Sunday, April 19, 2009
Big John got it; can't everybody?
By Gene Wojciechowski ESPN.com
Now that the great John Madden has called it quits, maybe this is a good time to remind play-by-play announcers and color analysts everywhere of The Football Viewers' Bill of Rights. The document is designed to protect us -- the football fan -- from these 10 commonly made mistakes:
John Madden set a standard for football broadcasting -- on every network.
1: Frank Caliendo
2: Silence Is Golden
There's this term in broadcasting called "laying out." It's when the people in the booth don't say a peep after an amazing sports moment.
Verne Lundquist and Len Elmore kept quiet after Christian Laettner hit the game-winner against Kentucky in the 1992 East Regional final. Al Michaels let the Miracle on Ice speak for itself. Vin Scully let the crowd noise tell the story after Kirk Gibson's World Series home run (Scully didn't say a word for 1 minute and 9 seconds after Gibson's homer).
Madden didn't describe what he saw. He explained what he saw. And then he shut up.
3: "OK, now watch this."
You get this a lot during replays. The color guy will say, "OK, now watch this" -- as if we have a choice. Of course, we're going to watch this. What'd you expect us to do: switch to the National Geographic documentary on Australia's green-eyed tree frog? No, we're going to watch the replay of Terrell Owens dropping another pass. That's what we do. We just don't need you to remind us; Madden didn't.
4: Excessive Use of Jargon
Madden realized that most football fans didn't play nose tackle professionally. They didn't work on their A-gap technique. Instead, they thought the Gap is where you go to buy khakis.
"Football isn't nuclear physics," Madden said in a 2008 New York Times story, "but it's not so simple that you can make it simple. It takes some explaining to get it across."
Exactly. So if you're going to go all D-line coach on us, at least explain yourself. Do what Madden did so well, which was educate us about gap responsibilities, "5 technique," and anything else involving X's and O's. Otherwise, you'll sound like you're doing the broadcast in Portuguese.
5: Catch Phrases
Madden was big on "Boom!" He also liked "Wack!" and "Doink!" The guy sounded like the soundtrack to a 1960s "Batman" episode.
Madden could get away with it because he was so natural. It's not like he sat in the back of the Madden Cruiser thinking of catch phrases as he drove across Kansas. They just happened during the course of the game.
So trust us: We can tell when you're going to your legal pad of cutesy, prewritten lines.
6: Exhausted clichés
In a just and perfect world, we would be allowed to dunk the creator of the phrase "the next level" into a vat of Dr. Pepper and then duct tape him to a mound of fire ants.
Play-by-play announcer: "So can he play at the next level?"
Analyst: "I've been around this game for a long time and he definitely can play at the next level."
In other words, he can play in the NFL, right? I mean, that's the next level. There's college ball and there's the NFL. The "next level" doesn't mean he's going to play in Irkutsk. So enough already with the "next level" and it's evil twin sister phrase, "He'll play on Sundays."
7: Self-important use of league name
Do you notice how many announcers say, "National Football League," instead of "NFL"? I don't know if this is a league edict or if announcers are getting paid by the syllable, but "NFL" works fine for us.
8: Appropriate Telestrator Use
Madden loved his Telestrator. He'd Telestrate plays, coverages, bratwursts simmering in a pan of beer ... anything.
But there's nothing worse than an analyst who is Telestrator clumsy. He circles the wrong guy, taps the wrong button, suffers from Telestrator stage fright.
Madden was a Telestrator genius. Academicians will be studying his methods for decades to come.
Thirty years ago, when Madden first started doing TV games, few, if any analysts put much time into their prep work.
But Madden treated each game as if he were still a head coach. He studied film, attended practices, debriefed players and staff members. The man did his homework. Plus, he didn't brag about it.
How many times have you heard an analyst say, "I had a chance to sit down with (fill-in-the-blank)." Who cares? All we want to know is what you were told. Madden gave us the info that mattered.
10: No gimmicks, please
One turducken schtick per 50 years is the limit. That's the one thing we won't miss about Madden's retirement.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com. Hear Wojciechowski's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.