With an audience that always at least flirts with 100 million viewers, there is no assignment in sports media as prestigious and high-profile as calling the Super Bowl. It’s the ultimate sports media career accolade, and one that very few accomplish or even have a chance at obtaining.
How small of a group are we talking? The last 18 years, the same three play-by-play announcers have called the Super Bowl. That would be Al Michaels, Jim Nantz, and Joe Buck.
On the color analyst front, it’s been almost equally as stable, with only two moves being made over the last 22 years (John Madden retiring and Phil Simms moving to the studio after considerable criticism. (This post still ranks as one of the top 10 most-read on this site). The last 22 years has only seen those two and the current rotation of Tony Romo, Cris Collinsworth, and Troy Aikman be an analyst for the Super Bowl.
Essentially, even if you somehow get in the line of possibilities to call a Super Bowl, it’s a very slow-moving line. But for the first time in a long time, we’re about to have some movement here. Let’s take a look at some of the moving parts below.
Al Michaels is believed to be winding down with NBC, with his contract expiring after this game. He’s made it clear he doesn’t want to retire, and he’s been rumored to be heading to Amazon for Thursday Night Football and perhaps some other duties (more on this tomorrow). While this does open up a spot at NBC, it’s not really a mystery who will fill it, as Mike Tirico has been patiently waiting for Michaels to either retire or move on since departing from ESPN in 2016.
Note: below when we list Super Bowl by year, we are referring to the season it is for. For example this year’s Super Bowl would be the 2021 Super Bowl despite taking place in 2022. This is how the NFL and the media partners label them. I don’t make the rules.
Beyond this weekend’s Super Bowl, NBC is slated to broadcast the 2025, 2029, and 2033 Super Bowls, presumably with Tirico on play-by-play. Many believe that NBC’s signing of Drew Brees last year signaled the start of a possible succession plan for Collinsworth, similar to NBC bringing in Tirico six years ago to replace Michaels. Collinsworth is currently 63 years old and has been drawing more frequent small blips of criticism, opposed to a few years ago where he was consistently seen as one of the top two NFL color analysts. Pairing Tirico with Brees for Notre Dame games and last month’s AFC Wild Card playoff game certainly seemed like confirmation of a brewing succession plan for Collinsworth, as the playoff game was a low-stakes way to see how the pair did together on a bigger stage. Unfortunately, though, there was a pretty strong consensus that Bress did not impress with that high-profile assignment.
IMO a very plausible scenario would be that should the public reception of Collinsworth continue to slide, he could call one additional Super Bowl (the 2025 season) and NBC would then look to go the Phil Simms route and move Collinsworth into a prominent studio role (unless he opted to retire or go to another network). If that were to happen after 2025 (or perhaps sometime before or not long after), at this point in time, it’s not a sure thing that Brees would be Collinsworth’s successor. Brees at this point in time is somewhere in the middle of Jason Witten and Tony Romo in terms of readiness for being an A-booth announcer. He’ll likely benefit from having a few years to improve to a point where the idea of replacing Collinsworth becomes a viable option for NBC.
Should NBC move on from Collinsworth down the road or vice versa, and not believe Brees to be the guy, it’s pretty wide open who might join Tirico on future Super Bowl calls. A Manning brother is always low-hanging fruit when playing this guessing game. Sean Payton has suddenly emerged as a hot name and he’s been pretty open about his ambitions here. Another interesting possibility would be Troy Aikman. On that note….
Joe Buck and Troy Aikman seemingly look locked in to call the 2024, 2028, and perhaps even the 2032 Super Bowls. A lot of the annoyance people have had with Buck has subsided. He’s grown on a lot of people. Aikman and him have great chemistry, and Aikman’s has really developed nicely over time. Fox is in a good place here.
But….. There are these pesky rumors that Aikman will join Michaels at Amazon. Michaels going to Amazon makes a lot of sense given his age and NBC believing this is a good point in time to pass the torch to Tirico. Aikman though? At face value on what we know today, it makes no sense. Fox has the best NFL package. Why would Aikman leave?
I’m going to write more about the rumored pairing of Michaels and Aikman going to Amazon tomorrow. but reading between the lines, it seems like there is a lot of conjecture Amazon will strike some type of partnership that could include a lot of various things (production expertise, talent sharing, content sharing, etc) between Amazon and an existing NFL partner. There have been some reports of some talks happening between NBC and Amazon, NFLN and Amazon, and some conjecture of ESPN and Amazon. Essentially there is some possibility that Aikman and Michaels could call the lowly TNF package, and by some type of partnership, they could additionally call some games for another network as part of a broader partnership. That’s conceivably how Aikman leaves Fox and becomes avaiable for a ESPN or a NBC.
Another option is that Aikman could call the TNF package and then also do studio for Fox (or perhaps even another network) on Sundays, a combination of duties that could pay him more than his current gig. From Front Office Sports last month:
“Aikman could end up drawing two paychecks: calling TNF games for Amazon; then joining the “Fox NFL Sunday” pregame crew on weekends.
“We’re kind of having those conversations right now,” Aikman said. “So I don’t know if I will be with Amazon. And I don’t know if I will be continuing with Fox at this moment.”
Aikman would again address this in a podcast with Richard Deitsch, where calling two games a week was also mentiond.
“There are conversations that are taking place. And to be honest with you, I honestly do not know how this is going to shake out. I don’t know if I’m going to be working for Fox. I don’t know if I’m going to be working for Fox and Amazon. I don’t know if I’m going to be working for Amazon. So it’s anyone’s guess right now as we are talking and those conversations are ongoing. I’m not real sure how this thing’s going to look when it’s all said and done.”
“I’ve been doing Thursdays for four years now. It’s a lot of work. It’s challenging. It’s not probably ideal, but when I first did Thursday nights, I thought it was something that I would do for one year and move on. Here were are four years later. We did the entire Fox package for the four years and we were scheduled to do it another year but Amazon, of course, is taking over a year early. So it’s feasible, it’s viable, but it is a lot. It is a lot to get done because of the way that I prepare for a game. There’s not many minutes in a day, when you’re doing two (games) in a given week, that you have free time to do anything. “
So if Aikman does walk away from arguably the best gig in football in favor of two gigs, one of which might have him in studio rather than doing two games, where would Fox turn?
FOS suggested that Sean Payton would be a top target for Fox (before he left the Saints). In Payton’s Saints exit press conference, Payton openly spoke about wanting to get into television saying “I think I’d like to do that, I think I’d be pretty good at it. Payton would go onto talk about his TV ambitions on The Dan Patrick Show. These things all happened within a week, which seemed to point to the possibility that networks and agencies are frenetically trying to finalize talent and deals right now.
While all of this fast-developing smoke on the Payton front seems to suggest Payton could be calling the 2024 Super Bowl, others have thrown cold water on it by saying Fox is mostly interested in Payton in a studio role. Additionally, many believe Payton will go back into coaching at some point. So with that in mind, this might not be a good long-term play for any network.
So if Aikman leaves, who really knows where Fox goes, beyond the constant Manning brother conjecture? One name that has a lot of traction is Greg Olsen, who had a very impressive full debut year for Fox and has gone over very well with fans. Olsen previously called some games while still an active player (doing so while he was injured), which seemingly helped his development as a broadcaster considerably (although it drew some pushback from GMs). He also did some Super Bowl studio work for ESPN while still an active player. So he has quite a significant broadcasting background for someone who only retired last year. However, most networks (and Fox in particular) seem to have a big affinity for quarterbacks and coaches, particularly those who have won Super Bowls. So perhaps that dings Olsen if Fox indeed has to replace Aikman.
CBS is quite smitten with Nantz and Romo. Nantz is 62 and is a lock for the 2023 and 2027 Super Bowls and would likely call the 2031 Super Bowl as well.
The honeymoon with Romo seems to have wound down just a bit since his darling rookie year debut with CBS. That said, all in all, CBS is in the most stable place here, and you don’t need me to fart around talking about hypotheticals here.
Here is where things get interesting as the Super Bowl returns to Disney and ABC for the 2026 and 2030 Super Bowls, with the last one on that network in 2006. It’s a big deal. While it’s not a pressing priority given it is four years away, the significance of the game means ESPN is actively already thinking about their options here.
After years of turmoil, ESPN seems to be in a better and more stable place with their MNF booth. That said, I think most astute sports media observers would tell you that Levy, Griese, and Riddick are probably more in the middle of the pack in terms of all of the NFL announcing booths and certainly a bit back of the A-booths of the three other networks.
More importantly, it’s not a given all of these people will be staying at ESPN even if ESPN felt they were worthy of the Super Bowl assignment. Chiefly, Louis Riddick continues to annually interview for front office positions, with the Steelers being the latest team to bring him for an interview. I’d have to think Riddick is likely going to take a front office position between now and the 2026 Super Bowl.
Griese has been serviceable and has generally blended well with Levy and Riddick, but it’s not hard to see ESPN either wanting more star power there (especially if Riddick leaves) or just wanting to upgrade if they found an attractive option available. To me, he’s almost felt like a bit of a placeholder for a bigger name. And to be fair, he’s done better than I expected.
Levy certainly has done a marvelous job transitioning to calling NFL games after a decade-plus of chiefly being a SportsCenter anchor (with some work calling college games in the past few years). He’s likewise done a great job moving from college games to the NFL, especially considering the mess he walked into on the heels of Witten and ESPN’s experiments with Booger McFarland as a combination field-level analyst and booth analyst. I think ESPN is generally happy with Levy calling MNF, but I think the stakes of having a Super Bowl may have them looking at alternative options, Levy somewhat straddles the line as a traditional play-by-play guy and a late night anchor or talk show host, and that’s perfect for MNF, but perhaps not ideal for the biggest media event of the year.
An interesting possibility might be the in-house options of Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler who for the first time, called two NFL games this past season, the second of which was just two days before the CFB National Championship. With ESPN/Disney going from 17 games a year to 23 games a year, ESPN is going to need a second announcing booth calling NFL games. They’ve largely avoided that to date, trying mostly random pairings for the one time a year they’ve needed it (an opening MNF doubleheader). Going forward, ESPN is going to need a second booth to call four or five games a year. Could that pairing just be Herbstreit and Fowler?
It’s certainly a possibility that you could see Herbstreit and Fowler call a handful of the bigger Monday Night games a year, perhaps take a few weeks off doing regular season CFB games, and then call both the CFP championship and the Super Bowl in some years. I think it’s more of a question of if the NFL would like having part-time NFL announcers calling a Super Bowl more than if it makes sense for ESPN. Voters in our poll seemed to be pretty keen on the idea.
Which booth would be your preference between the two ESPN announcing booths used today to call the Super Bowl when it returns to ABC?
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) January 9, 2022
Beyond the Herbstreit and Fowler in-house option, the same ideas and rumors are out there. ESPN is already working with the Manning brothers; could one or both start calling games outside of their basements? Could Al Michaels call one more Super Bowl if Amazon and ESPN linked up? A second tier of possibilities is out there, with Brad Nessler winding down at CBS with the SEC moving to ESPN. Ian Eagle and Kevin Harlan have always been fan favorites. Is there a job for Kurt Warner, Tom Brady, or Russell Wilson down the road perhaps?
ESPN/Disney’s situation is by far the most wide open. While it’s a few years away, it’s one of the most high-profile decisions the network will make this coming decade. And it’s one that doesn’t really have any obvious answer or a clear favorite. With the history of Dennis Miller, Tony Kornheiser, and the BoogerMobile, ESPN absolutely can’t afford a similar gaffe on sports media’s biggest stage. They certainly have time, but they don’t have obvious answers… as of yet.