NFL Conference Championship Announcing: Mountains, Molehills and Media

↵It's not always easy to be a media critic. It's not like being a movie critic or a theatre critic or even a food critic. For those jobs, there a line between media and artist and, by and large, that line is definitive. Sure the food critic might be a bit of a home chef, but he's not often culinary-trained and has usually never owned a restaurant or ran a commercial kitchen before. The grayest line may be between movie writer and critic, where words can sometimes be boiled down to just words. ↵

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↵And that's what makes being a media critic so hard sometimes – it's the praying mantis of sports journalism, forced to critique and evaluate our own. It's odd, because on one hand it's so easy to rip another writer for saying something poorly or a television announcer for an on-air gaffe. On the other hand, I hate it when people do the same to me, be it about something I write or something I say. Individually, the negative words critics write are nothing more than the occasional molehill, but if you add together all those molehills into one broad-sweeping thought, you do, at times, create a mountain. ↵

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↵And that leads to this weekend's games. ↵

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↵Jim Nantz and Joe Buck will be calling the AFC and NFC title games for their respective networks this weekend. Of the two, Buck has far and away taken the most criticism for his work in the booth. Take this comment from 2008, after he told ESPN host Colin Cowherd he doesn’t find baseball as enjoyable as he used to. From Yahoo's Kevin Kaduk: ↵

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↵⇥Let me start by saying I don't like Joe Buck. In fact, I've never liked Joe Buck. When I watch Saturday afternoon baseball or the playoffs on Fox, it takes everything in my power to stop from hitting the mute button. He doesn't add anything to my enjoyment of the game and, more often than not, his refusal to never shut up and let the game breathe a little bit makes for the equivalent of a drill-bit being bored into my head for more than three hours at a clip. ↵⇥

↵⇥You can disagree with me if you want, but I believe that if it weren't for who his father was, Joe Buck and his droning, monotone, haughty and easily-outraged-by-Randy Moss style would be somewhere in rural Minnesota, announcing the details of that day's ice fishing contest. ↵⇥

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↵Nepotism is a hefty charge, and it's saddled the careers of Jim Gray, Jeremy Schaap, Chip Caray – a charge more meritorious to some than others, granted – and a whole host of writers and announcers. I've actually been accused of getting big guests for my show by trading on my father's name. But for Buck, specifically, the accusation doesn't make a whole lot of sense. ↵

↵It seems that every year, more and more people take issue with Buck's work in the booth. The molehills keep making that mountain bigger and bigger. The anti-Buck sentiment might come from the fact that he's a baseball guy doing football games – something the football fraternity never likes – or that, as stated above, he doesn't like baseball that much anymore. It might come from the fact that he went completely over the top when Randy Moss fake-mooned the Green Bay crowd. It might be the, "I'm Joe, he's Troy," cuteness he tries in the booth. Or it might be the fact that he is spread so thin, doing baseball and football while hosting a talk show – at one point a pregame show – and doing every car rental and beer commercial you can find. It might be the fact that he doesn't have a lot of emotion in his play-by-play call, but that same lack of emotion never hurt Pat Summerall from becoming one of the great announcers of our time. So then, yes, it might be the fact that his partner doesn't yell "Boom" enough to balance out Buck's bland call of the game. ↵

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↵It might be all of those things. Heck, it might just be the haircut. ↵

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↵The point is, the many molehills have grown to where most people are convinced that Joe Buck isn't a good announcer. Like it or not, there aren't many announcers more in control of the game, or adept at calling the action and letting the analyst analyze. And if you think his pomposity is what turns you off, take a listen to Al Michaels or Marv (or Kenny) Albert or Kevin Harlan or Gus Johnson or any number of play-by-play men, and tell me which one isn't pompous? It's part of the job description. ↵

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↵Oh, that's right, I left out Nantz, the announcer who introduces us to his football games with, "Hello friends." Clearly we are not his friends and he knows that – the guy hangs out with George W. Bush, he doesn't need us – but it's his thing. And while the pleasantry works for golf, it makes me wonder what would happen if he invited most of the NFL viewing public into his house for dinner. Just try not to get your body paint on the new couch. ↵

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↵This season has been Nantz's most public, largely because of that whole, messy divorce a few months back. This week, Nantz has come under fire from sports media critics for another issue – he's in commercials! With Peyton Manning! ↵

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↵Sports by Brooks had a headline this week that read: Jim Nantz has one job in life and he's blowing it. Brooks quotes a column by media critic Tom Jones of the St. Petersburg Times who questions Nantz's ability to remain objective after having worked on Sony commercials with Manning: ↵

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↵⇥How in the world can CBS let NFL announcer Jim Nantz do a television commercial with Colts quarterback Peyton Manning? The two are in an ad for Sony televisions. Nantz calls games in which Manning plays and will call next weekend's AFC Championship Game in which Manning will play. ↵⇥

↵⇥Why should we trust anything Nantz has to say about Manning ever again? Even if Nantz has every right to defend Manning after a play, why should we believe him after assuming the two hung out together and socialized during a commercial shoot? It's a blatant conflict that CBS shouldn't have allowed and Nantz shouldn't have agreed to do. ↵⇥

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↵First, Nantz is paid to do the play-by-play while his partner Phil Simms – a man rarely accused of playing favorites in the booth – handles the analysis. So what, exactly would a play-by-play man's conflict be? Would he call an interception a touchdown to make Manning look good? ↵Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated got a response from Nantz: ↵
↵⇥"I don't think that is anything new and I don't think I'm the first guy to do that," Nantz said. "If anyone is going to think for one second that I am going to be influenced and call a game tilted in favor in one favor of one team, I mean that has never happened in my career. You can write something that create some really good energy and excitement and get some reaction and try to stir some sort of synthetic controversy but there is not one that exists...Twenty-five years in my career that has never been a factor so I'm not concerned about it all." ↵
↵Brooks disagrees with Nantz, offering this as a reason why we should take issue: ↵
↵⇥The only reason Nantz is on the broadcast is to perform his job in the context of a detached observer. Doing a commercial with a player who is playing in the game he’s calling is clearly inappropriate - whether Nantz is the first guy to do it or not. It also devalues his profession, turning the PBP guy into a less-than-credible observer. ↵
↵I'd suggest that a reason why Nantz is on the broadcast is because he's the best and most respected announcer on CBS. That's also part of the reason he was selected by Sony to be a spokesman – he's a trusted brand. ↵

↵We mentioned the episode of CSI last night that featured CBS golf announcers and PGA players. Are we to assume that David Feherety or Gary McCord can no longer be objective about Rocco Mediate because they were on a show together? Is Scott Van Pelt doing an ad with Tiger Woods really that different than when Dan Patrick put barbeque sauce on a kid's head for Fridays? ↵

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↵Some obviously think so. Personally, I think it's just a lot of molehills being pushed together to try and form a mountain. ↵

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↵AFC Title Game – 3:00 PM ↵
↵The Jets travel to the Colts with the aforementioned Nantz and Simms, with Steve Tasker patrolling the sidelines, on the call. Joe Namath will be narrating the opening to The NFL Today pregame show, which undoubtedly has one writer at this site very excited. For Westwood One, Harlan, Randy Cross and Mark Malone will handle the radio call. ↵

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↵NFC Title Game – 6:45 PM ↵
↵Vikings at Saints with Buck and Troy Aikman on the call. Pam Oliver and Chris Myers will handle the sidelines. On radio, Dave Sims, James Lofton and Hub Arkush will do the game for Westwood One. ↵

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↵H/T to Fang's Bites for the radio pairings. As for the video this week, well, since we're talking about mountains… ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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