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NBC duo remains class of NFL broadcasters

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Recent posts by Barry Jackson

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Posted Jan. 26, 2011 @ 4:57 p.m. ET
By Barry Jackson

This was a year in NFL broadcasting that gave us record ratings, too much information about Brett Favre's cell phone and the first-ever Tuesday-night edition of "Sunday Night Football" (thanks to a snowstorm in Philadelphia).

It brought us compelling video (the Metrodome roof collapsing), too many pats on the back (CBS telling us when its pregame show beat Fox's, which happened only five times all season) and Bill Cowher claiming to be insulted by a report about him on another network.

It brought us a Thursday-night booth (Bob Papa, Matt Millen and Joe Theismann) where the announcers seldom came up for air.

But it also brought us excellence from several announcers, as we disclose in our 19th annual Griddy Awards:

 

PLAY-BY-PLAY

1. Al Michaels / NBC

Still atop his game in his 25th year on a prime-time package. He remains No. 1 because of myriad factors: his distinctive delivery, alertness to detail, knowing when to convey excitement (and not shouting indiscriminately), questioning clock management issues (such as pointing out St. Louis' Steve Spagnuolo should have used his timeouts before the two-minute warning in the season finale against Seattle) and his weaving in factoids that personalize the participants (such as noting Colts coach Jim Caldwell had 17 ministers in his family at one point).

2. Jim Nantz / CBS

With Dick Enberg no longer calling NFL games, no announcer conveys more warmth in his call and is better as a storyteller. But he's also meticulous about giving details. He extracts insight from Phil Simms by asking him questions, such as what defenses are doing differently to slow a quarterback. And credit Nantz for taking a stand against showboating, including a penalty on the Jets' Shonn Greene in the Patriots playoff game. "I never understood the absurdity of self-aggrandizing," Nantz said.

3. Mike Tirico / ESPN

Outstanding at giving big-picture perspective and setting up his analysts. And he's always prepared: When Drew Brees had a ball knocked back to him in a game this season, he immediately knew it was the sixth time in his career that had happened.

Honorable mention: CBS' Kevin Harlan and Ian Eagle — no announcers are more diligent in quickly identifying down and distance and who made the defensive play (or failed to, in pass coverage); Fox's Joe Buck, who calls game with a wry sense of humor and an edge. In the Eagles-Packers playoff game, he conscientiously noted how Green Bay players had coats on and took them off shortly before plays, and they ran on the field to give the Eagles less time to make substitutions.

 

GAME ANALYSTS

1. Cris Collinsworth / NBC

The Jets-Colts wild-card game was typical of his excellence: He predicted Mark Sanchez would throw to Braylon Edwards, matched up against Jacob Lacey, on the next-to-last play. Sanchez did just that. He told us early that, "if you let Antonio Cromartie play bump and run," he's effective, but when he backs away from the line, "he's confused and he's not the same player." That proved true in the game. And he explained the meaning of some of Peyton Manning's pre-snap barking.

2. Phil Simms / CBS

Skilled at explaining nuances and why things happen. In discussing the Bears' defensive success, he noted, "they are very good at reading the quarterback's eyes" — something video backed up. He noted "the further back Michael Vick is behind the line, the better passer he is," because he could see over the line better. His preparation was evident when he predicted the Patriots' first onside kick attempt against the Jets in the playoff game would be up the middle, with PK Shayne Graham trying to recover it.

3. (tie) Troy Aikman and Jon Gruden / Fox and ESPN

Nobody brings more charisma to the booth than Gruden, who excelled at predicting plays and seemed somewhat more inclined to say what he really thought this season, at least more than last season. Such as: "Take the training wheels off Mark Sanchez ­— let him take some chances," and scolding Cardinals QB Derek Anderson for laughing on the bench during a loss. Still, we feel there's another level he could reach by elaborating about individual players' weaknesses. Aikman makes a lot of solid points, but we wish there was more pizzazz in the delivery.

Honorable mention: CBS' Dan Dierdorf for consistently smart and credible analysis; ESPN's Ron Jaworski, for speaking only when he has something meaningful to say (some other analysts should take note); and CBS' Rich Gannon, whose cogent analysis of quarterback play merits a higher spot than No. 6 on CBS' depth chart.

 

STUDIO HOSTS

1. Chris Berman / ESPN

Regains the top spot for his lively work presiding over the NFL's most comprehensive pregame show. And unlike the other hosts, he delivers inside information from his contacts in the league.

2. Bob Costas and Dan Patrick / NBC

Patrick flourished in his first year doing highlights alone, without tag-team partner Keith Olbermann. After Lombardi debuted on Broadway, he cracked, "I'm looking forward to the Ray Handley off-Broadway" show. Patrick had about a dozen lines that made you chuckle, or at least smile, this season, though we wish he didn't yell so much. Costas' role is somewhat limited, but his interviews are the best on any NFL pregame (with Pam Oliver's close behind).

3. Curt Menefee / Fox

Capable traffic cop, and gets the nod over CBS' James Brown because unlike J.B., he doesn't force raucous, unwarranted laughter going to commercials. And Menefee had a couple of strong commentaries, including this one involving quarterback shenanigans: "Brad Childress and Mike Shanahan took us as idiots. But intentionally deceiving cover-ups cause more problems than the deed itself."

 

STUDIO ANALYSTS

1. (tie) Jimmy Johnson and Tony Dungy / Fox and NBC

One is brash and demonstrative, the other modest and restrained. But both Super Bowl-winning coaches share similarities as analysts — they're personable, polished and willing to criticize when warranted. And both know how to speak concisely, something essential in the gig. "I'm sick and tired of hearing how talented the Cowboys are," J.J. said early in the season. "The world is full of talented, unsuccessful people." J.J.'s occasional pieces on how to fix teams — and Dungy's film breakdown with Patrick — are consistently well done.

2. Tom Jackson / ESPN

We considered Jackson for the No. 1 spot before his embarrassing incident on Jan. 17, when he explained on an ESPN Radio show that he picked the Patriots to beat the Jets as a "psychological game," then said he didn't really mean that. That episode tarnished an otherwise strong year when Jackson delivered decisive, well-reasoned, cut-through-the nonsense commentary. Such as: "I'm wondering why (incentives) are offered. Julius Peppers, if I signed a $90 million contract, why would you give me $100,000 to go to the Pro Bowl? With $90 million, I expect you to go to the Pro Bowl." On Donovan McNabb: "I find it shocking the treatment he has received from this coaching staff. He hasn't played well, but he doesn't deserve this. I always thought the job of the coach was to adjust your system to the guy who's quarterbacking your team."

3. (tie) Howie Long and Boomer Esiason / Fox and CBS

Sensible analysis mixed with occasional one-liners. "Most people deal with a midlife crisis by getting a convertible," Long said of Johnson appearing on "Survivor: Nicaragua." But there's also tough talk, when appropriate, from both, such as Esiason wondering why Ben Roethlisberger would deny sexual-assault allegations (he was never charged) but then accept an NFL suspension without protest. And Long correctly said in the attempt to reduce helmet-to-helmet hits, quarterbacks and offensive coordinators shouldn't put receivers in jeopardy with crossing routes in zone coverage.

 

BEST NEWCOMER

1. Mike Pereira / Fox

The NFL's former director of officiating accurately predicted the outcome of 44 of the first 45 replay challenges he analyzed, and offered quick explanations in confusing situations.

 

SIDELINE REPORTERS

1. (tie) Andrea Kremer and Chris Myers / NBC and Fox

Their reports are consistently informative, without the clichés and fluff that elicit skepticism about the need for sideline reporters.

2. Pam Oliver / Fox

Skilled at picking up conversations on the bench, and nobody asks tougher questions in pregame feature stories.

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