NFL Commentators

Posted: November 6, 2013 in Uncategorized
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NFL Commentator: The Easiest Job in the World

Stand-up comedian Lewis Black has a bit where he asks, “What is the easiest job in the world?” He replies, “The weatherman in San Diego, who is on for about ten seconds, boasts a six-figure income, and predicts the weather as “nice.””

My sister lives in San Diego and attests the weather is not always “seventy-five and sunny,” but Mr. Black makes a valid point. After all, he is a comedian.

As a fan of NFL football that spends more time than I should sitting in front of the TV on Sundays and sometime Thursday nights, I must disagree with Mr. Black.

I am convinced the easiest job in the world is a commentator for the National Football League, although from my experience, most sports commentators qualify. In the interest of time and space, I’ll comment on the NFL.

The requirement is simply this: a voice, commanding if possible, but anyone able to speak will suffice.

I watch and listen to the games week after week and it’s always the same, regardless of commentator or network. They all second-guess the play-calling, praise the coach and team when a play works, make suggestions or even chastise the coach and players when the play does not work as designed or expected.

I never heard a commentator say ‘bad call,’ when a play works, nor ever heard ‘good call’ when a play fails or results in a turnover. I suppose there is a feeling of satisfaction because they can never possibly be wrong in their assessment.

I envy them. Wouldn’t it be great if we all could make life decisions after knowing the result?

I can’t help but wonder if these commentators ever playback the game and listen to themselves. As communication and media professionals, shouldn’t they try to improve? Don’t their bosses notice they, in my opinion, add no value?

The examples are too numerous to mention but here are a few.

Situation : 3rd down and 1 yard to go
Play call : Run around end or pass downfield
Result : No gain or incomplete pass
Comment : “Bad call, the linebackers are too quick, run up the middle, keep it simple, he should not have thrown that pass.”
Same situation, result is a run up the middle for no gain
Comment : “Bad call, the defense is looking for that, you must be creative in these situations, do something unexpected – throw the ball downfield.”

Situation : Quarterback throws to receiver who is double-covered
Result : Completed pass
Comment : “That receiver was surrounded by defenders and he threaded the needle. Great throw!”
Same situation, result – pass is intercepted
Comment: “That was a bad decision. You can’t force the ball into double coverage. Throw it away or tuck it in and run.”

Earlier this year, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, rather than sliding to the turf, lowered his shoulder into a defender to get extra yardage. The commentator praised Cutler’s drive to take on the tackler and get as much yardage as possible. Yet, there have been a number of times when quarterbacks were injured because of similar “ill-advised” actions, and of course the commentary is not about courage and drive, but of a bad decision. Once again, criticizing after the fact. Hindsight – always 20/20.

Commentators applaud ball carriers that keep fighting for extra yardage after initial contact, yet if their drive results in a fumble or an injury, the comment is, “you have to know when to go down.” Sure, if said ball carrier knew he would fumble or get hurt, I suspect he would go down.

One particular commentator who I don’t hear too much anymore (thank God for that), will emphatically say – almost shout, “I don’t like the call!” when a play does not work, almost as if he expects the audience to sit up and ask, “really, why not? Give us your professional insight, because we are thirsting for the knowledge of your expertise.” Oddly enough, has never commented negatively on a play that worked.

I find it a little hard to believe, and frankly a little sad, but NFL commentators apparently don’t understand they are not commenting on the call or the decision, but the result. The decision to call a play is done before the result guys, so to comment on the call, you would need to be in the huddle. Of course, you run the risk of being wrong, so I guess it’s best for you to stay in the booth and watch what happens before you assess the play. And, contrary to what you might think, coaches don’t call plays they know won’t work.

You might ask, what should they say during the game, and that’s a fair question. I recommend finding and studying tapes of the late Hank Stram and John Madden. Stram was a great analyst and actually analyzed v. judged, and although John Madden took 150 words to say what he could in 10 words, to my recollection he rarely second-guessed play calling.

One more thing, could someone please tell me which team Bill Cowher coaches?

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  1. Dan P says:

    Hey – Jack – nice post.
    Yes, I am always impressed with those folks who are Masters of the Obvious. In baseball – Tim McCarver who is about to retire (20 years late) comes to mind. “It is important when you are bunting the ball to bunt it downward into the ground rather than popping it into the air….”
    There are some guys I enjoy relative to football – Ron Jaworski has always done a good job of analyzing what is really happening – but as part of the general dumbing down of America – the networks want commentators who are short and always right with 20-20 hindsight.

    Bill Cowher? Well he quit coaching back in 2007 and was with his wife when she died of cancer in 2010. It might be time to check him out for our hometown Texans – I think his kids are through or almost through college – though rumor is he would rather coach near his Carolina home.
    Dan P

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