There is something horribly sad and desperate about the NFL sideline reporter. This role is the province of former athletes trying to stay attached to the game, unsuccessful game analysts, and female sports journalists who have hit the glass ceiling. Only by the loosest possible definition of the word are they "reporters", as there is very little news occuring on the sidelines. With fifteen television cameras covering the event, there isn't a lot of unique insight provided by the sideline reporter, even after they stand on the field, exposed to the elements, while the higher-paid broadcasting talent sits in a heated, covered booth.
The sideline reporter also has the thankless job of the halftime interview. Usually, this involves chasing after the coach of whichever team is leading, in order to prompt a cliched exchange. "Coach, how are you going to approach the second half?" "Coach, what are you going to tell the team at halftime?" "Coach, can you find an answer for Kevan Barlow?" The coach is obviously not going to give away any real information or strategy, so he mutters a few cliches about being balanced, staying focused, and maintaining a balanced focus on fundamentals. I would prefer to see coaches dispense with the cliches and blantantly lie:
"Suzy, we're gonna run a double reverse on every single play in the second half. They'll never expect it."
"Look, it's obvious we can't stop Corey Dillon, so we're just hoping he pulls a hamstring, Pam."
"At halftime, I plan to tell the team to load up on amphetamines and painkillers, Armen, while I myself will enjoy a large glass of whiskey."
The saddest sideline reporter moment from the football weekend came from CBS's Armen Keteyan. Just before the start of the second half, Keteyan told the announcers what the Patriots coaches said during their halftime speeches. The content of the speech was the usual, "Stay focused, don't look at the scoreboard" stuff one would expect, but the sadness came when Keteyan revealed he'd gotten his information by listening at the locker room door. The image of an adult male kneeling in a concrete hallway, furtively straining to hear a football coach repeat cliches about giving 110%, was too much for me.
In the playoffs, the networks double their sideline presence, so the reporters are either twice or half as worthless, depending on your perspective. They might as well just send a comedian down to make stuff up, which is sort of what FOX does with behemoth Tony "The Goose" Siragusa* (Click on "MORE" for a perspective on The Goose from last year).
Sideline guys are so sad, you almost forget how pathetically insecure the color analysts are. Broadcasters such as Troy Aikman and Joe Theisman, although Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, still feel the need to drop names and remind the viewing audience of their popularity, by way of their personal relationships with coaches. Aikman delights in delivering insipid insights, presumably gained through these inside relationships: "I was talking to defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, and he told me they have got to cover these Atlanta receivers." "At breakfast, Andy Reid told me they need to run the ball." "While I was rubbing his shoulders in the sauna this morning, Donovan McNabb told me he believes in this football team."
Theisman is content to merely name-drop assistant coaches, crediting them every time the team makes a successful play. Quarterback sack on a blitz? It's the result of the defensive scheme, thanks to the defensive coordinator. Quarterback throws for a touchdown when the defense blitzes? It's the play-calling by the offensive coordinator. There is a valuable drinking game to be made about ESPN's entire Sunday night crew. Drink once when Theisman mentions a coordinator. Drink again if Paul MacGuire prefaces a replay with, "Watch this! Watch this! You see this?" And if a Hall of Fame quarterback propositions any member of the broadcast dream, drain whatever is in your hand.
More thoughts from the playoffs:
The sad march of technology: Wireless technology has been a boon for the NFL. Coaches can stalk the sidelines unencumbered by their headsets' cords, and quarterbacks can communicate directly with coaches and coordinators via devices in their helmets. I miss the days when Joe Montana would come off the field and talk to the offensive coordinator on a huge rotary phone on the sidelines. Invariably, my dad would announce, "Joe's ordering a pizza!" Also invariably, I would crack up.
Does Robert De Niro have a gambling problem?: Or maybe a drug problem. Or a shady accountant. Whatever the reason for his need for cash, it seems like he hasn't turned down a movie role for about six years. He did an American Express commercial that ran during the game. In his newest film, he shares top billing with a ten year old girl. Somebody get him a good script and keep him away from the dog track.
Erection pills and the NFL: The NFL and the TV networks have been very cautious about offensiveness since last year's Super Bowl. Prematurely balding FOX announcer Joe Buck had a hissy fit after Randy Moss pretended to moon the crowd in Green Bay. FOX pre-emptively changed the name of one of their pregame programs to "The Best Darn Sports Show Period". CBS has an elaborate setup to enable five-second delays on all live broadcasts, just in case there's stealth nipples about. This does not extend to advertising, however.
Erection pills are one of the firmest supporters of NFL telecasts. Levitra commercials pop up about every other commercial break, urging the fans at home to get a fucking boner already. Is Randy Moss's dancing really more harmful to a young viewer than hearing, "If an erection lasts more than four hours, seek medical attention"?
These advertisements have moved from raising awareness of impotence remedies, and now appear focused on brand differentiation. Levitra suggests, "If you're on another ED medication, maybe you should switch." I can't wait to see how Viagra responds to try to separate themselves, and build a strong, unique boner pill identity.
"Alone In The Dark": Heavily advertised suspense movie starring Christian Slater and Tara Reid, and also a description of how you'll end up if you go to see this film in a theater.
Fan signs: This is a pet peeve of mine from way back. Look, if you're going to spend the time making a sign on posterboard with paints or markers, and hauling that sign to the game, and then annoying the people in your section by holding up the sign, you ought to make sure it's a good sign. Have a friend check the spelling. See if anyone laughs. Some Philadelphia fans had Randy Moss-related signs, proclaiming the stadium to be a "No Moon Zone", or asking Moss, "Boxers or Breifs?" (sic) Those signs could have been kept at home.
Injuries: My favorite type of injury comes when a player is hustled to the locker room for unknown reasons, and the broadcasters can't even find footage of where the purported injury happened. At those times, I like to imagine that the player is not being treated, but instead being told that his kids have been kidnapped by gamblers. If he returns to the field and plays poorly, it might be the injury, or he could be throwing the game. You just never know.
Troy Brown goes both ways: Brown is a wide receiver for the Patriots who this year, at age 33, started playing defensive back as well, due to some Patriot injuries. Now, a few defensive backs have played wide receiver part-time over the years, like Deion Sanders or Champ Bailey, but that was more of a novelty. Also, they were young. Brown is the third DB, so he plays quite a bit, and especially in crucial third-down or long-yardage situations. Not only is he succeeding, he intercepted three passes this year. Really, this story still hasn't gotten nearly enough attention. The equivalent in another sport would be J.T. Snow responding to the Giants' bullpen woes by becoming the closer, and then racking up ten saves in October. Beyond that, it's just cool that in an era of football where some teams are so specialized they have separate kickers for field goals and kickoffs, it's heartening to see a guy knock down a pass on one play, return a punt on the next, and then catch a pass for a first down on the third play, as Brown did verus Indianapolis. I bet he'd wear a leather helmet if it weren't against the rules.
"I flipped on the Cowboys/Giants game today shortly before halftime. The Giants had been pinned back at their own 1 yard line by a fantastic punt and down by Dallas special teams. The 3rd down play was a run by Tiki Barber (still from the 1, as the Giants had failed to make any headway in the previous 2 downs). The result of the play was a lot of confusion -- it could have been a safety, but it was ultimately ruled that the ball had come loose and Dallas had scored a touchdown.
"In the ensuing official review, the broadcasting booth went to Tony Siragusa, who was STANDING JUST OUTSIDE THE BACK OF THE END ZONE, CASUALLY LEANING HIS ENORMOUS BULK AGAINST THE GOAL POST. Tony informed us, the viewers, that he'd been kicked out of wherever he'd been standing before because the cheerleaders needed to do a show, and he didn't have his credentials on him. So the play callers asked Tony what he'd seen, and he started talking about it.
"The call was overruled, and it was declared that Barber had escaped the end zone before being tackled, so the Giants lined up to punt from their own end zone. As the camera pulled back to reveal the Giants' formation, Saragusa was still CLEARLY VISIBLE ON MY TELEVISION, LEANING AGAINST THE GOAL POST.
"The Giants punted, but the Cowboys quickly drove back into field goal range with 4 seconds left. As the camera dropped back to show the classic field-goal-viewing angle, Tony Saragusa REMAINED IN THE SHOT, ONE ARM RESTING ON THE FOAM GOAL POST COZY."