The NFL on television brought us lots of new and unusual this season:
Network announcers ripping into the league with unprecedented venom, over the replacement referee fiasco. … NBC’s Bob Costas eliciting Internet animus by advocating gun control. … Fox’s Jay Glazer justifiably blasting an ESPN producer, on Twitter, for attributing one of Glazer’s scoops to “sources.”… Chad Johnson, on HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” telling the Dolphins’ security director, in jest: “I promise I’m getting arrested while we’re off” — and then, two weeks later — landing in jail, charged with domestic battery on his wife.
Amid it all, several announcers distinguished themselves. Presenting our 21st annual Griddy Awards:
1. Al Michaels / NBC — Remains at the head of the class with his combination of big-game presence, attention to detail, deftness for weaving in anecdotes and diligence in spewing down/distance and who made the tackle quickly after plays.
2. (tie) Jim Nantz / CBS and Mike Tirico / ESPN — Both are exceptional at extracting insight from their analysts by asking them pointed questions. And they’re more opinionated than many play-by-play men — Tirico was sometimes more critical than his broadcast partner, Jon Gruden. And Nantz made several worthy points before Phil Simms could, such as questioning Broncos WR Eric Decker for sliding to the ground after a catch, when saving time wasn’t an issue.
4. (tie) Joe Buck / Fox and Kevin Harlan / CBS — Harlan remains the king of quick dissemination of information such as lineup changes and defensive backs in coverage. … Buck is the classic play-by-play technician: sharp, alert, with commanding pipes and presence.
Honorable mention: CBS’ Ian Eagle, NFL Network’s Brad Nessler, Fox’s Kenny Albert and Thom Brennaman.
1. Cris Collinsworth / NBC — Consistently tells viewers something they don’t know or don’t necessarily see. In the Chargers-Saints game, Collinsworth noticed that Chargers OT Jared Gaither had limited mobility late in the game. The Chargers “are going to have to get him some help here, or Martez Wilson’s going to get a sack to end this game,” Collinsworth said. Sure enough, Wilson sacked Philip Rivers and forced and recovered a fumble on the ensuing play. Collinsworth noted how Packers WR James Jones talks to himself during games, to the point where defensive backs have asked him, “Are you OK?”
2. Phil Simms / CBS — Alert to nuances that some analysts don’t necessarily see. For example: He noted a Steelers coach was rushing around before a game, warning players, after noticing that Tim Tebow was catching passes in pre-game warmups. He informed viewers of Wes Welker’s unique routine of having coaches or Tom Brady throw the ball as hard as they can at him, with Welker standing just five yards away. And credit Simms for knowing that Jim Schwartz would be penalized for throwing a flag to challenge a touchdown in the Thanksgiving game.
3. Jon Gruden / ESPN — Still goes overboard with praise but possesses the best TV presence of anyone doing games and seemed more inclined to question coaching decisions than in past years. Such as: “Kansas City drafted Tyson Jackson third overall. Why aren’t you playing him on passing downs?” and “I don’t understand why the Ravens are still throwing, up 41-13 (against Cincinnati).”
Honorable mention: Worthy of consideration: CBS’ Rich Gannon, Dan Dierdorf and Dan Fouts and Fox’s Troy Aikman and Brian Billick.
1. James Brown / CBS — JB has always been smooth and engaging, but he also proved this season that he’s a highly skilled interviewer. He was tough but fair in sit-downs with replacement referees and Anthony Hargrove, before Hargrove’s BountyGate suspension was overturned.
2. (tie) Chris Berman / ESPN and Bob Costas / NFL — No host has more NFL contacts than Berman, who capably anchors the most detailed and creative pre-game show in the business. … Costas asks the best questions of any interviewer, including this one of Jerry Jones: “Would Jerry Jones the owner have fired Jerry Jones the general manager?” Jones said yes, but he could not do it to himself. Costas’ only misstep: Trying to tackle the gun control issue when he didn’t have enough time to address it properly.
4. Curt Menefee / Fox — Did a better job maintaining order on the set than past years and also displayed more personality. And Menefee isn’t afraid to criticize athletes, such as telling Cam Newton he was wrong to call a female reporter “sweetheart.”
1. Bill Cowher / CBS — Wins his first Griddy because he has become far more candid, interesting and assertive. He offered sharp insight (he said defensive backs should use their hands more to see if the replacement refs would throw a flag); presented outside-the-box ideas (such as suggesting the Jets give Tim Tebow a series early in the game, then decide whether to play Tebow or Mark Sanchez); and noting trends that many fans wouldn’t notice (such as Tom Brady’s diminished accuracy throwing outside the numbers during New England’s early-season struggles).
2. (tie) Tony Dungy / NBC and Boomer Esiason / CBS — Dungy mixes sound analysis with interesting stories, such as this one about Peyton Manning: “Marcus Pollard was having a discussion with Peyton several years ago. Pollard insisted he was right about a route. Peyton said, ‘Hey, on this field, if I tell you it’s Easter, you go start looking for eggs.’”… Esiason, a voice of reason, holds players accountable for bad behavior or poor leadership more than any analyst in the business, aside from CBS colleague Shannon Sharpe. “You can’t have the face of your franchise be so negative,” Esiason said of Cam Newton.
4. (tie) Ron Jaworski / ESPN and Shannon Sharpe / CBS — Jaws’ tape breakdown is unparalleled, particularly in evaluating quarterbacks. … With his one-liners, Sharpe elicits more chuckles than anyone on an NFL studio show.
Honorable mention: Fox’s Jimmy Johnson and Howie Long are always in the medal discussion.
1. Jay Glazer / Fox — Broke several stories, including the Sean Peyton contract, and relayed several fascinating nuggets, including the irony of Detroit’s Jim Schwartz last year ridiculing 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh for making the same mistake Schwartz did this year — throwing a challenge flag when it’s not permitted. “Schwartz screamed at Harbaugh to know the rules,” Glazer said.
2. Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter / ESPN — Though his Tim Tebow-to-Jacksonville story appears unlikely to happen, Mortensen broke the news about the NFL removing a replacement official from a New Orleans game because he was wearing a Saints hat on his Facebook page. Both did their usual good work reporting coaching firings and hirings.
Honorable mention: Worthy of consideration: CBS’ Jason LaCanfora; and NBC’s Peter King and Mike Florio, who have the unfortunate disadvantage of appearing seven to nine hours after their competition. King had this eye-opening tip: At least seven NFL players turned in their guns after Jovan Belcher’s murder/suicide because they don’t “trust themselves.”