Why Do We Want Our Play-by-Play Announcers to Be Cheerleaders, Too?

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Why Do We Want Our Play-by-Play Announcers to Be Cheerleaders, Too?

As we begin another football season, more and more sports fans will flock to their televisions once or twice a week to watch their favorite teams.

Then they will bitch about the announcers.

This is a fact. The casual sports fan hates whoever is announcing his game. Unless, maybe, that person is Gus Johnson. (More on Gus in a minute.)

Yes, most announcers are boring. And yes, some announcers are actually pretty terrible. But the big national guys? Maybe they aren't as bad as we think.

This is not a rant to defend Joe Buck, Jim Nantz, Al Michaels or any of the top-tier play-by-play men in the business. Heck, I'm part of a group giving out a national award to the best play-by-play man in the business and only one of those guys even got nominated, let alone made the finals.

I got an email today asking if I was going to talk about how people on Twitter were upset with Michaels for a blasé call of Randall Cobb's 108-yard kickoff return. Here's the call, if you haven't heard it yet.

Is that boring? Sure, it's not great. It's no "do you believe in miracles," that's for certain. Let's remember, though, that not every sporting event is the Miracle on Ice. Michaels was there for one of the nation's greatest sporting moments.

He knows how to put a Week 1 kickoff in historical context. Heck, maybe it's not historical context at all. Maybe he didn't get so excited because he thought Cobb was down when he initially got hit. Maybe he had an obstructed view. Or maybe he was just calling the play as he saw it, and didn't care to be over-the-top because he wasn't making it about him.

This brings me back to Johnson. If I could put in any announcer in the world at the four-minute timeout of the second half of a close college basketball it would be him. He's fantastic when the game is close and late. The rest of the game? He's just as boring and paint-by-numbers as anyone else.

He has over-used catch phrases just like everyone else. We (read: you) can love Gus as much as you want, but if his much-ballyhooed move from CBS to FOX is any indication of how his new network feels about him, it says quite a lot that Johnson is doing Saturday college games on FX, as FOX's lead college play-by-play voice, instead of Sunday NFL games on FOX. When he does move back to NFL in Week 4, he's way down FOX's roster of talent.

For those of you thinking Gus would come in and be an eventual replacement for Buck, it looks like it'll be a while. But hey, he will likely be calling the Pac-12 or Big Ten title game live in early December and the Cotton Bowl in January. So there's that.

As sad as it may sound, being boring comes with being a play-by-play man. The job is down and distance. The job is time and score. The job is giving the public the facts, telling them who is doing what and getting out of the way for your analyst to share his opinion. Great play-by-play men can work in their own thoughts or help the analyst with direct questions.

Some play-by-play men can get their personality into a call without making it all about them. Most…are pretty boring, because they're supposed to be.

Look, I love a guy like Brent Musburger as much as the next fan, but sometimes the overselling is just too damn much to handle. Like, for instance, when he pulls out lines like, "and that will bring up a HUGE third down," 56 seconds into the first college football game of the season. It's not boring, but it's really annoying.

I get that people dislike Buck, et al, because it feels like some of those big national guys don't want to be there. We're screaming on our couches after a great play and the announcer who gets paid to travel around the country to call these games has all the excitement of a kid taking your order at the drive-thru burger joint down the street.

But we have to remember the cheerleaders are on the field, not in the press box.

We're so conditioned to want announcers to cheer for stuff because our local guys do it on radio, or on every local baseball, basketball or hockey telecast. Those guys are supposed to be homers and are almost always paid by the teams.

The national play-by-play guys should stay above rooting, even if it's just rooting for teams hit "the Over."

Get excited, sure, but keep it within the framework of telling people what's really going on. Yelling "wow" doesn't help anyone. It's not good on Twitter, and it's certainly not good on TV.

A lot of readers may be too young to remember how great Pat Summerall was calling games with John Madden for CBS and then FOX. People loved and respected Summerall and almost every call was nothing more than a guy's name and the result of the play. That's it. "Aikman...to Irvin...Touchdown." Then Madden would blather on about this, that and the other. People LOVED those guys.

I wonder if Summerall and Madden could exist today. Would people hate them, too?

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