In other words, Jon Gruden wins.
There were two things perfectly clear with the three-headed monster of Jaws, Gruden and Mike Tirico calling the game for ESPN.
First, Tirico had the hardest job in all of play-by-play, having to balance time between "this guy" and the other guy.
Second, it became more and more evident that Jaworski wasn't just "the other guy" in the booth, but the "extra" guy.
The more comfortable Gruden became in the booth—and the more comfortable John Skipper, senior coordinating producer Jay Rothman and the rest of ESPN's brass became with Gruden's work in the booth—the less vital Jaworski was to the telecast.
Jaworski is one of the most knowledgeable analysts in the business, but he became completely and utterly expendable to the Monday night television show each passing week.
As Gruden became more seasoned in the booth, viewers could easily notice that his comments were often coming before Jaworski's, sometimes leaving Jaws with time for little more than a verbal nod of the head in agreement, before Tirico set the down-and-distance for the next play.
That's the funny thing about ESPN's three-man booth; it almost wasn't one. At times, sure, Jaworski and Gruden joked around about the game or life in the NFL or which players they loved the most that week.
There was interaction between the two, but when it came down to analyzing the game, it almost felt like Jaworski was deferring to Gruden on every single play. That certainly wasn't the case the first year the two were together, but the longer Gruden stayed in the booth, the more it became about him. Thus, the more obvious this decision from ESPN seemed.
I should say the more obvious it seems, in retrospect. Even during this past season, the decision to jettison Jaworski for more Gruden time didn't seem obvious at all.
Everyone thought—and probably still thinks—Gruden would go back to coaching in the NFL and ESPN would go with the two-man booth of Tirico and Jaworski until the next hot, young coach came around to try a few years on TV.
Did anyone think this would happen? Never did I imagine Jaworski would be booted out of the Monday Night Football booth before Gruden left to coach again. I don't have any inside information on this, so I'm sure my friends in the ESPN PR office will take some umbrage with my insinuation that Jaworski was "booted" out of anything, but dissecting the press release sent out by the Worldwide Leader is rather telling, if you know where to look.
Like, in the first paragraph:
Ron Jaworski has signed a five-year extension with ESPN for a new, expanded multiplatform NFL analyst role that includes appearances on Sunday NFL Countdown, Monday Night Countdown, NFL Matchup, NFL-branded specials, Mike & Mike in the Morning, Pardon the Interruption, and other platforms and shows throughout the year. Also, ESPN’s Monday Night Football will have a new two-person commentator team for the first time during the 2012 NFL season with Mike Tirico and analyst Jon Gruden.
First, ESPN spun the release to be about Jaworski's new contract extension with the company, burying the real story that ESPN will have a two-man booth to the end of the first graph.
The release then spent five paragraphs talking about Jaworski's career, ripe with quotes about how grateful he was for "having the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of working on Monday Night Football the past five seasons" before going into more depth about the two-man show with Tirico and Gruden.
Second, if you look at the expanded role they're giving Jaworski, it's basically a seat at the Sunday NFL Countdown desk, a few spots on NFL Live and the same gigs he's already done for years. Jaws was doing PTI all the time, constantly shows up on ESPN Radio already and is going from the Monday Night booth to the studio set before the game.
I'm not entirely sure how "expanded" that makes his role.
In the long run, this is probably a good thing for Jaworski. His NFL Matchup show is one of the best football shows of the week, so maybe ESPN will do more to promote that. Getting Jaws out of the booth will also give him more time in a format where he can give longer answers and provide more depth than he was ever afforded in a crowded Monday Night booth.
Jaws would be perfect for a two-man booth, but if ESPN's brass wanted to back Gruden instead, an expanded role for Jaws on other platforms is probably better than being less relevant to a game telecast than the sideline reporters.
As for the newly-reformed booth, some might prefer it. The fact is, Jaworski and Gruden started to sound too much alike last season, playing the exact same role in the telecast.
It will be interesting to see how Gruden survives being the only analyst in the booth. He is very good when he is breaking down each play. He's dreadful when he's lauding the quality and ability of those making the plays.
Will Gruden shine without the shackles of having to share a booth or will he get exposed without another voice sharing the load?
ESPN is counting on one thing: We will all be watching to find out. How long before we all hit the mute button remains to be seen.
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