Now that we're well into the second half of the NFL season, it's time to give the game's most frequently seen TV announcers their midterm grades. As usual, the CBS team of Pat Summerall and John Madden is at the top of the class, followed closely by the NBC tandem of Dick Enberg and Merlin Olsen. At the other end of the curve, several analysts are in desperate need of remedial work, most notably ABC's Frank Gifford and ESPN newcomer Joe Theismann. Here, then, are the report cards for the play-by-play men and analysts who make up the 11 leading broadcast teams:
Al Michaels, Dan Dierdorf, Frank Gifford (ABC)—Monday Night Football has become the Al and Dan Show. Michaels and Dierdorf get along famously in the booth, provide most of the pertinent information and more or less tolerate Gifford, who seems to be along for the ride. Michaels, the play-by-play guy, doesn't have the same feel for football that he has for baseball, but he's a delight just the same. Dierdorf has clearly taken over the lead analyst position from Gifford. His confidence has grown, and he provides unusually fresh insights.
Gifford lost it once he stopped doing play-by-play in 1986. He's a tad more incisive than he was last season, but he still tends to be an apologist for the players and the league. If it weren't for his marquee value and the fact that he has been a part of the Monday Night team since 1971, ABC might well have gotten rid of him long ago.
Grades: Michaels, A-; Dierdorf, A; Gifford, D+.
Pat Summerall and John Madden (CBS)—Summerall uses one-third as many words as most of his colleagues, never intrudes on the game and usually keeps his comments pertinent. His reticence acts as a counterpoint to Madden's flamboyance and is one of the keys to the team's success. In recent years Madden has transformed the nature of sports announcing, showing that a commentator can entertain as well as analyze. His most overlooked gifts: a keen eye for the peculiar and a knack for getting to the point quickly.
Summerall, A+; Madden, A-.
Vern Lundquist and Terry Bradshaw (CBS)—Lundquist is the archetypal CBS play-by-play man: a personable guy who's excellent on the nuts and bolts but lacks charisma. He comes across better, however, with the lively Bradshaw than he did with his previous partner, Dick Vermeil. Bradshaw, in turn, has put away his cowboy hats and stopped forcing his down-home humor. Why, with his three-piece suits and horn-rimmed glasses, he looks like an investment banker. His twang can be grating, but he's honest and enthusiastic, and dispenses well-reasoned criticism. It has taken him four years to come into his own as an analyst. That should come as no surprise. It took him four years to find himself as a quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Lundquist, B; Bradshaw, B-.
Dick Stockton and Dan Fouts (CBS)—The quintessential basketball play-byplay man, Stockton is a little too up-tempo for football, especially if the game he's covering lacks drama. He has a big-event voice that's filled with anticipation, and he never fails to note the down and distance and who made the tackle. Stockton's rookie sidekick, Fouts, has been a big disappointment. His delivery is so laid-back that he often sounds as if he's broadcasting from a beach in San Diego. Fouts also imparts little more than what the camera has already shown us and usually muddles the point he's trying to make when he uses the telestrator.
Stockton, B; Fouts, D.
Tim Brant and Hank Stram (CBS)—A cocaptain of Maryland's 1971 football team, Brandt has a thorough knowledge of the sport, but his boyish enthusiasm can get tiresome. Stram is an excellent teacher—runners should square their shoulders before getting tackled is one of his favorite tips—but the emotion of the game seems to elude him. His words often sound prerecorded, and many of his pet phrases have become shopworn.
Brant, C-; Stram, C-
Tim Ryan and Dan Jiggetts (CBS)—Ryan is especially good at telling you who's in the game and who's not, a vanishing art among play-byplay announcers. However, his lack of passion makes you wonder whether he really likes football. Jiggetts, a former Chicago Bears offensive tackle, is animated and, for a newcomer, surprisingly adept at making his points without stepping on his partner's toes. But he often falls into the trap of belaboring the obvious and feels compelled to say something after every down. Give Jiggetts time; he's a comer.
Ryan, B-; Jiggetts, C.
Dick Enberg and Merlin Olsen (NBC)—Enberg brings knowledge, emotion and congeniality to the booth. The viewer gets the sense that Enberg thoroughly enjoys his work. If he has a weakness, it's that his mood never varies from game to game. Olsen remains a wise and observant old head. If you compare the substance of his comments with Madden's, you'll find no big difference. However, Olsen's understated style has become a bit passè.
Enberg, A; Olsen, B-.
Marv Albert and Paul Maguire (NBC)—In a business not noted for candor, Albert is the most outspoken NFL play-by-play caller on TV. He may not be especially authoritative on football, but he's superb on the basics, such as how many yards a runner has made through the third quarter and how far a punt traveled. He also has a delightfully droll sense of humor. On a recent Sunday, for instance, he told Maguire, "I was so excited when I was told I'd be working with Maguire, but I thought they were talking about Al."
Maguire came out of the studio at midseason and replaced the lackluster Joe Namath, who has been teamed up with play-by-play man Tom Hammond to cover less important games. An opinionated, lunchpail-type commentator, Maguire reminds you of a guy you might meet on the corner stool at a sports bar. But unlike a lot of bar flies, he often makes trenchant observations about the game.
Albert, B-; Maguire, B.
Don Criqui and Bob Trumpy (NBC)—While Summerall and Enberg are thinking heads, Criqui is a talking one. He has a clear, crisp voice but also a penchant for filling the airwaves with irrelevant information. Trumpy is fearless and refreshing. For example, he isn't afraid to upbraid refs who, to avoid the embarrassment of having one of their calls overturned by a replay official, claim that a whistle was inadvertently blown after the play, creating a dead ball. But, oh, the bluster! Trumpy is like the guy who dares you to slug him if you don't like what he's saying. Sometimes you feel like doing just that.
Criqui, C-; Trumpy, B.
Charlie Jones and Jimmy Cefalo (NBC)—Strange marriage here. Jones, who's in his 29th year as a pro football announcer, is excellent. Sure, he lacks pizzazz, but no one doing play-by-play arrives better prepared or has more stories to tell about the players and owners involved. Cefalo has the subdued manner of an altar boy. His voice is so soft and he uses so many words that it's often difficult to understand what he's saying. And when you finally make out what he has said, his point is usually obscured by footballese.
Jones, A-; Cefalo, D.
Mike Patrick and Joe Theismann (ESPN)—Last year, during its first season of NFL telecasts, ESPN brought in a different guest analyst for each game. It wisely scratched that practice. ESPN also took Roy Firestone out of the booth and assigned him to halftime shows, where he belongs. Trouble is, in place of Firestone and a guest, ESPN is using Theismann, who rattles on as if he were being paid by the word. Patrick is competent on play-by-play, but next to Theismann he sounds like Mr. Peepers. Give us a break, Joe! Only sophomores in high school always try to have the last word. Occasionally Theismann saves himself with a revealing insight, but it's hard to take him seriously because of his carefully groomed veneer. Ever notice how he likes to preen on camera?
Patrick, C-; Theismann, D+.
Summerall's succinct delivery is a perfect foil to Madden's insightful flamboyance.
Michaels (center) and Dierdorf get along so well that Gifford is odd man out in the booth.
Theismann's obsession with No. 1 often puts the squeeze on Patrick.