Even though we prefer knowledgeable sportscasters who mix a deep understanding of the game with a dose of dry wit, it’s difficult to separate the great NFL broadcast teams from the so-so ones. The godawful ones are a story for another day. Gone are the days of John Madden’s unrivaled grasp of pro football alongside the steady voice of his partner, the late Pat Summerall. Also, missing from the broadcast booth are the radio voices of Monday Night Football: the late Jack Buck and Hank Stram, as well as Hall of Famer Dan Dierdorf (He and Greg Gumbel were a strong duo at the mike).
To be considered among the greatest announcers, the play-by-play man and his analyst must have the chemistry to complement each other’s strengths. Know-it-alls and narcissists need not apply. Past glories aside, this season features broadcast teams (and sideline reporters) who can make even a blowout enjoyable.
Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon, CBS
One of the great highlights of the 2016 season to date is Kevin Harlan’s call of a fan running onto the field during the Monday Night Football radiocast of the 49ers-Rams game. It was a moment of spontaneous brilliance. As Harland said in interviews afterwards, it was the most exciting play of the game.
Harlan grew up around football as his father was an executive with the Green Bay Packers. He’s been behind the mike for more than 30 years calling college and pro basketball as well as college football. Pro basketball fans know Harlan best as a regular play-by-play man for Turner Sports. The Wisconsin native combines a great voice with smart comments and the ability to draw his analyst sidekick into the conversation.
Rich Gannon, Harlan’s cohort, is a University of Delaware grad who played quarterback for the Vikings, Redskins and Chiefs before starring behind center for the Oakland Raiders. In 2002, Gannon was the NFL’s MVP. While not at the level of John Madden, Gannon is able to explain what’s going on without using a lot of insider terms such as “loading the box” and “here comes a jet screen.”
Kevin Burkhardt, John Lynch, and Pam Oliver, Fox
As current sportscasting trios go, the firm of Burkhardt, Lynch, and Fox is at the head of the class. Clearly, Kevin Burkhardt is Fox’s rising star in the realm of sportcasting. Any man who can deftly handle the rants of Pete Rose during the MLB pregame show deserves a medal and/or an Emmy (he was nominated in 2016 but lost to Mike Emrick). The New Jersey native just has that inherent broadcasting gift for being in the moment and capturing it for viewers (and/or listeners) to enjoy. If/when Jim Nantz decides to retire, Burkhardt is Fox’s man, leaving the overrated Joe Buck in the dirt.
A Stanford guy, John Lynch was a student of the game during his 15-year career as a safety in the NFL. A hard-hitting, no-nonsense sort of player, Lynch is the perfect complement to Burkhardt. The former Buccaneer, Bronco and Patriot was a nine-time Pro Bowler who was always recognized as a team leader, and that strong personality shines through with Lynch’s spot-on observations.
The third member of the team is Pam Oliver, who may be the real star here. Oliver is a smart reporter with a non-nonsense style. The Florida A&M grad has graced the sidelines for Fox since 1995, but she was moved to the network’s “second team” after being replaced by Erin Andrews on the Joe Buck-Troy Aikman squad.
Al Michaels, Chris Collingsworth and Michele Tafoya, NBC
While the Peacock Network has but one pro game per week, it’s a big one. NBC’s Sunday night game has, for all intents and purposes, become the game of the week. Comcast has spared no expense in its broadcast lineup. Al Michaels, approaching 72 years old, has not lost much in terms of skills despite 48 years of calling everything from minor league baseball to the Olympics’ “Miracle on Ice.” Finding that balance of knowing how much (or little) to say on a TV sportscast, Michaels is peerless in his play-by-play.
Teaming him with former Bengals wide receiver Chris Collingsworth was a stroke of genius. Collingsworth, who got his law degree after ending his career, is a student of the game who spends hours preparing for each broadcast. The ex-University of Florida All-American is a five-time Emmy award-winner for both his game commentary as well as his studio work on HBO’s “Inside the NFL.”
Michele Tafoya ranks only behind Pam Oliver in terms of sideline reporting skills. The Cal-Berkeley grad has earned her stripes by working for regional sports networks, ESPN and CBS, before joining Sunday Night Football. Among her past credits, Tafoya was an in-studio host for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
At 71, Michaels has at most a few years left in the strenuous job as lead man on the Sunday Night crew. Was that the reason NBC stole Mike Tirico away from ESPN, or is it pre-game host Dan Patrick’s job? Time will tell.
Information courtesy of ESPN.