With 32 teams in the NFL, there are up to 16 games every week of the season (give or take a few bye weeks), which means there are up to 16 different announcing teams calling games for five different networks.
It seems the end of the year is always a great time to look back upon the previous 12 months in an effort to rank our experiences from worst to best. With that in mind, let's try to rank the NFL announcing teams in terms of worst to best.
Before we get started, I have a few HUGE disclaimers at the top of this:
• I hate calling out people as "the worst," but from a wording standpoint it just sounds better than "least best."
• The first handful of teams are really interchangeable. The fact is, Fox and CBS have to employ so many crews that the beginning of this list is made up of mostly the networks' lower-rated crews.
• With the bottom crews ostensibly substitutable, some of these rankings are based on how the networks see their own talent. Sam Rosen and Chad Pennington aren't getting the same level of games as Thom Brennaman and Brian Billick, for example.
• You will certainly disagree with me on some of these. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.
Fox lists Dick Stockton and John Lynch as its fourth crew, but I find it hard to believe there aren't more consistent announcers in its stables. Lynch is relatively new to the position and is getting better, but it seems like the better he has gotten, the worse Stockton has become.
A veteran announcer and not someone I'm eager to malign, it feels like Stockton has lost more than a step or two in the last few years. Fox might need to invest in more play-by-play depth to afford Stockton the opportunity to focus more on baseball and other slower-paced sports.
This is why I hated calling this "worst to first" because I actually don't think the crew of Bill Macatee and Steve Tasker is necessarily bad.
I think Tasker's work is solid as an analyst and really like Macatee's work doing non-NFL events. He's a fantastic interviewer and a really good golf announcer, but when you get him calling your in-market NFL game, it feels like he's filling in for someone else who got sick at the last minute.
This Fox crew is as New York as it gets. It's also the second-to-last team on Fox's list of announcers. I'm not sure if Sam Rosen has fallen out of favor with Fox executives or if his other work doing New York Rangers hockey precludes him from getting better assignments.
It seems the veteran announcer is moving back down Fox's list each and every season and finds himself near the bottom of this list, accordingly.
If you would have asked me back in the 1990s who would be the biggest announcer in sports in 2011, Chris Myers would have been near the top of my list. I don't know if that says more about my perception of the business in my formative years or Myers' career path after leaving ESPN for Fox.
Myers is always working big events in some way—studio work, sidelines, etc.—but it's clear he's never going to be the lead voice at any of the networks.
Tim Ryan is, in his own way, similar to Myers. He's undoubtedly solid. He knows the game, articulates his points well and has a lot of conviction with his analysis.
There's just something missing when you watch games with this team: It's like they are too "cookie-cutter NFL announcer." If you were making a movie about a football team and needed to cast two generic announcers to narrate the scenes for you, those generic announcers would look just like Myers and Ryan.
I'm not sure if that's a compliment, but I don't think it is. Having said that, I think that Ryan still could move up the ranks at Fox in the next few years. Or he could end up like Brian Baldinger, who keeps busy doing studio work for NFL Network and national radio after Fox gave him the boot for a more recently retired player. (Fun note about Baldinger...I saw him at the Wawa on the corner of my street last year wearing his NFL on Fox bomber jacket. Maybe the NFL Network jacket was at the dry cleaners.)
Oh, right, back to Tim Ryan...he could either move up the ranks or move along, and it will be interesting to see which way his path at Fox heads. I know he's better than Tony Siragusa (more on him later).
Spero Dedes is the new blood CBS brought in to replace Dick Enberg, and at such a young age, the guy is incredibly accomplished in the field, having worked as a play-by-play announcer for the Lakers before taking a gig with his hometown Knicks this year.
If we do this list in 2021, is Dedes going to be at the top? He's still in his early 30s and is 10 years younger than any other NFL play-by-play announcer working for any of the major networks.
Having said that, he's currently buried at the bottom of the CBS stables. I suppose you have to start somewhere.
Ron Pitts is an interesting character, being the only play-by-play announcer who played in the NFL since, I believe, Pat Summerall retired.
Pitts clearly doesn't have the dulcet tones that Summerall had, nor does he have the confidence of the Fox brass, being relegated to the fifth- or sixth-best game on the network each week. Pitts seems really likable, but whenever I hear his voice I'm reminded that Fox just gave my market one of its crappier games.
Jim L. Mora is hard to figure out, as it seems like he's doing the announcing gig to keep his name relevant for any open coaching jobs. That said, we said the same thing every year about Jon Gruden and Brian Billick, and they're still on this list (more on them later).
Marv Albert is the best play-by-play announcer in the history of basketball and has done an amazing job for years as the radio announcer for Monday Night Football, which is why I was so excited to see Albert calling games for CBS this season. Pairing him with Rich Gannon was a solid choice for CBS.
Why is this crew so far down the list? Frankly, Marv hasn't been the same Marv.
How often do sports-talk callers chime in about the play-by-play announcers the day after a big win? In Philadelphia, after the Eagles beat the Jets in Week 15, people were constantly calling in to complain about Albert's work...and they were right. He was really bad that day, so bad I may be unfairly dropping him in the rankings based on one week that had two teams both wearing green. Or he was so bad that 11 is way too high.
If this was a ranking of the all-time announcers currently working NFL games, Marv would be second behind Al Michaels (more on him later). But it's not—it's about 2011, and so far, disappointingly, Marv hasn't been his best.
It's interesting that Marv took Gus Johnson's place in CBS' stable of announcers, leaving me no choice but to put the rankings on hold to comment on Johnson's season before we get to the top 10.
Gus Johnson and Charles Davis have called a few NFL games for Fox this season, but they're being billed as Fox's lead college football announcers.
The odd thing is...Fox doesn't really have college football. Sure, it has the Cotton Bowl, which Johnson and Davis are calling (a game that will have huge ratings that should be close to NFL numbers), but other than a game here or there, they've been relegated to calling games on FX every week.
I don't care how entertaining the Pac-12 is—calling games on FX on Saturday nights is an enormous step back from calling NFL games on Sundays. Sure, Johnson was unhappy with his deal at CBS and wanted more money and more high-profile events, but looking at his 2011, one has to wonder if his situation was handled the right way.
Johnson was (and is) best at calling college basketball games, and while he will do that throughout the regular season, he won't be doing nationally televised games on CBS, nor will he be working the NCAA tournament. Taking into account that he has worked just a handful of NFL games this year, he better hope the Cotton Bowl is one heckuva game, or his 2011 will end on a pretty low note.
Oh, I just realized the Cotton Bowl is on January 6. Well, so much for 2011. It will be a great start to 2012, Gus.
I must admit, I walk around my house making declarative statements using Thom Brennaman's voice at least twice a week.
"These bananas are delicious."
"I am going to the bathroom. Please answer the phone if it rings."
You should really try it. It adds a level of gravitas to normal, everyday things that makes life just a little bit more exciting.
Why is this team so high on the list? Well, I think Brian Billick is fantastic. In fact, I think Billick is so good I hope he never gets a coaching job. He just needs to cut out the cutesy crap like "trickeration" and he'd be one of the five best game analysts in the sport.
Seriously, Brian, I'm sure you are reading this, as I assume you have a Google alert set up for your own name: Cut it out with the "trickeration" nonsense. You are a really smart man, and that makes you sound like an idiot.
CBS seems to have more depth than Fox because there is really no reason why Kevin Harlan and Solomon Wilcots should be getting the fourth- or fifth-best game on the network on any given week. And yet, here we are at No. 9 on this list.
Fun fact: The Wall Street Journal did a story in January of the chattiest announcers in football, and Harlan and Wilcots finished first with 189.20 words per minute. That's more than three words per second, with no regard for human life!
Greg Gumbel is a professional announcer. He's affable and well prepared week in and week out and probably deserves to be higher on this list.
Dan Dierdorf, on the other hand, is calling the same game he's been calling for the last 20 years. It's not that he's bad, per se; it's that the audience has become more sophisticated and he, well, hasn't.
Dierdorf is the master of the obvious, almost always stating the easiest thing to spot during the replays or commenting on exactly what you'd expect the analyst to see. With technology being such an asset to calling (and watching) a game, it's never felt like Dierdorf has gotten better, making his deficiencies that much more glaring each passing season.
This is where I just don't think Fox is programming to me as a consumer. A two-man team of Kenny Albert and Daryl Johnston would be as good or better than Fox's lead crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman.
I've tried for years, but I just don't see what Tony Siragusa brings to the telecast other than the occasional salient comment about action in the trenches when play is down near the goal line and a few yuks during games that aren't as competitive.
Again, the people in charge at Fox are smart, and they have a good sense of what their audience likes (more on this, and Joe Buck, in a minute), but I just cannot see what anyone gets out of Siragusa being on the telecast that Johnston and Albert aren't already giving us.
Let's not forget to point out that Kenny Albert is way higher on this list than his dad. Again, this is just for 2011, clearly not an all-time list.
The team of Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts might surprise some for being this high, but they are extremely solid and professional. It may be a little paint-by-numbers at times, but that seems to be as much the CBS model for how to call a game as it is Eagle and Fouts.
(It doesn't hurt that Eagle is one of the most likable people in the business and, from my experience, completely without ego.There's something to be said about making the game about the game and not about who is calling it. A lot of the announcers on this list are able to do that, but Eagle is one of the best.)
It's funny to think that there's a whole generation of NFL fans who probably don't remember how great Dan Fouts was at throwing the football. We spent so much time this season talking about Dan Marino's record being broken by Drew Brees and maybe Tom Brady that I think people forget how great Fouts was when Marino broke his record.
I don't think Fouts is as great an analyst as he was a quarterback, but he may be equally underrated in both careers.
I think Jim Nantz is one of the all-time great sports announcers, and he knows exactly the right buttons to push to give a game that big-time feel.
Having said that, I think he's become completely overexposed by CBS, calling every big NFL game for the network, working as the lead play-by-play announcer for the NCAA tournament and then going to head the Masters coverage a week later.
By the time mid-April rolls around, America really needs a Nantz break. I don't know what CBS could do to at this point. Well, yes I do—it could give the Final Four to Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery like they should have done a long time ago. But it won't do that, and Nantz has earned the right to pick his own schedule, even if that means he calls everything, ever year.
Phil Simms is good, but he seems to always have an attitude about something, as if he's spending the entire game trying to prove to the viewer how tough he was as a player...or maybe still is.
Here is all you need to know about Mike Tirico: in the Monday Night Football game between the Falcons and Saints, Tirico said that Marques Colston had caught a pass when it was Robert Meachem or Devery Henderson or one of the 50 receivers with jersey numbers in the teens the Saints seem to have.
The point is, Tirico took the time to go back and correct himself on a play that most announcers would blow right past without giving a second thought. Tirico is a pro. He's had the toughest gig in football for years since taking over the play-by-play duties for Monday Night Football, and he handles it as well as anyone can.
First, Tirico had to balance time (and egos) between Ron Jaworski and Tony Kornheiser. Now Tirico has to balance time (and egos) between Jaws and Jon Gruden, all while maintaining flow of the game.
To me, a three-man booth doesn't work when the two analysts do the exact same thing. ESPN loves Gruden, and I'm starting to understand why. The guy does know football, and he is doing a better job each year of explaining coverages and giving insight into how the coaches are thinking.
Gruden has, somewhat to my chagrin, gotten better. But the better Gruden gets, the less important Jaworski becomes. ESPN has completely marginalized its best in-game analyst, first splitting his time with Kornheiser's sideshow and now making him CLEARLY the second fiddle to Gruden.
Jaworski would benefit from ESPN having more than one game each week because he's consistently being underutilized in the same booth as Gruden. If Gruden gets a coaching job, I hope ESPN does the right thing and sticks with a two-man booth.
Joe Buck is a good announcer. There, I said it. He does everything an announcer is supposed to do: gives down and distance, time on the clock, hands the analyst good talking points throughout the game and follows up on themes to tell a story over the course of three hours. He rarely misses anything on the telecast and always seems to have a sense for when the big moments of the game will come.
Is he smug? Sure, he comes off as ridiculously smug in the booth, but his "he's Troy, I'm Joe" schtick isn't any more smug than Jim Nantz's "hello friends." Actually, it's less so, because we know Nantz isn't really our friend. That's actually pretty condescending when you think about it.
Buck is basically saying, "Look, you've heard our voices a million times and the graphic below my face says my name, but they make me introduce us every week, so he's Troy and I'm Joe. Now let's talk about why we're here."
That said...it is smug, so people hate it. And people STILL hate how self-righteous Buck sounded after Randy Moss wiped his butt on the Green Bay goalpost. People also hate that Buck, like Nantz, is everywhere for his network, with some feeling that Buck got where he is only because of who his father was.
I don't think that's fair. And sure, he's not the most excitable announcer in the booth, but neither was Pat Summerall, and people think of him as one of the best play-by-play men in history.
As for Aikman, he isn't going to nuts-and-bolts the viewer with a bunch of football jargon to get his points across, and without that, his in-game breakdowns can seem a bit simple—higher on opinion than analysis.
But Aikman seems like he calls a game with nothing to prove, unlike Simms. Aikman has an even temperament about him that fits well with Buck's call of the game. I would take Aikman calling a game with any play-by-play announcer, actually. He's become that good.
On any given week, the team of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth is as good as there has ever been in an NFL booth. They seem less tethered to every play than most other crews, telling a bit more of a story throughout the game than other teams seem capable of doing.
It's also important to remember that neither Michaels nor Collinsworth will ever pull a punch, telling it exactly how they think it is. Unlike Gruden, who loves every coach and every player who ever played in the NFL, Collinsworth isn't afraid to actually give his real opinion of someone.
Michaels is, for my money, the best play-by-play announcer of all time, and he really hasn't lost a step.
Why aren't they No. 1 this year? I'm not entirely sure. This is sort of like those years when Michael Jordan should have won the MVP but the voters gave it to someone else because they had such an incredible year. The top crew has been just as good as the Sunday night team this year, so it gets the nod.
I questioned the decision of NFL Network to part ways with Bob Papa as their play-by-play announcer after three seasons, but getting Brad Nessler was huge for the league's own network. Nessler is one of the best play-by-play guys in the business, and going from college games to the NFL and back hasn't seemed to trip him up one bit.
Replacing Matt Millen and Joe Theismann with Mike Mayock may have been the greatest personnel decision in the history of sports television. Maybe all television.
Mayock has established himself as one of the top draft experts in football and, somewhere along the way, turned himself into a fantastic in-game analyst as well. With all the analysts working for NFL Network, it would have been easy for the league to throw another name into the booth to help Mayock along in his first year, but they smartly let the two-man booth breathe. It's paying off.
Mayock does come off a bit too proud of being a "football guy," which is an act that can wear thin for anyone, but working for the league's network, it's probably the best place for a football guy to find an audience of people who want a football guy.
With no offense to Papa, who clearly should be on this list next year, it amazes me how much better the Thursday Night Football booth can be from one year to the next. It's amazing...and it's ranked at the top.