Tom Brady is the greatest football player of all time. Tom Brady will not – this is another in the series of bold/bonehead MB predictions – be the greatest football announcer of all time.
Fox will pay Brady, who announced his latest retirement Wednesday, $375 million over 10 years to become its lead analyst, plus its “ambassador” in “client and promotional initiatives.” No idea what the latter part means. Then again, I’ve never worked in TV.
I have, on occasion, watched TV. I watch the NFL a lot – more than any sport except European soccer. I have my favorite announcers. I also have my mute-button triggers. I really like Jonathan Vilma, even if he was a Saint. Kirk Herbstreit seems a misfit alongside Al Michaels on Amazon Prime. I could listen to Cris Collinsworth read the phone book. But enough about them. Today’s topic is the GOAT.
Having been around him a few times, it’s my belief his genius for playing football will not lend itself to describing football in any revolutionary way. There is no revolutionary way. At base, it’s just a former player talking about the sport he played. It’s not so much what the former player says as how he says it.
An analyst can’t seem a know-it-all – audiences don’t appreciate smugness; remember Rick Barry doing NBA games? – but expertise must be apparent, otherwise what’s the point? This can be trickier than it sounds. Was there ever a better behind-the-microphone prospect than Joe Montana? Know how many games he lasted as a broadcaster? Nine. He decided it wasn’t for him because … well, it wasn’t.
The way an athlete comes across in a press conference isn’t always a preview of how he/she will be as an analyst. That said, I’ve never gotten the sense that Brady is a sterling conversationalist. Would he be a pleasant companion on a four-hour flight? Once past the obvious – “Hey, you’re the GOAT” – what else would you say? “Read any good books lately?” Does Brady read books, other than those he co-writes? Does Brady even fly commercial?
Stars of Brady’s magnitude – there aren’t many – lead silo’ed lives. They’re too famous to mingle with the masses. They’ve gone through life mostly concerned about preparing for the next game. The best commentators have the human touch – Tony Romo when he was in play-predicting mode, Dandy Don Meredith as Howard Cosell’s foil – but football has become so technical that an analyst walks a fine line between information and arcana.
Fact is, Fox already has a terrific analyst. He’s Greg Olsen, the tight end who used to have big days against the Falcons. (Has there ever been a tight end who didn’t have big days against the Falcons?) His work this postseason has been terrific. He isn’t as folksy as Romo, but he’s not as excitable, either. On a network level, excitement doesn’t play so well. Leave the screaming-in-the-background act to a local team’s radio crew.
Olsen will hit you with factoids – “you have to be trying to move forward to get a clock stoppage when running out of bounds”; “you can’t call back-to-back timeouts” – that might edify even the most ardent NFL-watchers. He doesn’t go wild over every little thing every good quarterback does. If I had a dime for every time Phil Simms began a sentence with “Peyton Manning …”, I’d be as rich as Peyton Manning.
Having replaced the nothing-special Troy Aikman, who left for ESPN, Olsen is in Year 1 as Fox’s lead analyst. It could be his Year Last. Fox isn’t paying $375M so Brady can do Texans-Titans at 1 p.m. Fox will do everything in its power to make the GOAT a success. Odd as it sounds, being the GOAT could be the reason Brady fails at this. How does he relate to all us non-GOATs without seeming arrogant?
Most NFL quarterbacks work hard to offer little. They do mass interviews twice a week. Any urge to express themselves is offset by the fear of offering fodder to the opponent. Players who play other positions tend to be more engaging. Collinsworth, a receiver, was a charmer even as a hated Gator. Vilma was a linebacker for Miami; Olsen played at the same school. This isn’t news, but “U” guys tend to talk.
Brady spent 23 seasons trying to be bland. If he becomes Mr. Personality now, it won’t seem real. We the people may not live lifestyles of the rich and famous, but we’re good at spotting a fake.
Not that everything comes down to Brady-vs.-Peyton, but TB12 would be advised to do as his legendary rival has – make oddball ads and do a silly little show with a sibling. We don’t need the GOAT to tell us third down is important. We got that already.
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