By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) Monday Night Football is supposed to be the crowning event of the week during football season.
When the series started in 1970, the game made a mark in television broadcasting because it used three men in the booth. One of those men was Howard Cosell, probably the most unique broadcaster in television history. Cosell was probably the most despised man in the industry, but he was brilliant on the air, he never held back and you had to listen to him each week.
ABC treated its Monday night broadcast as if it was something special throughout its run. ESPN has tried to do the same thing since taking over the broadcast in 2006 and it has failed badly.
The network acknowledged its shortcomings when it reassigned… ahem… Ron Jaworski and took him out of the booth. That may sound like good news to football fans who have suffered while watching Monday Night Football, but it’s not. That’s because Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden are still on the air. Their broadcast is not about football. It is about self-promotion.
But let’s get back to Jaworski. The former Eagle quarterback really does understand football and should be a sensational analyst. He led his team to the Super Bowl under head coach Dick Vermeil and he developed a reputation as a thinking man’s quarterback. When he had been on the air prior to Monday Night Football with another former player like ex-Steeler running back Merril Hoge, nobody ever broke down a defense like Jaworski. He told you what the offense was going to do and how the defense would combat it and he did it clearly and concisely.
But once he was placed in the Monday Night booth, everything changed. Jaworski has a little bit of an insecurity complex. He was a very good quarterback, but he was not elite. He got to the Super Bowl, but he did not win it. There’s a little bit of self-doubt there and Gruden fed into it. He challenged Jaworski – and not in a healthy way.
As a result, it was about each of those two men trying to establish their position in the exalted Monday Night broadcast booth. Jaworski was not at his best. He tried to “sell” things to his audience and lost his spontaneity. He’ll go back to being one of the best football analysts in the business now that he’s away from those two mockingbirds.
Gruden is an insufferable egomaniac. No matter what he says publicly, it’s obvious that he wants to be back on the sidelines for an NFL team. He does have one shining moment on his resume. He led the Tampa Bay Bucs to a victory in Super Bowl XXXVII over the Raiders. Gruden had been the head coach of the Raiders before coming to Tampa Bay and he knew the Raiders so well that he could school his players on all their tendencies. He understood that Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon loved to pat the ball before releasing it and he pointed this out to the Bucs defensive backs. The Raiders never stood a chance.
Gruden has no interest in letting listeners know what’s really going on in the mind of coaches or players as the game unfolds. For Gruden, it’s about promoting head coaches so he can curry favor with them. Gruden also likes to waste listeners’ time by telling them how great a game football is and how athletic the players are. He is simply a shill-master who wants to show everyone that he’s in charge.
Tirico is a competent play-by-play man, but he does not run that broadcast booth. He defers to Gruden because he’s happy to let someone else have the controls. Tirico also likes to come at listeners with a “gee, golly, gosh” attitude to show that he’s not above them. It’s as if he’s saying how lucky he is to be at the game – and he does this every week.
Nobody’s buying this phony attitude. Tirico is so sickeningly sweet in his approach that he’s diabetic. Somebody pass the insulin.
The three-man booth of Tirico, Gruden and Jaworski was among the worst in football broadcast history. It won’t get much better without Jaworski but it will get better for Jaworski.
Meanwhile, the rest of us who don’t turn the sound off will continue to suffer.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.