As Monday Night Football continues to search for a new analyst and with FOX settling for its No. 1 Sunday team after swinging and missing in an effort to lure Peyton Manning to the booth, plenty of people have been angling for one or both jobs. Most (with an exception or two) keep their aspirations discreet, adhering to the general belief that it’s never good to publicly announce one’s aspirations for fear of not achieving them and being labeled a failure.
NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock recently opted for candor when asked about the fact that he didn’t receive consideration for either job by SportsRadio 610 in Houston.
“I am highly frustrated and agitated,” Mayock said regarding the fact that he hasn’t been considered for either job, via TheBigLead.com. “And when you don’t have a big name coming out — you know, I played two years and I wasn’t any good and I couldn’t stay healthy — if you don’t have a Hall of Fame jacket, it’s hard to get a high-level job calling games in our industry. Now, I’ve done Notre Dame games nationally on Saturdays. I’ve done Thursday Night Football for the NFL Network. I kind — I feel like I’ve been there and I’ve shown what I can do and that I care about it. And, by the way, that’s my favorite thing. I mean, people associate me with the draft, but my favorite thing is to do games. And it bothers me that network executives think that the only — I mean, let’s put it this way, FOX has Thursday Night Football, and they feel like the only person that can do that game is Peyton Manning, and if he can’t then Troy Aikman’s got to do two a week. I don’t understand that thought process. I mean, Troy’s great, but there’s a stable of other guys who can do it just really well. So, yeah, I’m frustrated.”
Mayock is right; plenty of people could do a great job calling high-profile games. But when all things are largely equal from a substance standpoint, style drives the decision. The league and the networks want names, faces, and voices that cry out, “This is a big deal!” That’s why FOX went after Peyton, and that’s why Joe Buck and Troy Aikman will pull double duty — and why CBS and NBC previously had play-by-play announcers and/or analysts working two games per week.
As Mayock points out, he had climbed to the top of the ladder, with the significant platform that comes from NBC’s Notre Dame games to NFLN’s Thursday Night Football before the league sold the package to broadcast networks for simulcast. Mayock was indeed riding high, with plenty of praise and the accolades that go along with it.
So what happened? Here’s a possible reason for why it wasn’t sustainable. Mayock had a habit, frankly, of injecting too much jargon into his commentary. That may impress hard-core football friends and observers, but it also can alienate casual fans.
The very best analysts find a sweet spot that caters to as many portions of the audience as possible, using high-level football knowledge to figure out what’s important as it’s all happening, and then using high-level broadcasting skills to explain it in a way that doesn’t make drive-by fans think they’re not smart enough to follow the action but that doesn’t make football experts believe the presentation has been dumbed down.
That’s why John Madden continues to be the standard by which all of the best analysts will be measured. He blended knowledge, passion, and a relatable, visceral charm into what became a weekly three-hour education in football, with lessons that still linger for many.
Here’s one thing I learned from Madden that I’ll never forget, and which remains true nearly a decade after his retirement: Play-callers almost always run the ball after an incomplete pass on first and 10. It’s a simple glimpse into the seemingly complex world of NFL strategy, allowing idiots like me to feel like they’re in the know while confirming for experts one of the basic human truths of calling plays.
That’s the kind of lasting impact that a great analyst can have on a football fan. And that’s the kind of simple wisdom that results in a multi-decade career as a big-game analyst. While plenty of people have the ability to explain what just happened at any given moment in any given game, it’s that kind of inherent brilliance that only a few analysts regularly demonstrate.