...but continually brought up in a football context nonetheless. That last post got me thinking so now I'm rolling. Bill Simmons, a.k.a. The Sports Guy, hit the nail on the head with another one of my pet peeves. Football commentators that talk too much -- that is, any at all -- about junk not immediately pertinent to the game at hand have no place in the booth. The Sports Guy explains this obvious concept in more detail here
, but I'll elaborate a little on my own.
Have you ever tried to sit down and watch a game you're really interested in, such that it's not just "on" but you're actually trying to pay attention to it, and one or more loudmouths in the room ramble on about crap not related to the game being played? Then you most surely know how it makes your blood boil and you just want to beat them into silence and even proceed to beat them after that point has been reached so you can then focus on your game, right? That, to a lesser extent, is the feeling I get when I'm watching a game and the sportscasters keep jabbering about topics not pertinent to the game. Rather than contributing insight and tidbits of sports wisdom that might otherwise go unnoticed, their talking actually detracts from the game and makes it harder to follow the action.
I think I speak for most football fans when I say we watch games because we are -- gasp!
-- into football. We don't watch because we want to hear about players' personal lives or care about what X big-name celebrity who is in attendance thinks of what's going on. So spare us the pointless crap and give us guys like Madden and Keith Jackson (ABC's college football play-by-play guy, not the Arkansas color commentator, for those familiar with the latter -- those Arkansas' Jackson is pretty good too) who know football and will stick to each play as it happens, and the specifics of a team's preparations or other such things that directly impact what's happening on the field, and not wander off into subject matter that has little or no relevance to what we're watching.
To this end, I will offer some suggestions to current and up-and-coming football sportscasters...
* Give lots of numbers. Those matter in football. "Third and short
" doesn't tell me as much as "third and two." But I know that much more about what I'm seeing if you actually say the number. This includes in-game stats, too. If a guy is tearing it up or not doing jack then I want to hear that. That gives me a better picture of how the whole game is and has been going. This is actually a huge advance of following games online vice on the tube -- stats are updated in real time and one can easily track things like completions and tackles and stuff. But it still doesn't do justice to a football guy talking about ebbs and flows he sees. So let's have more of it.
* Never, ever, ever
invite a non-football guy into the booth and proceed to have a conversation with him while there's a game going on, or invite a football guy into the booth and force him to talk about something other than what's going on out there on the field. That stuff can be interesting at times, but it should never take place in lieu of the booth regulars doing their job of providing good game coverage.
* Do away with the buffoons on the field that have no more knowledge of the game than most of the viewers. To be honest, it seems that they're often young, pretty women who have probably been given face time for reasons other than their gridiron intellect. So maybe this sounds sexist. I don't care. It's a real problem with games. Sideline reporters especially need to know and understand the game; Simmons does a good job of explaining this. Guys like Lynn Swann can infer from what they see and understand what's happening down there in a way that allows them to add valuable color commentary to games. Some average Joe Fan, or some woman who clearly knows so little about football one is only left to suspect she was put on the crew to satisfy some diversity quota on somebody's desk, cannot do this. As importantly, he/she doesn't have that "one of us" kind of respect needed to interact with the players on their level. And so nothing is added except maybe a small dose of comic relief every now and then. And the poor sideline reporter appears more often than not to be put on the spot and forced to fill dead air time with some stupid scrap of info that means nothing or is so blatantly obvious it needn't be said.
For the purpose of illustration, allow me to digress for a paragraph here and relate one of the greatest moments in the history of televised sports. The Eagles were playing on Monday Night Football a few years ago, in the days when the notorious Melissa Stark was the sideline correspondent for ABC. After the first half ended and the teams were heading off the field, Stark did the customary interview-a-coach thing and stopped Andy Reid on his way into the locker room. (In fairness to Stark, the Eagles hadn't had a good half and Reid probably wasn't thrilled to have to stop and deal with her on his way to addressing his players.) She started off with a dumb question along the lines of, "What do you need to do to get back in this game?" Unfortunately I don't remember the exact question but I remember thinking it was a bad one as she asked it. Without missing a beat, Reid responded, "Melissa, I can't believe you just asked me that question", or something to that effect. Then, instead of trotting away or throwing her a lifeline of some sort, he just stood there with that stoic Andy Reid look on his face and waited for another. A clearly rattled Stark managed to sputter out a couple more questions, an all-business Reid gave vague "say something to get rid of her" answers, and the interview was over. I actually felt sorry for Stark, as she was probably fed the question or couldn't think of anything better and Reid just completely put her in her place. I can't do it justice here, but it was one of the funniest sports moments I can remember seeing. I'm laughing now just thinking of it. Great stuff. Ant it demonstrates how having a clueless field correspondent on a crew can lead to some humor.
* Don't have guys in the booth that tend to dominate conversations. They'll ramble on about all kinds of crap or be so intent on explaining their own point of view that the perhaps helpful commentary of others in the booth will be lost.
* Don't have guys in the booth that clearly hate each other. They'll just throw jabs back and forth and detract from the game. This has been a big problem on MNF back in the McGwire-Theismann days, or with Greg Gumbel and pretty much anybody. Come to think of it, McGwire was a problem case for the previous bullet point too. He was probably the root of the trouble with that crew. Too bad, I always wanted to hear what Theismann had to say and yet he never seemed to say enough.
* Probably most importantly, get guys who speak to football fans and not casual sports fans or folks who only watch because they have to (i.e., someone else in the room has commandeered the remote). Catering to these latter types will only piss off the real footbal fans watching and it probably won't net very many more fans who will continually want to tune in. They can find what they're looking for outside of sports programming. Stick to your true target audience and make sure they get what they want and don't start hating your crappy sportscasting.
There are more points here I'm sure, but I can't think of them now. (Why do so many of my blog posts end like that?) But that's a good start. If only I could dictate the rules of football broadcast booths...