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Anatomy of An Analyst: Troy Aikman

“While he may be controversial at times, he’s spot on with his criticisms of players, especially QBs.”

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From one of the greatest to ever play the game, to one of the best to ever call it. Troy Aikman has turned into a premiere analyst and it seemingly happened overnight. He walked off the field right into the broadcast booth and didn’t really miss a beat. 

Aikman spent the first part of his youth in Cerritos, California  which is between Los Angeles and Anaheim. When he was 12 the family moved to Henryetta, Oklahoma. There, Aikman played baseball and football at Henryetta High School. He earned All-State Honors. He also won a state championship in another ‘sport’, which I’ll tell you about later in the column. 

His high school career led to a contract offer from the New York Mets, they wanted him to play baseball. Aikman chose football and attended Oklahoma under head coach Barry Switzer.  In his first full season as a starter in 1985, he got off to a great start, but wound up breaking his ankle in a game. He was lost for the season. Jamelle Holieway took over and led the Sooners to the National Championship. Aikman decided to transfer. 

He headed to UCLA, where as a junior he was named the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year. The awards kept on coming, as a senior he won the 1988 Davey O’Brien Award as the nation’s top quarterback. It was the first time a UCLA quarterback had won the award. Aikman would finish third in the Heisman that season. His time at UCLA got him into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008 and led to his number 8 being retired by the Bruins in 2014. 

NFL CAREER

Aikman’s Hall of Fame playing career began in 1989, when the Dallas Cowboys selected him with the first overall pick in the NFL Draft. He and the Cowboys struggled early in Aikman’s career. He was 0-11 as a starter in his first season in the NFL. But things eventually got better, much better.  

He spent 12 years in the league and led Dallas to wins in Super Bowls XXVII, XXVIII and XXX. He was named Super Bowl MVP in the first match up against the Bills. While at the helm of the Cowboys, the team advanced to 4 NFC Championship Games and won 6 NFC East championships. 

Aikman is one of only four quarterbacks to win three Super Bowls. He finished his career throwing for just under 33,000 yards. He was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton in February of 2006. 

ROAD TO ESPN

Troy Aikman retired from football after the 2000-01 season, but his broadcasting career actually started a couple of years before that. His first stint as a game analyst came during the 1998 and 2000 NFL Europe seasons. He worked for Fox Sports Net alongside Brad Sham.

Officially, after he called it quits on the field, Aikman joined Fox in 2001 where he joined Dick Stockton and former teammate Daryl Johnston to form the network’s No. 2 team. The reviews were so positive that Aikman wasn’t going to stick around the “B” booth for a long stint. 

After one season in the booth, Aikman was elevated to the network’s No. 1 broadcast team alongside Joe Buck and analyst Cris Collinsworth. The rest as they say is history. Collinsworth would move on after the 2004 season and the team of Buck and Aikman would be synonymous with big games in the NFL for the next couple of decades. Troy Aikman has now been a part of twice as many Super Bowls as a broadcaster (6) than he was as a player (3).

Following the 2021-22 NFL season, Troy Aikman and Joe left Fox for ESPN to become part of a newly revamped Monday Night Football booth. This past season was their 21st together, which equals John Madden and Pat Summerall as the longest tenured booths in NFL broadcast history.  

It was puzzling to many to find out that Aikman, whose contract had expired, was just allowed to walk away from a place he’d called home for 20 years. He wasn’t sure either.  

“I don’t know the answer to that,” Aikman said in an episode of the Sports Illustrated Media in March of 2022. “I don’t know that I ever will get the answer to that one. I think through it all, it’s a business. Fox is welcome to do whatever it is they feel is in their best interest as I am, as everybody is, so there’s no hard feelings about anything. I had a great 21 years at Fox. I guess what’s perplexing to me is that I had no conversation with my boss (Fox Sports president Eric Shanks) until he called me to congratulate me on my contract with ESPN.”

AS AN ANALYST

Aikman became one of the greatest football analysts because of his ability to ‘say it like it is’. With credentials of a Hall of Fame career behind him, usually when he criticizes it’s with good reason. Where he’s different than many other analysts with lesser or similar status, Aikman isn’t afraid to speak his mind. He doesn’t worry about, at least in the moment, who might be offended by his commentary. Aikman can back it up and isn’t that what you want from your number one analyst? 

Ok, that fearlessness has gotten him in some hot water at times. This season was such a time, when Aikman was calling a Monday night game between the Raiders and Chiefs. Kansas City’s defensive lineman Chris Jones hit Raiders quarterback Derek Carr from behind forcing a fumble. But Jones but flagged for roughing the passer. Aikman didn’t agree with the call, even from a former quarterback’s standpoint. Which led to this comment. 

“My hope is the competition committee looks at this in the next set of meetings and, you know, we take the dresses off,” Aikman said on the game broadcast. The comments went viral. He was called ‘sexist’ and ‘misogynistic’, and a few days later Aikman walked it back and apologized. 

“My comments were dumb, just shouldn’t have made them,” Aikman said on 96.7 The Ticket in Dallas, via The Dallas Morning News. “Just dumb remarks on my part.”

While he may be controversial at times, he’s spot on with his criticisms of players, especially QBs. Case in point. Jacksonville hosted Tennessee in Week 18 with a chance to go to the playoffs. The Jaguars needed a big touchdown late to eventually win the game. But Aikman zeroed in on Trevor Lawrence, who missed some important throws that could have made things easier on Jacksonville. 

The Jaguars were down 13-7 and Lawrence missed a wide-open Zay Jones in the end zone. “That one’s kinda hard to even try to explain how you can miss a guy like that. He’s just as open as you could be … he’s got 10 yards,” Aikman said. “You don’t see many misses like that in the NFL.”

A quarter later, Lawrence missed Marvin Jones Jr. on a throw down sideline. Jacksonville trailed by three at this point. Aikman didn’t mince words when he talked about how much Lawrence was letting his team down in huge moments. “If Jacksonville fails to win this game, boy, it’s going to be a long offseason, because there’s been a lot of opportunities in this game for them. They’ve left a lot of points out there on the board,” Aikman said.

When you’re watching a game, don’t you want the analyst to be that blunt? Even if it is about your own team? There’s too many buttoned up analysts that talk in generalizations. Yes, you get the gist of what they mean, but that’s pretty much it. I’m not sure if they get directives from network executives to take it easy on players or the NFL. Seems like it when you compare them to Aikman. 

He may not be the flashiest guy, but I’m good with that. His delivery isn’t excitable, but that’s what the play on the field is for, and I don’t want a guy screaming at me for 3 hours. Aikman has a style, that’s pretty much his own. I hear, good information mixed in with some sarcasm, that sometimes leads to viral commentary. I’d rather hear it unfiltered and in the moment and with a calm and steady voice that drives the point home effectively.   

DID YOU KNOW?

I mentioned earlier that I would tell you about Aikman’s High School State Championship in a sport other than football or baseball. Aikman won the Oklahoma State TYPING title in 1983. You heard me right. His sister was supposed to be in the competition, but bailed. She talked Troy into it, because he loved to compete in everything. 

In an article in the Dallas News in 2017, Aikman was shooting a PSA to give shoutouts to a teacher that changed his life. For Aikman, it was Jean Froman, his typing teacher at Henryetta High School in Oklahoma, who mentored him in and outside the classroom.

Aikman was a sophomore and he along with several friends took Typing 1, thinking it would be an easy A. He immediately took to the class and the teacher. But after winning the title, he decided to continue on to Typing 2. 

He recalled the day that his name was announced as the winner in a school assembly. “Everyone knew already that I was an athlete,” he says. “And for me to go down the aisle as the typing winner was not one of my proudest moments, although winning the award certainly meant a lot.”

He says it’s not on his resume, but maybe it should be. 

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BSM Writers

NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs

Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?

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Several years ago, the NFL objected to NBC wanting to employ Mike Tirico as the lead play-by-play voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts. The league preferred Al Michaels because he was NBC’s No. 1 NFL play-by-play announcer and wanted the TNF telecasts to carry the same prestige as Sunday Night Football.

Following the network’s heavily-criticized broadcast of Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL may want to impose its authority again and insist that a top-tier broadcast team call the action of an important postseason game.

The consensus among fans and media watching Saturday’s broadcast was that Michaels and analyst Tony Dungy were surprisingly low-energy for an NFL playoff game, let alone one that became so exciting with Jacksonville rallying from a 27-0 deficit for a 31-30 victory on a last-second field goal.

Such a lackluster broadcast led to questions of whether or not Michaels was now past his prime after a season of calling subpar TNF games for Amazon and what initially appeared to be another snoozer when the Jaguars fell behind by 27 points. Pairing him with Dungy, who was a studio analyst all season, certainly didn’t help.

Dungy was as basic as a game analyst could be, typically narrating replays viewers could see for themselves while adding little insight. Worst of all, he demonstrated no enthusiasm for the action, leaving Michaels to fill most of the airtime. The veteran broadcaster showed that he can no longer carry a broadcast by himself. He needs the energy and back-and-forth that Cris Collinsworth or Kirk Herbstreit provide.

So how did NBC get here?

Most football fans know that the network’s top broadcast team is Tirico on play-by-play alongside analyst Cris Collinsworth. But they had their own assignment during Super Wild Card Weekend, calling Sunday night’s Ravens-Bengals match-up. With the postseason field expanding from 12 to 14 teams, resulting in six games being played on Wild Card weekend, NBC was awarded one of the additional playoff broadcasts.

Thus, another broadcast team was needed for that second Wild Card game. Fortunately, NBC had a renowned play-by-play man already in place. Michaels finished out his final season as SNF‘s lead voice by calling Super Bowl LVI, part of a powerful one-two combination for NBC Sports coming toward the end of its 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics coverage.

Ending his legendary career with a Super Bowl broadcast would’ve been a wonderful final note for Michaels. That appeared to be a natural path when Tirico moved from ESPN to NBC in 2016. Network executives admitted that a succession plan was in mind for Tirico to take over SNF eventually. At the time, Michaels also likely thought he would retire by then.

But when confronted with the possibility of retirement, Michaels realized he wasn’t interested. He was still enjoying broadcasting the NFL. His skills were still sharp. And perhaps most importantly, he was in demand. Amazon wanted Michaels as the lead voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts, bringing instant credibility to a streaming venture that drew some skepticism. ESPN considered him as its Monday Night Football play-by-play man.

As it turned out, ESPN made a bold move for MNF, swiping Fox’s No. 1 NFL crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. That left Amazon for Michaels, and the streaming giant paid him a commensurate salary with the top broadcasters in the industry as part of his three-year contract.

Yet Michaels wasn’t done with NBC either. After his agreement with Amazon became official, NBC announced that its relationship with Michaels would continue in an “emeritus” role allowing him to broadcast the network’s Olympics coverage and that additional Wild Card playoff telecast.

NBC can’t have been happy that most of the social media chatter afterward focused on the broadcast, rather than the game result. Especially when the discussion centered on how poorly Michaels and Dungy performed in what turned out to be a thrilling playoff game. That’s a pairing that the NFL probably doesn’t want to see again.

Michaels will likely call at least one more Wild Card playoff game for NBC since he intends to work on the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. He’s also under contract with Amazon for another two seasons unless he decides to retire before that deal expires. So perhaps the simple solution is keeping Dungy out of the broadcast booth and giving Michaels a better partner.

But can NBC drop in another analyst who hasn’t worked with Michaels all season? Anyone would arguably be an improvement over Dungy. Is it at all possible for Herbstreit to be hired on for a one-off playoff broadcast, thus ensuring that the broadcast team will have some on-air familiarity and chemistry?

Otherwise, NBC’s only other option may be its Notre Dame broadcast team of Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett. (The network tried that last season with Tirico and Drew Brees, only for Brees to wilt under the harsher NFL playoff spotlight.)

The pair also called USFL broadcasts for the network, so at least there would be familiarity rather than trying to figure each other out during a telecast. Yet Collinsworth and Garrett aren’t terribly popular with viewers. And as with Brees, that crew will face intense scrutiny with a larger playoff audience.

Unfortunately, NBC appears to be stuck here. Unless the new Big Ten broadcast team of Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge gets a shot. That might be the best option! Other than Notre Dame or USFL games, where are the other opportunities for NBC to develop a No. 2 NFL broadcast team? No one wants to put Al Michaels through Chris Simms in the broadcast booth, right?

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BSM Writers

Al Michaels Has Options But He Has To Make a Choice

“It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.”

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I don’t ask much out of game announcers; get excited when appropriate, get the simple information correct, don’t get so caught up in your shtick you put yourself above the game. Al Michaels has been doing all those things well for the better part of half a century and few would argue that he’s not one of the best to ever do it. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose his fastball.

Before you read any longer, I am not here to say Al Michaels has lost his fastball. What I am here to say is Michaels has all too often this season seemed upset with and disinterested in the game he is calling. That isn’t entirely surprising when you consider some of the Thursday night action he called on Amazon Prime where the average margin of victory was almost nine points per game.

On top of that, the Amazon schedule had a dreadful two week stretch with Colts 12-9 win over the Broncos in Week Five and the Commanders 12-7 win over the Bears the next Thursday. It was in that Broncos-Colts game Michaels asked Herbstreit if a game “can be so bad it is good?” Herbstreit’s answer was “No”, by the way. It was the full 15 game schedule that Michaels told The Athletic’s media critic Richard Deitsch was like trying to sell a used car.

All of that is fine, the inaugural Amazon Prime season was not a smashing success. The streaming giant missed audience projections and will lose advertising revenue because of it. The lackluster schedule did not help that. But Michaels was given a second life; he was the NBC play-by-play announcer for the Saturday Night Wildcard Playoff game between the Chargers and Jaguars. It initially looked like Michaels might be the problem as five first half Jags turnovers had them in a 27-0 hole. But the home team staged a nearly unprecedented comeback for the win.

It was the performance by Michaels and, to a lesser degree, his analyst Tony Dungy that has led to criticism. Criticism might be too soft of a word, Michaels was roundly dragged for his lack of enthusiasm during the comeback and specifically on his call of the Jacksonville game winning field goal. The enthusiasm of the call of the game winner had a mid-3rd quarter of week four feel to it.

Me telling Al Michaels how to do play-by-play of an NFL game would be the equivalent of me telling a physicist how to split an atom. So, this isn’t just a Michaels criticism, few things bother me more than hearing a game announcer complain about the length or quality of a game as if he’d rather be anywhere else. It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.

How many NFL viewers would sit in the seat Michaels, or any NFL announcer occupies, for free? They’d feel like they won the lottery if they also were getting the money those announcers are getting paid to be there. The guy that works a 12-hour Thursday construction shift just to get home and crack a beer for the NFL game probably doesn’t want to hear how tough that game is to announce.

On top of all of that, Michaels was given the gift of one of the wildest NFL Playoff comebacks you’ll ever see and, at times, sounded as if he was completely disinterested in being there. Pro tip: the best NFL announcer in those moments is Kevin Harlan (see: Miami at Baltimore from earlier this season. That has nothing to do with my lifelong Dolphins fandom). Michaels’ lack of enthusiasm was compounded by the exact opposite from Mike Tirico on the very same network for the Bengals-Ravens Wildcard game Sunday night. 

Tirico, like Michaels, has a sterling resume of play-by-play accomplishments. The difference is Tirico sounded like he was having the time of his life on Sunday night. 

To be fair, their two styles are different. Michaels has a very old school, Pat Summerall approach. Summerall, Vin Scully and Dick Enberg came along at a time when announcers were far more likely to let the pictures tell the story. More new school guys like Harlan and Tirico approach it differently.

Look, Al Michaels helped us believe in miracles. His place in the Sports Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame has long since been cemented. Being a hall of fame inductee doesn’t mean your style will forever be accepted by the masses. That leaves you with a few options; you can continue your style and accept or ignore the criticism or you can ride off into the sunset and enjoy the fruits of your decades of labor.

Al Michaels has what we all want; great options. He can choose any of them and be a winner in the game of life. It doesn’t matter if he enthusiastically embraces them, or not. 

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BSM Writers

Bernie Kosar Was the Victim of a Policy That Doesn’t Work Anymore

“The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.”

Demetri Ravanos

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One week ago, Bernie Kosar lost his job on the Browns Radio Network for placing the first legal sports bet in the state of Ohio. Kosar, just like Jets coach Miles Austin weeks earlier and Calvin Ridley last year, violated a league policy that forbids team employees from placing a bet on any NFL game.

The integrity of the games still matters. The belief that what we are all seeing is being fairly contested is what gives those of us that like to have a little vested interest in the outcome the desire to lay our money down in the first place. I get the league’s discomfort with a coach on the staff of a team in the middle of the playoff hunt making bets. I get its fear of the message it sends to have players making bets.

Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners are well within their rights to object to men that can potentially control the outcome of a game or postseason seeding doing anything that even appears to jeopardize its fairness. Even perceived impropriety can compromise the league’s tremendous value.

But Bernie Kosar doesn’t have that kind of influence on the outcome of a game. He is just a broadcaster and not even a game analyst. He is part of studio coverage.

I am far from the first to point this out, but in 2023, the NFL has three official sports betting partners. Just last week, it approved the first ever in-stadium sportsbook, which Fanatics is set to open inside of FedEx Field. If the NFL is comfortable enough with the reality that its fans like to bet to make those things a reality, then Kosar losing his gig is absurd. It is the result of nothing other than “well, that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking.

Maybe Kosar was terrible on the radio and the team was looking for a reason to move on. I don’t live in Cleveland and I am not a Browns fan, so I have no idea.

How many times have we heard that NFL owners hired Goodell to “protect the shield”? I’m not even really sure what it means or when it applies anymore. If I had a vested interest in the public perception of the league, I know that I would want someone to do the PR math on this situation.

Bernie Kosar isn’t an addict that can’t watch a game without the high of winning or the emotional distress of losing everything at stake, at least not as far as we know. This was a bet made through an advertising partner, to benefit charity. He even said on his podcast this week that the purpose of making the bet was to generate some money for former players in need of help.

This is like Disney threatening daycare centers with lawsuits for painting Mickey Mouse on a classroom wall. The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.

Surely you have seen Garrett Bush’s impassioned rant on the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show about the obstacles facing Damar Hamlin because of how many hoops the NFL makes former players jump through in order to get some kind of pension.

On January 2, we were all united in our concern for a guy that hadn’t even completed his second full NFL season. We didn’t know if he was going to live, but if he did, we all knew that the NFL had done everything it needed to in order to protect itself from ever having to pay a dime for his medical care. Less than a week later, Bernie Kosar was fired for what amounted to a charity stunt that was meant to raise money and attention to very similar issues.

At both the league level and the team level, there was incompetence that lead to a man unnecessarily losing a gig and to the Browns and the NFL looking horribly out of touch with reality.

Are we acknowledging that people gamble or not? Are we acknowledging there are responsible ways to bet on football and are interested in generating revenue off of it or not? Because it doesn’t seem to me that the same league that just gave the thumbs up to open a sportsbook inside of a stadium is really that concerned with people that cannot affect the outcome of games betting on those games.

Has the NFL come out and said that it is going to cover every medical bill for everyone that has ever played the game? We know that this is a brutal game that leaves a physical and physiological impact on the men that played it. Why would we make it harder for someone that knows that pain to help others do something about it?

I feel awful for Bernie Kosar. Whether he needs the money or not, it is embarassing to be at the center of a controversy like this, particularly because in the NFL in 2023, there is no reason for a controversy like this to exist.

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