Thursday, December 21, 2006

Play-by-play problems

The NFL Network. Football.24.7.

Their specialty? Yup, the National Football League. If it has to do with the gridiron, they've got it covered. They have millions of feet of historic footage, access to every team and a direct association with the league they cover.

So you'd think this NFL Network could get a decent play-by-play man to call the few games they get to broadcast. Didn't they?


Not even close.

Actually, they missed the mark by an embarrassing margin.

Bryant Gumbel teams up with long-time color man Cris Collinsworth on Thursday nights to call games on the NFL Network (and on Saturday's with Dick Vermeil). I've not watched three games called by Gumbel, and it's killing me.

I know it's a difficult thing to do. Calling a football game is by no means an easy task. Seriously. But I also know there are plenty of qualified individuals who could contribute to a quality broadcast. Instead the NFL Network went for a big name with ZERO play-by-play experience at this level.

And it's been noticeable. After Saturday's Cowboys-Falcons game, one local sports anchor went as far as to appologize for the broadcast during his Cowboys highlight.

Saturday's broadcast was wheels-off from the start. Dick Vermeil had a sore throat and was replaced at halftime. The only bright spot of that broadcast was Deion Sanders as the second half color commentator. He and Marshall Faulk carried that broadcast despite Gumbel.

Tonight's game (Green Bay/Minnesota) wasn't much better. At least Collinsworth was in the booth to hold Gumbel's hand. Coming back from one commercial, a camera was focused on a girl wearing reindeer antlers and a blinking red nose. Okay, that's cute. It's the holiday season. There's no need to dwell on it, though.

"Can you name the rest of the reindeer?" Gumbel asked Collinsworth.

Collinsworth said no, seemingly ending the conversation. So what does Gumbel do? He tries to list as many of Santa's reindeer as possible. You've gotta be kidding me.

Then there are other screw ups, such as mixing up players. With just over three and a half minutes left in the game, Brett Favre caught the Vikings in a blitz, alerted his lineman, took the snap and lofted a perfect ball to Donald Driver, according to Gumbel. Only problem? Ruvell Martin caught the ball; not Driver.

As a fan and aspiring play-by-play man, I'd rather wait for the accurate information than just guess incorrectly and have backtrack. It's brutal.

But what's worst of all is what can only be described as a complete lack of football common sense. Now, I know he knows what a touchdown is, etc, but on one play late in the game, Gumbel asked Collinsworth a question that I'd expect from a friend's girlfriend or perhaps my sister, but not from the man calling the game.

On 1st and 10, the Vikings dropped back to pass and the Packers sacked QB Tarvaris Jackson for an eight yard loss. Officials also called Minnesota for holding on the play. The Packers declined the penalty, as football common sense would dictate.

Gumbel then proceeded to ask Collinsworth, "Are you surprised they chose to decline the holding penalty?"

"Not after the sack," he replied.

No kidding! 1st and 20 versus 2nd and 18? Two yards versus one-fourth of a team's opportunities for a first down? Gee, I wonder. That's an easy penality to decline. Had it been a four-yard sack, then maybe the question is a little tougher, but any coach will take 2nd and 18.

I know I've been hard on Gumbel in this blog. He has a difficult job to do. Like I said, calling a game - in any sport - isn't easy. But the NFL Network should have gone with proven talent instead of just trying to grab a big name.

I - along with the rest of the football-watching public - can only hope that Gumbel improves throughout the season and into the future. If not, I'll have to give the MUTE button a workout.

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