The NFL is in Week 3, but as far as the Awful Announcing Sunday Studio Show Spectacular, this is Week 2. Last week, we reviewed one of the newest entries into the Sunday NFL pregame foray, CBS Sports Network’s That Other Pregame Show. This week, we examine the oldest NFL pregame show, the NFL Today.
Dating back to the 1960’s, the NFL Today set the standard for pro football studio programming. It was originally 15 minutes long and then expanded to a half-hour in 1967, staying in that format until CBS lost the rights to the NFL in 1993.
When CBS returned to the NFL in 1998 with the AFC package, the program became an hour-long show and it has been that way ever since.
The hosts of the NFL Today have included Frank Gifford, Jack Whitaker, Brent Musburger, Greg Gumbel (twice), Jim Nantz and James Brown. The panelists have included Marcus Allen, Terry Bradshaw, Dick Butkus, Irv Cross, Mike Ditka, Jerry Glanville, Craig James, Brent Jones, Dan Marino, Deion Sanders, George Seifert and Shannon Sharpe. Other contributors have included Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, Phyllis George, Jayne Kennedy, Lesley Visser, Bonnie Bernstein, Charley Casserly and Pat O’Brien.
This year introduces two new castmates to holdovers JB, Bill Cowher and Boomer Esiason in Bart Scott and Tony Gonzalez. So without further delay, let’s take a look at the 2014 edition of the NFL Today on CBS.
THE NFL TODAY — CBS SPORTS
Host: James Brown
Analysts: Bill Cowher, Boomer Esiason, Tony Gonzalez and Bart Scott
Insider: Jason La Canfora
Contributor: Jim Rome
Gonzalez is in his first year since retiring from the NFL last season. Scott is in his second year of being a studio analyst. He was with CBS Sports Network’s That Other Pregame Show last season. Jason La Canfora provides the latest news from the NFL in various segments during the show.
Since the 2012 murder-suicide by Jovan Belcher of his girlfriend, the NFL Today has not been shy to tackle controversial issues. CBS has been willing to allow its panel room to talk about major off-the-field issues, which means they haven’t been shy of material the last couple weeks.
On Sunday, Gonzalez, Esisason, Scott and Cowher took NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for his poor performance during his Friday press conference. Esiason criticized the Commissioner for being late. Scott said Goodell’s tardiness made it look as if he was scrambling for something to say to reporters. All wanted Goodell to be held accountable and be fined like misbehaving players.
Cowher wanted to know why NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith hasn’t held his own press conference. “We’re talking about less than 1% of the players. De Smith, where is his press conference? Show me the initiatives you want to put forth. Tell me. He has an obligation to represent that less than 1%, I agree. Does he not have an obligation to represent the 99% of the League, over 1,600 players, who are also bothered by this image that they are now having?”
The segment went 12 minutes without a break and included some reporting on ESPN’s Outside the Lines story on the Baltimore Ravens handling of the Rice incident.
In addition to that segment, Boomer Esiason fronted a profile of former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, his son’s travails and his own battle with cancer. Esiason gave credit to producer Charles Bloom for putting together the profile. It was one of the better segments in the young season.
After the first block and the Kelly profile, the show broke down. Gonzalez and Scott are still finding their legs with the program. The other segments with the entire cast picking the games and breaking down plays were very weak. The cast is still trying to find its chemistry.
Host James Brown is the strongest of everyone. As traffic cop and the man who hands off to make the others look good, JB is really the star of the show.
Say What? (Weirdest Quotes)
Bill Cowher: “If the Houston Texans can stay healthy, they can win the NFC South … err… AFC South.”
Boomer Esiason: “How about the Carolina Panthers? This is one of the best defenses in football and they have a quarterback… This is one of the best teams in football. I think they’re the best team in football right now as we speak.”
What’s Unique About This Show?
The NFL Today is not afraid to tackle controversial issues now. It’s a complete turnaround from a couple of years ago when it completely ignored them.
Why You Should Watch
James Brown’s occasional commentaries and Bill Cowher are reasons to watch the program.
Why You Should Stay Away
Asides from the willingness to talk about the tough issues, the latest incarnation of the NFL Today is still trying to find its footing. It might be able to find it later in the season, but for now, the chemistry is lacking. And fans in NFC cities generally don’t watch the NFL Today unless their team is on CBS in the early window.
Two strong segments cannot carry a program unless they’re each 30 minutes long. The weaker segments bring down what could have been an A grade for the program. Based on the lack of chemistry and the attempts to find exactly what the NFL Today is looking for, the show gets a C+ and that is being kind.
Next week, it’s ESPN’s turn. We review Sunday NFL Countdown.