Having spoken ill of David Gregory and been gratified to see him vanish from my TV soon afterwards, I begin to have a primitive superstition that I may have the power to disappear those who offend simply through the judicious application of splenetic prose.
True, it hasn’t worked on a whole range of politicians, Islamic extremists and Vladimir Putin, but maybe my juju isn’t that potent. So I am now aiming lower, much lower. At Phil Simms, the former Giants quarterback and current blight on the football broadcast landscape.
If not for him and the crime wave among players, football season would promise a few months ahead filled with the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. Due to Simms, they will also feature the drone of idiocy.
Some commentators are really quite good, even entertaining. Though he drove people like my dad nuts, I rather enjoyed Cosell’s theatrical arrogance and the comic relief of Don Meredith. Back then, Hank Stram was solidly knowledgable and people who couldn’t stand Cosell used to turn down the TV sound and listen to Stram describe the Monday Night game on the radio.
Madden, the maestro of the telestrator, was the gold standard for infectious enthusiasm coupled with actual knowledge of the game, amiably conveyed to the lay viewer. Today’s Gruden tries to emulate the master, but is often too abstruse for everyman. Cris Collinsworth is the current best of breed.
Naturally enough, a lot of color guys are pretty run of the mill. They may have played the game, but can’t describe it. Their language skills are rudimentary compared to their physical prowess. They are drab, not colorful commentators who can’t really illuminate the intricacies of a really complex game. Or don’t bother trying.
And then there are the truly terrible TV talkers who cry out for the liberal use of the mute button. As a rule they can’t paint a word picture or explain anything, are hopelessly inarticulate, struggling to craft a sentence with a beginning, middle and end. But rather than adopt the obvious solution of taciturnity, they fill the time between plays piling one cliche on another. They attempt to sound wise when they aren’t, vivid through the use of unaccustomed three dollar words and, though they strain manfully to be original, they produce only the shopworn — in great swaths, like yard goods.
For my money the worst ever was Tom Brookshier whose reign of torpor covered the 1970s through the late 1980s. Not only was he a bumptious blowhard, he was a cocksure blowhard. One could have made real money in a Sports Bar during a Brookshier game simply by betting against any prediction he made. He was invariably wrong. Of course, it would have been hard to get anyone to take the bets since his wrongheadedness was common knowledge.
“You can’t run on third down against this team,” he would say confidently. “They’ll have to put it in the air.” They’d run every time.
“Look for a blitz here.” No blitz.
“No choice here but to give it to the fullback. He’s the workhorse of the team in these situations.” Bombs away. A huge arcing pass for a huge gain.
Phil Simms is a worthy successor, a man for whom the phrase “often wrong, but never in doubt,” might have been invented. He is also a blunt instrument without humor, insight, nuance or an appealing personality. When you tune in a game and learn he is narrating, the life is instantly drained out of an exciting contest. The thrill is gone. A leaden pall settles over the enterprise. He’s as rigid, arid and unimaginative, as big a killjoy as your middle school assistant principal was.
Great games turn to tedious slogs when Simms starts blathering. He has clearly been told by his network “coach” that his job is to fill up the space between plays and narrate the instant replays and so he does. But he rarely has anything new to say. Indeed, he often simply repeats what the play-by-play guy, Jim Nantz, has already said. But he does so as if the echo is new and original.
In the tradition of Brookshier, he is also reliably unreliable, in his case whenever a flag is thrown. “That’s a hold,” he will say. “A big mistake on the part of the offense.” Oops. The infraction is on the defense. Or he will explain the inner game to neophytes. “ Well, Jim, on that run play the runner’s job was to follow his blockers and get into the secondary where he could pick up yardage.”
Good point Phil. I hate it when the runners refuse to run and decide never again to pick up yardage. Often when listening to Simms-narrated games I feel as if I’m back in he early grades with Dick and Jane. Hear Phil Talk, Talk, Phil, Talk.
This is a shame. Pro football, because it features the collisions of large men at high speed, has often been dismissed by those who don’t care for it as a dumb jock sport. Unfortunately the gas that Simms emits reinforces this stereotype, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Pro ball may be the most complex game ever invented. Its great innovators, men like Bill Walsh and the astonishing septuagenarian Dick LeBeau, have used brilliant tactical minds to constantly figure out new wrinkles with which to bamboozle and wrong foot their opponents. Many coaches and quarterbacks are articulate students of the game. The best of them, Tony Dungy for example, help the layman grasp the great three-dimensional chess game they are witnessing.
The worst, like Simms, bring it down to their own pedestrian level and do a disservice to the sport. For this reason alone he richly deserves a long, quiet retirement in the same home for TV dodos where David Gregory is now admiring himself in a hand mirror and chewing his cud. The sooner the better.