Last Vestige Of Intelligent Football Discourse Possibly Gone From ESPN

In production since 1984, "NFL Matchup" each year has become an increasingly rare example of serious and insightful football commentary on television. Produced by NFL Films and aired by ESPN at odd and usually inconvenient timeslots early on Sunday mornings during the NFL season, the show may have not garnered huge ratings, but it was still greatly appreciated by fans who would rather see diagrammed plays than overwrought storylines. ↵

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↵As reported by Peter King, the league has decided it will no longer seek sponsors for the show (Edge deodorant was the main sponsor of the show for seemingly forever), which will likely jeopardize its 25-plus year run unless ESPN opts to own and produce NFL Matchup entirely on its own. (UPDATE: Pro Football Talk has a report quoting an NFL Films spokesperson that talks continue with ESPN, so all is not lost ... yet.) ↵

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↵Whether ESPN will decide to do that could depend largely on how intense the public outcry, if any, is by the prospect of the show's absence. While it's not difficult to scan the Internet for testimonials from sportswriters to the show's greatness, it's not an opinion greatly shared by the general public. Or if it is, it's not quite fervid enough to justify viewers waking up before 10 a.m. ET on a Sunday to find it. ↵

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↵For the uninitiated, the show's format was decidedly spartan. It featured a three-person panel, including Ron Jaworski, Merril Hoge and Sal Paolantonio, examining the key positional battles of the upcoming week, including some insight into why recent games may have transpired the way they did. While Hoge and Jaws are difficult to take on some of the network's other football programs ("NFL Live" and "Monday Night Football"), they have long treated "NFL Matchup" as their quiet redoubt for actual analysis and positional breakdowns. True, Jaws will on occasion bust out a bit of tape on MNF showing how a team can exploit a weakness he discovered in an opponent, but such strategizing obviously gets more detailed and comprehensive when it's not being jammed into the half-minute between plays during a game. ↵

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↵ESPN has done the program no favors in recent years by shuffling its air time around early Sunday. Considering that "NFL Matchup," at its best, drew about a third of the number of viewers that the flagship "Sunday NFL Countdown" program did, there may not be a great financial impetus to keep the show going. With another party taking the trouble to produce the show for them, ESPN would have likely been inclined to keep the show operating indefinitely. But to incur an added cost (though hardly a huge one) for something that has never been a huge earner for the network will likely mean fans will have to turn elsewhere for such clear-headed analysis. And it probably won't be on their television. ↵

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

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