Play-by-Play

Halby’s Morsels: Grading yesterday’s talent, Voices of the AFC and NFC Title Games: Romo’s malaprops

Tracy Wolfson, Jim Nantz and Tony Romo 

Terry Bradshaw contributed little to the quality or material of the pre and post game broadcasts of game one of Sunday’s Fox Broadcasts. In recent years, he’s e struggled to handle the basics, I’m not convinced that he can keep up with game info but he loves the spotlight. He was part of the great Steelers’ teams in the 70s and played 14 seasons overall. He won four Super Bowl titles in a six-year period. He won four Super Bowls and loves the attention as a broadcaster. He’s 74 and taken tons of hits through the years.

This said, he plays the role of a standup comedian. He’d be on with Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Craig Ferguson or Jay Leno. He needs the air time to fuel his engine. He brought chuckles to Chiefs’ fans last. He’s changing the format a bit, beyond journalism.

He can be funny on the stage but it’s generally about himself. He does loosen the scene a bit. Yesterday, Terry got the honor of hosting the stage because of his time in grade. He’s been intertwined with talkies for years. If you asked him to name the receivers and ball carriers for both teams, I’m not convinced he can immediately give you the correct answer.

On the CBS broadcast of Cincy-Kansas City, I heard little if historical, familial or internal stories from Burkhardt. The best at storytelling is Nantz. I’m sometimes amazed how nonchalantly he can do so. The day before, Saturday, he covered the finals of the Farmers Open from a studio in KC.  Nantz and Romo both get an A

Tony Romo is funny and sometimes hilarious. Love his malaprops. Sideliner Tracy Wolfson was given a new moniker. Romo, racing a mile a minute, said something like, “One of our reporters, Tracy Wilson reported….” The other Ralph Kiner of his was mistakenly calling Lou Anarumo, Bengals’ Defensive Coordinator,  Lou Lamoriello, (longtime NHL executive). Another Jerry Coleman or Ralph Kiner moment. Part of their charm. Talking openly, “This is a mess,” he says in exasperation. Nantz throws things in with such ease, like a quick bio on Zac Taylor without belaboring it. He’s a Nebraska man.  

A bit late to share now, I loved Bob Costas’ coverage of post season baseball. He blends storytelling and rhythmic play-by-play. Costas’ participation calling the game, his preparation for interviews and sharing pertinent commentary keeps his viewers engaged. He’s an enrapturing and marvelous storyteller, who captures the story and delivers it with perfect timing.

This fellow Kevin Burkhardt, a relative neophyte, gets a B+ for his Sunday game. He was at ease or at least it seamed so. The onus is on Fox for apparently not discouraging Joe Buck to leave for ESPN. Buck and Greg Olsen would have made an excellent team. So what, if Troy Aikman would have left.

The Disney folks wanted to shake things up for its new MNF package. Advertisers were planning their multi-million dollar spending and allocation by network. There was a time when the beers like the biggest, Anheuser-Busch, dominated. That’s changed. The insurance industry now dominates sports advertising.

Burkhardt’s love was baseball rooted. He grew up in New York, listening to local talent. There’s little to criticize about Kevin’s call but he’s just too inexperienced for a Super Bowl, even at age 48. If something terrible were to happen like the Damar Hamlin incident, how would Kevin have responded? I think he would do okay and in time would perfect it. Joe Buck handled it smoothly with Damar. Still the Super Bowl is in less than two weeks.

Greg Olsen was superb. He subtly and politely had to correct partner Burkhardt once or twice, doing so without making him look bad. It occurred when Kevin couldn’t interpret subtleties. Greg didn’t talk too much or too little. Olsen can sound professorial or blue-collar.

It’s about stumbling and staggering. Another tutorial Olsen shared for the audience was when a QB was being smothered, the receivers and others back away so that the QB has an option for a long throw.

When Troy Aikman moved independently to ESPN from Fox, Greg Olsen was hired with no hitches at Fox from #2 to #1. Before it could even sink in, Fox management snipped the great Tom Brady. The job is his when he hangs up the cleats. So Olsen can’t project where he’ll be. Joe Buck then slid over to ESPN and Kevin Burkhardt to#1 on play-by-play at Fox.

Olsen gets an A for his analysis on Sunday. He’s a student of the game and keeps the analysis simple. On one occasion he suggested that the quarterback might have lost count of what down it was and says that happens after he was forced to scramble.

Has Fox asked itself who’ll help break in Brady? We know he can throw a football. But how about a mic? And Burkhardt, a novice himself, can he be trusted with to train and develop Brady on the biggest of stages? A little risky for the ton of dollars Fox is paying.

How about historical references? The game was born in 1920s.

From an anonymous and prominent ex-NFL Voice, a man who did this:

David, Mike Tirico has made himself the Herbstreit  of play-by-play guys, a non-stop know-it-all, who babbles on,  showing off all the prep- work he has done, ignoring the fact he has a talented, personable, talented former player who fans would like to hear from (Cris Collinsworth). But no, we get more of Mike, tons of  irrelevant stats and interminable commercials.

No surprise that  I couldn’t agree more regarding your comments about Al Michaels and Tony Dungy. I was relieved when their game came on-the-air, just to give my ears a rest from Herbie. Al was Al and Tony was his humble, pertinent best with expert comment at appropriate times.

I’m afraid you are right that the “screamers” are here to stay—since I don’t  follow audience trends online or otherwise, I rely on you and your crew to tell me what’s popular with fans these days. All I know is my ears are sore.

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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

Interesting takes. At another site that remains nameless, there’s increasing criticism of Romo, including criticism from Dick Ebersol that he isn’t a storyteller like Michaels or Buck. Um … Romo is the color man. Nantz is a storyteller. I’m reminded of when CBS paired Vin Scully with John Madden, and the executives felt there was just too much verbiage because both of them really liked to talk. I disagree, but at the same time, Romo is Romo. The one thing about him that distinguishes him from other analysts is this: He sounds like he’s enjoying himself. The others are too… Read more »