"I feel very sorry for a young fellow who wants to be a sports announcer . . . Today, if he doesn't win 20 games, if he doesn't throw forward passes and make tackles, well, I don't know how he's going to get into it." --Red Barber, from his catbird seat in Tallahassee, Fla.
Will the former jocks of the world inherit the booth completely one of these years? Will they usurp the downs and yardage the way they have the color commentary? A 30-second spot on the NFL conference championship games showing Pat Summerall shilling for the Super Bowl magazine ought to make us wonder.
After seeing Summerall hawk those programs ("Just send $3 to Post Office box . . . "), I thought of the True Value field goal kicker selling monkey wrenches. I thought of Frank Gifford relaxing with a Dry Sack and Joe Garagiola screaming, "Buy a Dodge, get a check!" I thought of how the Danderoo has acquired a thirst for Lipton Tea.
The kernel of the story is not that ex-jocks make good salesmen. It's that TV's bedmate relationship with Madison Avenue and the sports events it covers may usher in the day when there's a passer, runner or curveballer doing all the announcing. As Barber, perhaps the finest sportscaster of his day, argues:
"These people are concerned with selling beer, selling automobiles, selling wine and patent medicines . . .The ability of the sports announcer, well, that's just way down the line. People don't pay much attention to it. The athlete has a name. This is the real value."
Barber noted that Summerall and Gifford have earned their keep as play-by-play men. But the movement they began lives on. NBC's John Brodie has worn two hats. This season, we saw two former knock-'em sock-'em types, Tom Brookshier of CBS and Mike Adamle of NBC, do play-by-play. Next season, NBC's Mike Haefner may try it.
Baseball is even worse. Since Barber retired 20 years ago, players have sprouted on play-by-play like so many dandelions in May. Tony Kubek, Phil Rizzuto, Ralph Kiner, Don Drysdale, Joe Nuxhall, Richie Ashburn, Hawk Harrelson--you name him. Too bad Eddie Gaedel didn't get a shot.
Meanwhile, old-school types like Vin Scully and Dick Enberg--last week's play callers on the conference games--rarely sell programs or undershorts. It's probably too much to say the jocks will inherit the earth, but they're gaining in the booth.
Other thoughts on pro football's biggest month:
Minus for Jimmy The Greek: The feeling here is that NBC's Pete Axthelm beats the Greek in a walkover. The Greek never tells you anything you haven't read in yesterday's newspaper. When the 49ers played the Giants, he predicted that Joe Montana, Dwight Clark and Freddie Solomon would be stars. This was inside stuff?
In fairness, part of the Greek's problem is not his doing. The Law Review crowd at CBS won't let him mention the spread. So when he likes the Cowboys "just a little" is it just a little against the 49ers or just a wee bit against the points? Any mention by Brent Musburger of the Greek's perfect record in the playoffs is meaningless.
Minus for "The NFL Today": When Brent, Phyllis, The Greek and Irv cram in the highlights, the show is gangbusters. When it goes cutesy and theatrical, it fails. With time on their hands, the Greek is theatrical and Phyllis gushy. Even when Terry Bradshaw doesn't sing or wear cowboy hats, he strikes me as a Grade B imitation of Don Meredith. Brent, Irv and Roger Staubach are cool-handed. But for Brent to ask Phyllis who will win is silly. For Brent to ask Bradshaw who will win, you'd better check the Steelers' 1982 schedule.
Big plus for CBS' coverage: Kudos for director Sandy Grossman on the Cowboys-49ers game. I don't recall seeing replays that caught the moves of receivers and defenders so beautifully. Remember the end zone replay of Dwight Clark's first touchdown catch in which he double-faked Dennis Thurman right out of bounds?
A draw on announcing: CBS's Scully is unbeatable on baseball and golf. On football, he tries to be the Ralph Waldo Emerson of the air waves. I prefer NBC's Enberg. Even he was off form, though, calling catches and touchdowns prematurely in the Bengal-Charger Ice Bowl. Maybe it was the wind. "You can't even come up with a thought because your body isn't all there," he said. "To steal a line from Doug Dieken of the Browns, I had so many batteries on me, if I had walked into a kitchen I'd have turned on the microwave."
As for the color men, Hank Stram made a run at Merlin Olsen, which isn't easy. You get insightful tips from Stram, such as exactly where a pass should be thrown as a receiver is angling away from a defender toward the corner of the end zone.
Fifteen-yard penalty against CBS' "Chalkboard": A new gimmick in which the color man diagrams the play on the screen, a la "Winky Dink and You." It might keep us interested when one team's ahead, 30-zip. But it definitely isn't needed in the fourth quarter of a seesaw struggle for the NFC championship.
Minus NBC's journalism: Some rare slip-ups for NBC, which usually covers breaking stories like Hildy Johnson. Before kickoff, the NFL announced it had conferred with a doctor who specializes in cold weather survival over whether the game should be played. Why didn't NBC go with the story at halftime? As it was, we wouldn't have known until the newspapers told us, if Paul Brown hadn't mentioned it to us in a postgame interview.
Another nit: Why didn't Mike Adamle ask Forrest Gregg the most obvious question of all? Please, coach, tell us how this one compared to the 1967 Packers-Cowboys championship game played on the ice in minus 16-degree cold? Please, Mike, try to ask him next year.