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The Five Best NFL Broadcasters of All Time

Memorable without a scream or catchphrase. Less equaled more. That was Summerall in a nutshell. 

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Pat Summerall

We have reached the start of the NFL season. It all gets started later tonight when the Superbowl Champion Rams host the Buffalo Bills. So, once again, my brain started to work overtime. I wanted to create another list, and this one will deal strictly with the NFL. The question I had for myself was, who are the top 5 NFL announcers of all time? 

As with my list last week I have limited the choices to television, network announcers only. As was the case last week, the ranking process proved to be pretty tough. There have been so many talented people calling NFL games, the limitations of ranking just five, proved to be frustrating and maddening all at the same time. There have been many left off, due to limited space. 

#5 (TIE) Curt Gowdy

Gowdy appears in a ‘gaudy’ 23 different Halls of Fame. He is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Not a bad little career huh? In fact, the basketball hall’s media award is named after Gowdy. He was considered the ‘broadcaster of everything’, calling 13 World Series and 16 All-Star games in baseball. Gowdy broadcast 9 Super Bowls and 24 Final Fours. Add in 14 Rose Bowls and 8 Olympic games to that already great resume. 

Gowdy’s voice was unmistakable. A polished, yet extremely friendly voice. For a time, if Gowdy was on the call, viewers knew this was a game they had to tune into. His versatility was pretty much unmatched as well. It’s not easy to switch gears to other sports, while focused on one. Gowdy was not only able to do that, most of the time it was while his other season was still going on. 

Gowdy was also the host of the long running “The American Sportsman” on ABC, which featured celebrities taking part in hunting and/or fishing trips. He was so associated with the outdoors that a state park in Wyoming was officially named for him in 1972. Curt Gowdy State Park is halfway between his high school hometown of Cheyenne and his college town of Laramie. 

#5 (TIE) Jack Buck

While Jack Buck made his mark as a baseball announcer, with the St. Louis Cardinals and the networks, he was also quite a football play-by-play guy. Many of his iconic calls involve baseball, but he was on the scene for many huge moments in the NFL. 

In 1964 he started calling NFL games on CBS, after a stint calling AFL games on ABC. Buck called mainly Chicago Bears games in the early part of his CBS career and then would switch to Dallas Cowboys coverage. He was there for the famous “Ice Bowl” championship game in 1967. Eventually the network got away from dedicated ‘team’ announcers, he would call regional games through 1974. Buck called several NFC Championship Games and also Super Bowl IV. 

Where most know him from in the NFL, is his work on CBS Radio as the voice of Monday Night Football alongside Hank Stram. The two were paired together for nearly 2 decades. On CBS Radio, Buck would call 17 Super Bowls and some very memorable playoff moments. 

His deep, gravelly voice was instantly recognizable. Buck’s calls, whether it be baseball or football were descriptive, informative and dramatic. He had a flare for those big moments, capturing a play in real time and making it iconic. Buck had a humor about him, self-deprecating at times, but there was no mistaking the wit and humor in his broadcasts. 

#4 Dick Enberg

“Oh My!”, Enberg became well known for his work at UCLA, covering the John Wooden years as the team’s play-by-play voice. He also went on to do Rams football and California Angels baseball during his time on the West Coast. 

During his nine years broadcasting Bruins basketball in the 1960s and ’70s, the Bruins won eight NCAA titles. He was tabbed to call the Jan. 20, 1968, Houston/UCLA game, dubbed “The Game of the Century,” in which the Bruins’ 47-game winning streak was snapped. It was the first NCAA regular-season game broadcast nationwide in prime time.

In 1975, he joined NBC Sports and for the next two plus decades, he would call, baseball, college hoops and football, the NBA, the US Open Golf tournament and tennis. Enberg would replace Curt Gowdy as the network’s main voice of the NFL and the Rose Bowl in 1979.  He would call 8 Super Bowl games in his time at NBC. Enberg would move on to become one of the voices of the NFL on CBS in 2000. 

Enberg was one of those broadcasters that was always smooth and well-polished. There was a uniqueness to his delivery and voice. There was something poetic about his phrasing, but man, could he call a game. From the landmark games like the Super Bowl to the ordinary regional game, they were always treated like the former. He was nicknamed ‘The Professor’ and listening/watching one of his games was like a history lesson indeed. 

#3 Jim Nantz

“Hello Friends”, has greeted NFL fans on CBS for the better part of three decades when they tune in for a game. Nantz started in the network’s NFL booth back in 1991. He would then transition to the studio, to host the NFL Today, before re-entering the booth as the number one guy in 2004. 

He maintains a hectic, yet enjoyable schedule. Typically, he’ll finish the NFL season and if CBS has the Super Bowl that year, he’ll call that, take a few weeks off, join the “Road to the Final Four” and then to the Masters. He joins Curt Gowdy, Kevin Harlan and Dick Enberg as the only play-by-play announcers to ever call both a Super Bowl and NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Game. Nantz has called six Super Bowls for CBS, 30 final fours, has been a part of the Masters coverage since 1986.

His voice is perfect for each of the sports he calls. Friendly, engaging, enthusiastic and smooth. Nantz’s first Super Bowl call came in the game between the Colts and Bears in 2007. His first call started off in a historic way. Devin Hester became the first player in Super Bowl history to return the opening kick for a touchdown. “Gets past the first wave and here he goes, it’s Hester inside the 30, Hester’s going to take it all the way for a touchdown. No flags, 92 yards!” he described.

As I wrote about Nantz a couple of years ago, his pacing, timing and energy are all based upon the moment and based upon what he’s calling. You can’t be energetic all the time in golf. You have to be energetic all the time in football and college hoops. Nantz knows when and how to use that energy, effectively and in the right spots. 

#2 AL MICHAELS

It’s no ‘miracle’ that Michaels appears high on this list. This man has seen and done so much in the sports broadcasting field that there is no need for need for any assists. Michaels has done it all, from the tremendous call in 1980, when a rag tag bunch of college kids from the United States knocked off the Russians enroute to a gold medal. To covering the after effects of an earthquake in San Francisco just ahead of Game 3 of the 1989 World Series. Michaels is the only play-by-play announcer to call the Super Bowl (11 times), World Series (8), NBA Finals (2) and host the Stanley Cup Final (3) for network television.

Michaels has carved out a wonderful career doing play-by-play of the NFL. He was with ABC, calling Monday Night Football from 1986-2005, then it was on to NBC’s Sunday Night Football from 2006 until he called the Super Bowl in LA last year. He will debut on Amazon Prime’s Thursday Night Football package this season. 

The great thing about Michaels is he has an innate sense of timing. Michaels can sense moments when he needs to be talking and when he can defer to his analyst. “Command” is something else he has on his broadcasts. You won’t see a game ‘get away’ from Michaels. He uses a unique brand of humor and sarcasm to augment what could be a mundane play or game overall. It’s not haphazard because he has the ability to sense the moments both are needed and not. I love the way he drops in a pop-culture reference or something involving the spread or the over/under in that game. Fans love those drop ins. 

#1 PAT SUMMERALL

The former NFL place kicker carved out a nice little career for himself in the broadcast booth. To me, and yes, I grew up in the early 80’s, Summerall is the voice of football. Every big game, every big moment, there was Summerall and his partner John Madden. All you had to do was hear the duo and you knew, right then and there, this was a big and meaningful game. He also covered ‘The Masters’ for CBS until 1994 and worked on the network’s US Open Tennis coverage as well. 

Summerall retired from football, and was hired by CBS in 1962 to work as a color commentator on the network’s NFL coverage. He initially partnered with Chris Schenkel on Giants games. It wasn’t until midway through the 1974 season that he shifted to play-by-play, first working with Tom Brookshier. That duo worked 3 Super Bowls together. In 1981 Summerall was teamed with Madden. It was a partnership that lasted 22 seasons over two networks. They became perhaps the best-known broadcast partners ever. 

Summerall wound up working 11 Super Bowls, which was the most of all time, until Al Michaels worked last year’s game and equaled the total. He even pinch-hit on a Cubs/Pirates baseball game on WGN-TV, in 1987. Filling in for Harry Caray, who had suffered a stroke and was off the air while recovering. 

To describe his style will take some effort. His voice was deep and powerful. Commanding and forceful. It was always in control too. Never has an announcer gotten more out of few words. He understood that on television, it wasn’t how much you said, it was the power of the words you did use. For example, whenever he’d call a Joe Montana to Jerry Rice touchdown pass, it was always something like, ‘Montana……Rice…. Touchdown!’ One of his more famous calls came in Super Bowl XVIII, when he described a Marcus Allen touchdown run this way. 

‘Here’s Marcus Allen, cutting back up field. And Marcus Allen could be gone! 74 yards for Marcus Allen!’

Memorable without a scream or catchphrase. Less equaled more. That was Summerall in a nutshell. 

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The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.

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This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.

Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.

This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.

The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.

Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.

NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.

Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.

Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.

Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.

A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.

It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay. 

MLB Network is another option

If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.

Quick bites

  • One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
  • CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
  • The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
  • ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.

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The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.

First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.

Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.

Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.

It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do. 

Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.

Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?

I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?

That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.

After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else. 

There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.

Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.

Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.

Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.

I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos

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On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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