Broadcasters Without Feel Can Ruin a Game
THIS IS NOT A POLITICAL ARTICLE!!! Ok… now that we got that out of the way, the idea for this article has been in my head for some time because of the current political climate that has oozed its way into the sports landscape. However, you will not hear an opinion on players’ kneeling or protesting, nor will you get a feel for my take on the President’s remarks about players kneeling or protesting. What this article will focus on is how the current political climate has made it harder for broadcasters to get a feel for the game and how many of them are not up to the task.
Like any facet of life, knowing what to say and when to say it is of the utmost important (ask any of my ex-girlfriends how I fair in this regard and the irony of this article is palpable), but when your job is to literally talk for hours on end it becomes even more important. Unfortunately, the vast majority of football broadcasters are getting caught up in the myriad of story lines surrounding football and allowing their need to discuss them on air to destroy the flow of the game. A good play-by-play broadcaster is like the captain of a cruise ship; yes he does have a ton of responsibility in steering the vessel successfully to its destination, but if he does his job well, you should not really notice his presence.
Ian Eagle is usually a solid cruise captain, but during the Patriots-Texans game on Sunday he hit a reef, bounced off of it, and then jammed the wheel 90 degrees into a pile of rocks before slamming into a lighthouse. This past weekend’s slate of games was going to be difficult for anybody to call because of the protests in the wake of the President’s remarks. In a situation like this one, the task of the play-by-play man is fairly simple; less is more. You could tell throughout the game that Eagle did not quite have a feel for what was going on.
The game itself was a tough one to call because there was not much of a flow, and since it featured the Texans, Ian Eagle had to finagle his way around NFL Broadcasting Rules No. 7, “you must reference JJ Watt every five seconds or you will get fired.” So Eagle spent the majority of the broadcast talking about Watt while trying to also make sure he heaped enough praise on Tom Brady (because Tom Brady is in fact the G.O.A.T).
Everything was going pretty well. It was a pretty standard NFL broadcast. Even when CBS decided to spend the majority of their halftime show discussing the protests in lieu of highlights, it was perfectly fine because it did not disrupt the flow of the game. The protests were a massive national story line so to ignore it would have been a disservice (Fox and NBC both went with the same approach, using the majority of their half-time shows to discuss the protests).
But then it all went to hell.
Eagle’s Feel Flies Out the Window
Before we really take Ian Eagle to task, a quick point; Ian Eagle’s broadcast partner is Dan Fouts. Dan Fouts was a great quarterback… Dan Fouts is an atrocious color commentator. Dan Fouts gets worse against the Patriots. For some unknown reason (I have my theories), Fouts is not a fan of Belichick and the Patriots. It ruins the broadcasts. His ability to decipher plays and analyze them, which is not that good to begin with, takes an extra hit when calling Patriot games. He constantly tries to will something to happen or goes out on a limb stating something as fact when all the video evidence is to the contrary (like the Brandin Cooks game winning touchdown). Having Dan Fouts in the booth with Eagle is unfair to Eagle (a good broadcaster), and he usually does a fantastic job navigating his way around Fouts’ shortcomings, but Fouts has a tendency to pull Eagle down… and the Patriots-Texans game was one of those instances.
Their back-and-forth during the fourth quarter was a mish-mash of stupid, ill-timed, and nonsensical jokes and horrifically timed story lines. With 5:55 to go in the game, a game that featured a rookie quarterback trying to do the near impossible (rookie quarterback beating the Patriots at Gillette), Eagle decided RIGHT THEN AND THERE IS THE TIME TO TALK ABOUT THE AARON HERNANDEZ CTE LAWSUIT!!!
Here is a feel for the game, and way over on the other side of the continent is Ian Eagle.
The explanation came out of the TV timeout and was just awful. You could tell it was so out of touch and out of place because after he blathered on for a minute there was NO OTHER MENTION OF IT. No follow up by Fouts, no graphics… this was Ian Eagle wanting to insert something into the game that did not belong… and he did it at a crucial time. In other words, if it fit into the game AT ANY POINT (it did not), the fourth quarter was not the time.
The Texans just forced a three-and-out and were up 30-28; a touchdown puts the game away and a field goal forces the Patriots and Tom Brady to produce a touchdown (of course they did). The story line at that point of the game is THE ACTUAL GAME AND THIS REALLY IMPORTANT DRIVE FOR THE TEXANS. Instead we got drivel from Eagle about the Hernandez suit in the fourth quarter of a tight game. You had three and a half quarters to bring this up, if you did not do it by then, you have to just let it go because now you killed the flow of the game. You injected something into the game that did not belong; like trying to put rocket boosters on a training tricycle.
Fans at that point are completely locked into the game. Give us some stats, update us on injuries… do ANYTHING BESIDES WHAT YOU JUST DID. We are invested entirely in the game. To use that point of the game, the second-to-last drive of the game, to take the fan outside the flow of the game, is to show an utter lack of feel for the moment and for the game.
Eagle has a great voice. He is a top-tier announcer of both basketball and football. Eagle’s cadence when calling plays is usually really enjoyable (and he nailed the Cooks touchdown). However, if you have multiple fans yelling at the TV, “shut up and talk about the game,” or “why is he talking about this right now?” (which is what happened with the group I was watching the game with and have heard from others the same thing), you are doing something wrong. The last thing you want as a broadcaster is for someone to hit mute, and Ian Eagle forced a mad dash to the clicker with 5:55 left in the Patriots game. That is bad broadcasting, and we are seeing it more and more in today’s sports climate.
Right now everything is political and everything is culture. It is going to be impossible in the wake of the President’s remarks to “stick to sports,” as a broadcaster. Fans can see the players protesting and as a broadcaster, you need to say and describe (if not explain) what is happening on the field. However, just because there is a window to discuss one topic, it does not give you the green light to discuss whatever topic you want. Moreover, if you decide to take that plunge and open up your viewing experience to a wider range of topics outside of the game and sport you are broadcasting, you need to know when is the appropriate time to discuss that topic.
Having a feel for the flow of the game is what separates the good broadcasters from the bad ones. Make a joke in the bottom of the ninth? You might not be good at your job. Use your mic to bring up a lawsuit with 5:55 left in a two point football game… and you clearly are not grasping what is important and germane to the game at that time. And that is what is getting lost in broadcasting right now; the game is what people are tuned in to see, the game is what is most important. If you cannot sense that, if you do not feel that is the case, maybe you need to take a step back and evaluate what is the point of your job.