Larry Michael made his regular season debut as the Washington Redskins' play-by-play radio announcer yesterday and listeners who railed against WJFK for firing Frank Herzog after 25 years in the booth were given little reason to change their minds.
The key to Herzog's success was the chemistry he enjoyed with partners Sonny Jurgensen and Sam Huff. It was a schmaltzy act to be sure, but it worked because it gave Redskins broadcasts a homey feel that many listeners preferred to the rotating crews of out-of-town network announcers.
Without Herzog yesterday, it was as if Stan Laurel had replaced Curly in the Three Stooges. Herzog knew when to be quiet so Jurgensen could do a countdown on the play clock (which he did far too many times yesterday, once ridiculously starting when the clock was at 13 seconds), or so Huff could complain about the lack of crowd noise or the officiating.
It sometimes seemed as if Michael, a radio industry bigwig who got the play-by-play job without anyone else being interviewed, was in an entirely separate booth, simply calling the plays while Jurgensen and Huff did their little shtick. To be fair, Herzog had 25 years to develop that chemistry; Michael has had four preseason games and one regular season game. Perhaps it will develop over time. If it doesn't, WJFK faces a tough choice. Either delight fans by bringing back Herzog or clean house and give Michael new partners, a move that likely will be met by even more protests than the firing of Herzog generated.
Michael didn't make much of a case for being the one who stays, jumping the gun on some calls. He gave a lusty "Yes!" on John Hall's first field-goal attempt before correcting himself when the kick went wide. And there were times when little things got a big response, such as when a defensive holding penalty on the Bucs was greeted with a mighty "Whoa!" Michael also called Bucs wide receiver Joey Galloway "Jerry" at one point. If WJFK is going to replace a beloved longtime announcer with someone else, he darn well better get the players' names right.
In his defense, while Jurgensen and Huff lack any sort of polish, Michael's years spent as the voice of George Washington University basketball and doing NFL games for Westwood One have given him a smooth delivery, but it wasn't enough to overcome the lack of cohesiveness.
With the three announcers out of sync, other weaknesses in the broadcast stood out. At one point, the trio openly wondered why Sean Taylor wasn't playing during an early series, yet no one ever got the answer for listeners. (On TV, Fox sideline reporter Pam Oliver said Taylor had been sick earlier in the week but was unsure why he wasn't on the field. After the game, defensive guru Gregg Williams said he decided to use a more experienced player.)
The production was also marred by far too many promotional tie-ins. It seemed that every element of the WJFK broadcast had been sold to a sponsor.
And then there was the pregame show, which was just dreadful. In the intro music, an annoying voice said, "We like Larry better," which I assume was WJFK's way of defending kicking Herzog to the curb. How classless can you get? Then host Earl Forcey yammered on and on but never really talked about anything, except perhaps his fantasy football team, all over this grating pseudo-techno music that rattled the nerves at 10 a.m.
"You could make a case that Tom Brady is the best quarterback in the NFL right now," Forcey said at one point. Way to go out on a limb.
The show was advertised as "The Best Damn Pregame Show in the Nation," when it's not even the best damn pregame show in Washington. That honor goes to the one on WTEM, which actually focused on the game.
At the end of a lost day, WJFK was a long way from having the best damn anything on the air yesterday.