Aaaaaand we’re back.
The 2016 NFL season is nearing completion, which makes few of us happy. There’s still, of course, the annual exercise of watching The Big Game, dissecting it as though there’s an actual rooting interest (apologies to those that might actually care), and those ever-popular attention-grabbing – and inexorably high-priced – commercials. You’re guaranteed to find out what the Coke polar bears have been up to, as well as the Budweiser Clydesdales, possibly the E*Trade baby, and assorted other characters that rarely appear elsewhere.
And you’ll hear the game’s announcers.
CBS captured the broadcasting rights to Super Bowl 50 (or L, if you prefer – this is an actual controversy), which is one of the most sought-after television events in the broadcasting realm. The ad revenues are naturally astronomical, the viewership higher than any other sporting event, and, with all deference to Animal Planet’s “Puppy Bowl”, viewer diversions are few, as no competing network would, in their right mind, offer any sort of quality programming during the game itself.
CBS, mindful of all of this, will feature the renowned broadcasting duo of the ever-professional and overexuberant Jim Nantz, who’s probably best known for endlessly waxing poetic before every stroke during the Masters, and a personal favorite as color man, former Giants quarterback Phil Simms.
Those of you that have read my columns (I presume there’s at least one of you) and engaged me in chats (more likely) understands and probably relates to my disdain of Simms. Most fans do. His bombastic style often conflicts with Nantz’s suave, somewhat oily approach (it’s one thing to disagree on points, another to be smug and self-assuming, as Simms often is), and his statements are typically general regurgitations of obvious points (“If Joe Thomas is going to have a good day, he’s gotta beat the guy in front of him for four quarters, not just one play…”) or his own awkwardly-phrased assessments (“Jim, I’ll tell ya, these referees have to talk to each other more, as they see what we’re seeing, the play is unacceptable.”) Fair or not, I consider him to be the worst at his craft, a blight on the broadcasting landscape whose inane patter is more suited to a high school pep rally than a well-heeled, heavily-sponsored NFL game.
Simms has infected our pop culture as well; his prattling can be heard in many installments of the popular Madden NFL video game series, and is usually the sole reason that gamers mute the game’s simulated commentary. To call Simms polarizing would be completely untrue; most viewers that have been exposed to his work are either indifferent, oblivious, or consider him irrelevant to the action on the field, which he ultimately is.
But that doesn’t make him any less annoying.
I have been known to like NFL commentators, for the most part. The esteemed Al “Do you believe in miracles?” Michaels, almost a legend in sports broadcasting, holds down his job very well as play-by-play man for NBC’s NFL broadcasts (his partner, Chris Collinsworth, slightly less so, but certainly not in Simms’ league of ineptitude). Michaels held the same spot for Monday Night Football on ABC and its subsequent relocation to ESPN for many years, and was almost singlehandedly responsible for keeping the broadcasts fresh and interesting despite a revolving door of ex-players, columnists, and comedians (Dennis Miller? Really?) alongside him.
The color man’s job is admittedly tough, because it requires the color man to provide deeper insight than the play-by-play man, and often has to accentuate and explain the nuances of the game to presumed football neophytes. The color man ideally shouldn’t assume his audience knows anything, but shouldn’t condescend to his audience either, which Simms is guilty of repeatedly during his broadcasts.
The sad part is that he wasn’t always this way.
Simms was hired by ESPN almost immediately after his retirement from the NFL in 1994, and has been a near-constant media presence for NBC and eventually CBS since 1996. His initial on-air forays were perhaps a little stilted, but cased with a dry and somewhat laconic tone. Simms was not afraid to contradict fellow commentators, as evidenced by his occasional run-ins with former Washington quarterback Joe Thiesmann, whose propensity to run long is well-documented. While his broadcasting style was somewhat subdued at that point, his willingness to express himself fully was appreciated by his employers, and Simms soon found himself on the “A” broadcasting teams, which handle the presumably most-viewed games on any given week.
Twenty years after he started, Simms is still on the “A” teams, but his abilities have obviously diminished, usually devolving into incoherent explanations, often shouted at varying volume levels. This is possibly because he’s either a victim of CTE – I’m not joking – or his employers at CBS have instructed him to be as “controversial” as possible, as it might breed increased ratings.
It’s not working. Or if it is, it’s because of the popularity of the NFL, and the fact that a large segment of the viewing public probably doesn’t know or care who Phil Simms is. But there are some who do.
Check for yourself. Run a Google search on Phil Simms. I did, and at least half of the returned links were negative in tone (“Fans weary of Simms calling Super Bowl 50”…”CBS’ Phil Simms is really not having a great night at the mic”…”Analyze this: Phil Simms worst announcer ever”). Yet CBS soldiers on, perhaps because they believe they have no better alternatives.
But there have to be some…somewhere. There’s got to be an ex-player out there that’s insightful and articulate enough to pull this off. One that offers cohesion and valid analysis of the games we’re viewing. One that doesn’t insult our intelligence.
Until that guy is found, well…
Enjoy the Super Bowl.