Al Michaels, new Thursday Night NFL play-by-player, is being ruined by blabbermouth Kirk Herbstreit

People delude themselves.

But why in the world is Herbie drooling in an NFL broadcast booth? It’s bad enough that Herbstreit still dribbles every weekend on ESPN’s college broadcasts.

Teaming him with a master, among the best ever, Al Michaels? I don’t understand the rationale.

Frankly, Amazon has some explaining to do to the American viewing public. Can his unending verbiage survive in the NFL and its millions of TV fans? Only time will tell.

For a haughty man who truly believes he’s the single best football analyst in America, be it college or the NFL, Herbstreit isn’t off to an overwhelming start. Yes, he can sound knowledgeable, educated and articulate. But in my humble opinion, jumping endlessly as he does, over Al Michaels, takes audacity and terrible disrespect on Thursday nights. The man needs to shush!

When this dual assignment was announced in late spring, I had a sense it would be a challenge for Al. Herbstreit had showed little respect for his first prominent partner Brent Musburger. Still, today, on ESPN, he pushes Chris Fowler around like a toy car, on the network’s college-casts. 

Al blends a mix of talent, 50 years of time in NFL grade, grasp for the league rules, command of the language, a predictable flow, a pleasant voice and doesn’t overdo things. Herbie couldn’t shine Cris Collinsworth’s boots. Al and Cris would kid around and laugh.

Kirk had to report every note he prepared. Enough already, bud. Respect your partner. Four decades of primetime. Last time I looked, you’re an NFL rookie. Herbie, let the game come to the viewer. Stop yakking.

So far he’s been no more than a used car salesperson. The man who wants so desperately to have himself designated himself football’s new best all-around analyst, albeit he’s no more than a newcomer.

I received this unsolicited email from a retired NFL network play-by-player. I print it here for our readers with his permission.


I share your view of the guy working with Al Michaels. Surely, some producer with authority can get into (Herbstreit’s) ear and say: ‘You’ve got the job. You don’t need to show me and the world how much you have prepared.’ I was stunned to see and hear, that he is also still doing college ball. Holy crap, when is enough enough?”

Herbstreit ! —We saw the play, Al told us what we needed to know….Telling us “why” doesn’t need to be a treatise showing off your “expertise.” I don’t know if Al weighed in on motor-mouth’s Kirk’s selection—Surely with the money that Thursday Night Football is paying Al, he should have been consulted as to who sits next to him. Now he needs ear-muffs—and so do we !!!!

What makes a good play-by-player? You’ll invariably be told by the best of voices, that they must take the lead to succeed. There’s one leader and one follower. The play-by-player tells you what and the analyst talks why. But Kirk talks in circles.

I had some gabbers among the multi-sports I called, different folks for NFL and NCAA. All of them were happy to have me give them counsel on how to get in and out with their expertise.

Other notes regarding the subject:

  • Brent Musburger was Herbie’s play-by-play partner all those years on ABC and ESPN. Purely college ball. Until his last year or so, Mus kept Kirk in check. Because Musburger was an opinion monger himself, he used constraints to limit Herbstreit through questions, sweeping the subject-matter as well as the length of Kirk’s unstoppable responses.
  • Herbie is challenging, if not  impossible. Al wants to complete a sentence. When an analyst walks into the booth bombastically planning to become the best there is, as Herbstreit is doing, look out. Kirk doesn’t want the play-by-player to run the show.  Meanwhile, in a New York second, Herbstreit is racing away with his endless lips. From control to rhythmic to melodic. Kirk just needs to stick within his lane. Otherwise silence please. This thing can still work if the former Ohio State QB steps back and takes a breather.
  • Herbie infuses inanities and say-nothings, way too many;  thin and unnecessary factoids. Maybe Al should bring mask-tape to the game and wrap it onto his seat. Maybe, he’ll figure it out. Fellows in the network’s early years talked lots less. And I believe that they were better too. Men like Al DeRogatis, Sam DeLuca, Pat Summerall (as analyst) and Paul Christman.    
  • Herbstreit comes from the college theater. Crap like Physicality”; “Perimeter”; “Stretch the field” and “Create the edges,” “Well between the tackles,” and “situational awareness.” My goodness!
  • Herbie jumps all over him. Listening to it is exasperating. It taints the whole broadcast.
  • It just never appears as though Herbstreit cares about anyone but himself, an attitude that makes it very challenging for his play-by players to embrace him.
  • Calling a football game requires a symbiotic call. Al Michaels has worked with arguably the best ever. Think John Madden, Cris Collinsworth and Dan Dierdorf.
  • Hopping around by charter with stops in Cincy, Denver, Lawrence, Kansas and places here, there and everywhere at pre-game shows. Too much, my friend.
  • The profane littered sports talk show host Pat McAfee was on SiriusXM. He had Herbstreit on the show, supported by four letter words. No dignity. Herbstreit, McAfee and F words. Nice, Herbie.

Bottom line, the rookie has to step it back and rethink what he’s doing.

David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year + industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History and The Fundamentals of Sports Media and Sponsorship Sales: Developing New Accounts.

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Michael Green
1 year ago

Lindsey Nelson once mentioned an anonymous play-by-play broadcaster who would put his hand over the analyst’s mouth. Alfalfa might want to think about that one. He’s around 78, but I think he could handle Herbie if he had to.

It’s interesting that Michaels worked so well with Madden because Madden, more than anyone else, led to the problem that Herbstreit exemplifies: The analyst getting too much space. Madden filled it, and well, but he also could mesh with the play-by-play man, and Michaels knew enough to know how to work with him.