Who is with me?
From True/Slant on August 16, 2009:
Jon Gruden Makes Monday Night Football Must See TV
I’ve never watched a sporting event on the basis of an announcer or color analyst. Certainly, there have been a few I’ve enjoyed. There’s also a crowded hall of shame filled with announcers and analysts who are so irritating that I’m tempted to turn off whatever game they’re working because I’m so turned off by them. (Yes, Tim McCarver, Nancy Lieberman, Al Michaels and Phil Simms, I am looking at you.) Still, my desire to watch sports overrides all, so I’ll put up with even the most moronic, abrasive, and narcissistic talking heads.
And then came Jon Gruden. He had me at hello
In his first game in ESPN’s “Monday Night” booth, working a meaningless pre-season tilt between last year’s Super Bowl contenders alongside Mike Tirico and Ron Jaworski, I enjoyed Gruden as much as I enjoyed the game itself, which is the highest praise I can offer. The coach who pissed people off because he got more face time on the sidelines than his players did on the field was not adequate, nor merely good in the booth: Gruden was great. He is nothing short of an announcing phenom.
If announcing was a baseball swing, Gruden would be Ted Williams’ sweet stroke; if it was a jump shot, he would be Larry Bird’s jumper; if it was a tee shot, he’d be Ben Hogan’s explosive drive. Okay, that’s pretty hyperbolic even for me, and I realize it’s a little early to put “Chucky” in the broadcasting hall of fame after just one game. That would be like calling a rookie running back picked in the sixth round who lit up the third-string defenders in the 4th quarter the next Jim Brown. But Gruden was informative, natural, funny and self-deprecating. Most important of all, he didn’t talk too much, sparing us the inane prattling that goes on in way, way too many broadcast booths. He was the anti-Phil Simms. God, it was beautiful.
As a coach, Gruden’s work-ethic was legendary. Reporters ate up his practice of getting to the office at three and four a.m. to start his preparations, so it shouldn’t have been surprising that he had arcane data seemingly at his fingertips. It felt effortless as he tossed out Kurt Warner’s QB rating on play-action pass plays only and evidenced a real depth of understanding about Dick LeBeau’s complex defensive schemes.
Given the match up, naturally talk turned to last February’s Super Bowl meeting of the Steelers and the Cardinals, and Tirico mentioned that Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt hadn’t watched the film of that game until a week ago when he started prepping for this game. For his part, Jaws said he could relate because he has never watched the film of SB XV, in which his Eagles were soundly beaten by the Raiders. Nearly 30 years have passed and it’s still too painful for Jaworski. Gruden commented that he watches his Super Bowl (XXXVII, when the Buccaneers whomped on the Raiders) every chance he gets, sometimes twice a day. It was a great moment.
A bit later, after the crew had spent a good deal of time on the signing of ex-con Mike Vick by the Philadelphia Eagles, Gruden chided Jaworski about his anemic 772 yards rushing over his 10 years in Philly, adding that Vick had that many yards in two games — against Gruden’s teams. Given the seriousness of Vick’s crimes, talk about him always turns understandably heavy, but after a serious discussion, the booth had turned funereal and needed a lighter touch. Gruden brought the funny. It was a welcome respite.
I figure that pretty much every guy doing color analysis for the networks knows more about football than I do – from Troy Aikman to Brian Billick, Steve Tasker to Chris Collinsworth. Each played or coached at the highest levels and they’ve forgotten more about football than I’ll ever know. Nobody doubts that. Not even me. But announcers who talk down to the audience just come off as pompous gas-bags, who bludgeon the viewing audience with their supposed superior intellect and knowledge. Nobody wants to listen to that. Nobody wants to hear an announcer whose subtext reads as some holier-than-thou, let me explain football to you, little lady, attitude apparent in so many. Maybe these guys would be well served to remember one of the lessons of early elementary school — nobody likes a know it all.
What I want, what I crave, really, is the illusion that I’m eavesdropping on a conversation between a few guys who have greater understanding and greater access than I do.
Gruden seemed to get that on some instinctive, organic level. Despite rumors of a monolithic ego, Gruden’s ego was nowhere to be heard. He let his broadcast partners take the lead in the dance and he let the game itself dictate his commentary.
Monday nights just got a lot more fun now that I have a standing date with Jon Gruden.