The Yin and Yang of NFL Players Turned Analysts
They say balance is the key to life. Too much of a good thing is somehow bad, though I’m not sure I agree with that. Gimme a good steak with caramelized onions over and over and over, and there won’t be any moaning and groaning from me. When we consider the NFL, the gameday programming has become so essential that there are quite literally thousands of conversations going on at any one time regarding which analysts are good, and which ones, well, suck.
I noticed something common to all television networks that include gameday programming – they seem to hire either really good, or really crappy analysts. There is no middle ground. We either have to endure the whiny, awkward and irrelevant voice of Analyst A, or the well-spoken and intelligent bravado of Analyst B. It would seem that networks would want more of B and less of A, but I suppose they are the professionals, while I merely write about it. The world has a funny way of balancing it out, and who are we to fight it?
Getting back to “balance”, I believe we can satisfy the new agers out there (What? Why would I want to do that?) by taking one of the most essential aspects of the cosmic force (I’m trying to speak their lingo, for whatever reason), that is ‘yin and yang’, good and bad, and apply that theory in discussing NFL analysts. Let’s take it one step further and specifically consider former players who have felt it necessary to go on television with next to no experience in front of camera, or in some cases reading aloud, and horrible voices, and attempt to apply this yin/yang theory of mine.
Yin – Chris Collinsworth
Yang – Jerry Rice
Chris Collinsworth is clearly one of the best NFL analysts on television. Many people are not crazy about his voice, which I concede can sound like a tin fork scratching a porcelain dinner plate, but for me his analysis is really clear and well delivered. As a former player (albeit from a much different era) he uses his inside knowledge of the game in an effective, non-egomaniacal way – he has no hidden agenda that I can see (compare that to Tedy Bruschi…more on him in time). Certainly he has had time to hone his craft, and as such I enjoy his commentary more each year. But for every diamond there is an unpolished boulder.
It’s hard to say anything bad about the greatest receiver to ever don cleats, especially because I actually like Jerry Rice as a person (not having met him). However, ESPN must have just been after Jerry’s name to add to their roster, because they certainly could not have heard him in trial runs and thought he would actually sound good in front of millions. In all fairness, he hasn’t had much time to develop his craft, and even the great Jerry Rice took years to become the player we now regard as the best ever. Who knows, maybe one day he’ll be a “yin” in my list? For now, he needs Collinsworth to make the world right.
Yin – Troy Aikman
Yang – Tedy Bruschi
As a player I hated Troy Aikman. Not because he stopped my Bills in the Superbowl, twice, but because… nah, it’s because he stopped the Bills in the Superbowl, TWICE!!! Aikman was always seen as that All-American guy – top quarterback in college (UCLA), drafted #1 overall, played for “America’s Team” for 12 years, Probowls, Superbowls… you get the idea. The transition to television was obvious – he has the look, the credentials, analyzes the game very well, and is well-spoken. Before you hate on Aikman, consider he has Joe Buck to work with and cut the guy some slack! How can we possibly find someone to balance him out? Look no further…
I’m not sure which part of Tedy Bruschi as an analyst I dislike more, his continual bias towards the Patriots, or his cynicism. Is it just me or is Tedy always mad about something? I am completely on board with an analyst who wants to tell it how it is, but I think Bruschi goes out of his way to go over the top. I have quite literally heard him discuss SpyGate (by the way, why does everything need a “gate” at the end?) on at least five occasions. We get that you are unhappy about the situation, but what happened, happened (and it happened years ago), and the Patriots are the only ones to blame. It just seems like he always has an agenda, usually something negative, and ESPN is his platform. And then there is Bruschi’s ineffective delivery, which should be the most important component of being on television in the first place.
Yin – Kurt Warner
Yang – Torry Holt
Kurt Warner has taken a beating in the news over the past few months from fans and players alike for his stance on concussions. The former league MVP basically said he was very concerned about his sons playing football because of possible concussions – apparently Amani Toomer and Merril Hoge took exception. I like Warner for what he says. I don’t have to agree with everything he says just to be a fan of his. Actually, I don’t believe what anyone says without questioning their logic for myself and determining its legitimacy independently, and very often I choose to disagree. Warner provides great analysis, especially (obviously) on the offensive side of the ball. He’s a “no thrills” kinda guy – just speaks it as it is.
Torry Holt was well-known for being an excellent route-runner. He was crisp, exact, and had good hands. He certainly didn’t fumble the ball like he fumbles with his words. There are some players who should really have considered their limitations before agreeing to go on network television each week and speak to millions of NFL fans, many of whom are extremely knowledgeable and will easily spot a fake. Torry Holt is one of them. While he obviously knows football, that doesn’t mean he is able to teach it. I eat a hell of a lot of food. I’ve only been eating it all my life. But the Food Network isn’t going to hire me to take over for Bobby Flay anytime soon. Just because you know something, doesn’t mean you can successfully banter about it. Many have taken shots at Torry, some of which is unfair and just plain ‘mean’, but I have nothing to say about him as a person. I just question what narcotics the network exec was taking who thought he would be at all good.
Yin – Trent Dilfer
Yang – Deion Sanders
Trent Dilfer is one of those guys who has unique opinions, offers well thought out and intelligent insight into the game, and offers excellent analysis – the exact recipe for a good analyst. He uses what he learned through his years as a pivot in the NFL effectively during broadcasts, which is more than I can say for others who made the “yang” part of my list. He is unafraid to say the unpopular opinion, but when he does he has a logical explanation. For instance, in his list of the top 10 QB’s of all-time, he left off Marino. Dan Marino. His reasoning; “To be considered amongst the best you have to have a ring”. What many former players turned analysts have that Dilfer does not, is an ego that barely fits through the door. Dilfer isn’t like that. I just appreciate what he brings to the table, and the ego he doesn’t bring (often…he’s still a former athlete). Less effective players turned analysts simply regurgitate past experiences as if they are offering us something new – not Dilfer.
I have respect for “Neon” Deion Sanders beyond football and as an analyst. Learning about what he does for disadvantaged high schools in Florida is extremely commendable, but for the purpose of this Yin/Yang, I have to separate that from my feelings for him as an analyst. Deion, much like the way he approached football, adds a lot of hype and energy to my game day experience. He is interesting and funny, and I can appreciate that there are fewer defensive players turned analysts (most other analysts are former offensive players). But for me, I just am not a fan of his delivery. He speaks in circles, and perhaps most damning is how he changes his opinion like he presumably changes his underwear. He can say something one week and reverse his opinion down the road (ie. his interview with Peyton soon after he criticized him – how his tune changed!).
Yin – Ron “Jaws” Jaworski
Yang – Skip Bayless
Ron Jaworski, or “Jaws”, is easily one of the best football analysts on television, and unfortunately isn’t on MNF this season. Jaws is widely known as a film room guru, always brushing up on his x’s and o’s. He is extremely knowledgeable, clear and concise, and makes sense – something that not all analysts make, unfortunately.
I get that Skip Bayless is an op-ed guy whose job it is to spark discussion, and oftentimes controversy, but does anyone really listen to what he says with any degree of legitimacy? He knows football I suppose, but I just can’t listen to him without cringing. While not an “analyst” in the more traditional sense, he still offers his opinions, most of which I just don’t agree with, and don’t enjoy hearing. I question whether he actually believes the stuff that comes out of his own mouth.
Look, we can have 30 guys in a room all choosing the best and worst of former players turned analysts and be left with 30 different combinations. It is highly unlikely you completely agree with my list because after all, it’s my list, and what I get from game day is different from what you get. In no way is this an attempt at some “definitive” list. Rather, I really believe that there are as many poor analysts on television as there are good ones. Perhaps those new-agers are onto something – life really is about balance, and apparently that also applies to NFL analysts.
Feel free to give your “Yin and Yang” list, or simply leave your favourite and least favourite list in the comment section below.
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