyst, Matt Millen and Bob Papa for Thursday Night Football, Theismann has tried to make up for two lost years by talking at every opportunity. He didn’t shut up. He talked too much and he interrupted both Millen and Papa quite often. He takes this award hands down. Theismann is awful. Bob Papa deserves hazard pay for having to endure Millen and especially, Theismann.
Worst Expression: “This Guy” by Jon Gruden, ESPN. I didn’t notice Gruden saying “this guy” when he first joined ESPN in 2009, but I’ve noticed it a hell of a lot this season. An example: “I’m telling you Jaws, this guy, Brett Favre is one hell of a player. This guy can play for me. This guy knows how to run this Minnesota Vikings offense. This guy can make things happen out there.” There were times he said, “This guy” twice in one sentence. He said it so often, I started a game on Twitter as to when in the first quarter he would make his first “this guy” reference. Most times, it would come in the first two minutes. And he said it so often, that partners Mike Tirico and Ron Jaworski picked up the habit. In fact, Cris Collinsworth has been known to sprinkle in a “this guy” of his own on Sunday Night Football as well. Here’s an example of Gruden saying “this guy.”
Worst Studio Host: Stuart Scott, ESPN. There’s no need for Stuart at the game site for Monday Night Football. Having two sets of studio crews for Monday Night Football is overkill. Just having Stuart at a game is complete overkill. I can’t watch him. Horrible.
Worst Studio Analyst: Michael Irvin, NFL Network. NFL GameDay Morning used to be entertaining, but this year, he made the show totally unwatchable. He yelled, he pounded the table, he made a very good analyst Marshall Faulk yell with him. Warren Sapp often had to yell to get his point across. The one week when Irvin wasn’t in the studio and Deion Sanders subbed for him, the show got back to its entertainment level. Someone has to tell Michael to tone it down.
Worst Studio Show: Monday Night Countdown, ESPN. Besides from C’mon, Man, I can’t watch this show. Two sets of studio crews are not necessary. Just have the crew originate from Bristol or from the game site, one or the other. There is no need for two. It’s too much talking.
Worst Game Coverage: Thursday Night Football, NFL Network. NFL Network brought in Artie Kempner, a Fox Sports director who did Super Bowl XLII to improve its game coverage. It still didn’t work. Just like last season, replays were late, they sometimes ran long causing us to miss the start of plays, and there were times when the audio sounded garbled. Maybe with Joe Theismann, that was a good thing, but you can’t have that. NFL Network does a great job with its studio shows, but for the game coverage, it’s terrible. I don’t understand it. I really can’t.
That will conclude our NFL TV Awards for this season.