Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Moose and Jaws

Sad news to report from Fox: The best NFL broadcast booth team on television in being broken up this season. Happy news to report from ESPN: The worst NFL broadcast booth team on televsion has been broken up this season.

Like a lot of people, I long considered Pat Summerall to be the quintessential voice of NFL play-by-play. Fox obviously felt the same way, because after the network acquired the rights to NFL games in the mid-'90s, Summerall and Madden -- at the time the No. 1 team at CBS -- were among Fox Sports' first hires. After Madden moved to ABC and Summerall went into semi-retirement, Fox made Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and Chris Collinsworth its top team. Buck is fine -- I don't find him as smarmy as a lot of people do -- but he just doesn't have that football voice.

For my money, the best voice on NFL play by play today is Dick Stockton. And for the past several years, Stockton has been paired with, in my opinion, the second-best color man in the business: Darryl Johnston. Stock and Moose have been Fox's No. 2 team, but they've been No. 1 in my book. (Note that above I referred to them as the best broadcast booth team. That's because they've been saddled for years with Tony Siragusa, whose contribution to the broadcast has been to stand on the sidelines and say stupid shit four or five times a half.)

Well, it's all over now. Fox is reconfiguring its broadcast teams this year. Johnston is being paired with Kenny Albert, while Stockton will be sharing the booth with Brian Baldinger.

In essence, this is a wife-swap kind of deal. Albert and Baldnger were paired as Fox's No. 3 team last year, and they were almost impossible to listen to. Neither is totally horrible by himself, but together they were just dreadful. Albert sounds just enough like his dad that every time he opens his mouth, he just reminds you that you could be listening to Marv Albert on Westwood One Radio rather than this pale imitation with half his DNA. And Brian Baldinger sounds just enough like Bill Maas to make you just assume that everything coming out of his mouth is incorrect.

Working alongside Stockton could make Baldinger bearable, and Johnston might have the same positive effect on Albert, so something might come of this move. Still, the Stockton-Johnston team is football, and it will be missed.

You know who won't be missed? Joe Theismann. The new, Theismann-less Monday Night Football team has broadcast exactly one game together -- this week's Broncos-Niners preseason contest -- and it was light-years better than the best work by last year's MNF. It's simply amazing how replacing one guy out of three could change the show's entire dynamic.

Last year, whenever Tony Kornheiser would raise the slightest question, Theismann would snort at his ignorance. This year, Ron Jaworski just answers the question. When Kornheiser made an invalid assertion, Theismann would pout and rush to defend the wounded honor of football players as a victim class. Jaworski just says, "Tony, that's not true, and here's why." The give-and-take in the booth last season was so uncomfortable I would fast-forward through entire drives. This year I'm looking forward to watching the whole game (except for those nut-numbing, worthless celebrity interviews). And I'm not the only one; check out the take from Awful Announcing, a tough audience if there ever was one.

Kornheiser is still awful in his MNF role -- totally out of his proper element. Mike Tirico is still annoying (I hear Dan Patrick is available ...). But having Jaws in the booth is worth it. Ladies' glasses and all.

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