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Who Wins The Sports Radio Heisman?

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The Heisman Trophy will be handed out on Saturday night. Three quarterbacks will be on stage at the Downtown Athletic Club. Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa or Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray could walk away with the hardware. Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins…well, at least he gets a free trip to New York.

As the college football season winds down and award after award is handed out, we thought it might be fun to hand out some college football accolades of our own. Who has made the greatest impact going from the college football field to a radio studio? Each of Barrett Sports Media’s contributors have an opinion and are ready to hand out their Sports Radio Heisman Trophy.

JASON BARRETT – Boomer Esiason (Maryland Terrapins QB, WFAN morning host)

When you think of former football players who’ve transitioned into sports radio and made a permanent impact there’s no better example than Boomer Esiason. He’s performed like a hall of fame talent for two decades, and is my choice for the Sports Radio Heisman.

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I could begin by highlighting his TV work on CBS, ABC, and Showtime but since this is a radio piece, I’ll start by pointing out that Boomer spent 19 years on Westwood One calling Monday Night Football games, a broadcasting record.

Next, it’s well documented that without Don Imus, WFAN doesn’t become a dominant force in New York. When Imus was let go by The Fan after his Rutgers remarks in 2007, the hole in mornings on the radio station was enormous. Esiason wanted the challenge of replacing Imus, teamed up with Craig Carton, and proceeded to own morning drive in the nation’s #1 market for the next decade.

Then, just as everything was going perfectly, Carton was arrested in September 2017 for his involvement in a ponzi scheme. The Fan could’ve easily lost its way in mornings, but Boomer wouldn’t let that happen. The morning show finished 1st for the 2017 fall book, the first following Carton’s exit. Fast forward to 2018 where Gregg Giannotti has since replaced Carton as Boomer’s partner, and The Fan’s morning show is once again high atop the ratings.

Keep in mind, Boomer was a football star. He earned a good living on the gridiron. Most athletes in his position wouldn’t wake up and host a radio show at 6am for 11 years, work Sunday’s each football season on CBS, and spend 19 years with Westwood One working Monday Night football games. Nor would they want the pressure of replacing a New York radio legend like Imus or take on the challenge a second time when losing a partner who they just spent a decade having incredible success with.

From a hosting standpoint, what impresses me most about Boomer is that he does his homework on all sports, speaks with authority, and doesn’t take himself too seriously. He also uses his profile to lift up his teammates. Those qualities have helped him become just as elite of a host as he was a football player, and that’s saying something because he won an MVP award, led the NFL in passing 2x and played in 4 pro bowls during a 14-year career.

DEMETRI RAVANOS – Petros Papadakis (USC Trojans RB, KLAC Afternoons)

There are plenty of guys that go from the gridiron to the broadcast booth. A good portion of them come into their new job willing to have fun and make fun of themselves. No one does it with more enthusiasm than Petros Papadakis.

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The former USC fullback and his partner, Matt “Money” Smith, were a revelation for so many of us that lived outside of LA when the duo began filling the night time slot on Fox Sports Radio. Those guys know sports. Petros himself is the national radio personality that I trusted the most to talk college football. It was clear his opinions were backed up by observation and facts.

But it wasn’t his knowledge that made me a Petros loyalist to the point that I continued listening to the show on the iHeartRadio app even after it went back to being an LA-only entity. No one on radio has more fun than Petros Papadakis. His Lance Romance bit, the nonsensical show themes like “walk your bike Wednesday,” hell even his voice all point to the fact that this is a guy that isn’t concerned whether or not you think he’s a genius. He just wants to make sure you think he is worth coming back to listen to over and over again.

TYLER MCCOMAS – Mark Schlereth (Idaho Vandals G, 104.3 the Fan Mornings)

“Cleats on the grass!”

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When I hear that, I instantly think of Mark Schlereth and his famous tagline heard on 104.3 The Fan in Denver. To me, “Stink” is the most polished show host out of any former football player on the airwaves. That carries over in the booth, where he excels at in-game analysis as a color commentator.

Along with co-host Mike Evans, ‘Schlereth and Evans’ has been at the top of Denver sports radio for a very long time, which doesn’t seem like it will change anytime soon. Schlereth can Talk Rockies or Nuggets, but he sticks with what’s he knows best – the Broncos and the NFL. Having Stink on the airwaves gives 104.3 The Fan a perspective from both the former player and the national expert with a voice that several people across of the country recognize.

BRIAN NOE – Mike Golic (Notre Dame Fighting Irish DT, ESPN Radio Mornings)

When it comes to a debate of who should win the Sports Radio Heisman of former college football players turned talk show hosts, it’s a no-contest. The only part to figure out is who will finish in second place behind Mike Golic.

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One of the most popular shows in sports radio history was ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike. It was a 17-year run for Mike Golic on the show. Since that time, he is still in the national spotlight while hosting Golic and Wingo. The show is celebrating its one-year anniversary this week.

What other former college football player has those credentials? That would be no one from the University of Non-Existent. Better yet, not only has Golic been highly successful in sports radio for nearly two decades, he’s routinely repping his alma mater, the University of Notre Dame, which further heightens his association with college football.

Put it all together and it’s a no-brainer. Mike Golic wins this contest by a mile.

DAVE GREENE  – Cole Cubelic (Auburn Tigers C, Jox 94.5 Middays)

Since Archie Griffin is the only two-time winner, when you’re talking about a Heisman candidate it should be someone making a big impact that’s fairly new on the scene.  This is a good description for Cole Cubelic.  A former Auburn offensive lineman (1997-2000) and team captain, Cubelic has risen quickly over the last few years and is becoming one of the top college football analysts in the country. 

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On radio, Cole teams with Aaron Suttles and Landrum Roberts in middays on JOX 94.5, a powerhouse station in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama.  On television he teams with Tom Hart and Jordan Rodgers during SEC Saturday Night on SEC Network.  

An 18-game starter at center during his days with the Tigers, Cubelic has a knack for making X’s and O’s football discussion incredibly compelling. Cubelic’s passion for college football comes bursting out of the microphone whether he’s in the studio at JOX, on camera while down on the sidelines for television or during one of his many guest appearances on shows across the country including The Paul Finebaum Show.  Whether you’re listening, watching or reading Cole’s takes on the SEC and college football, you can expect to be highly entertained while being well informed, an award winning combination in my book.

MATT FISHMAN – Rick Neuheisel (UCLA Bruins QB, SiriusXM ESPNU Radio Middays)

For those not young enough to remember Rick Neuheisel as a player, he was a quarterback at UCLA and won the Rose Bowl MVP in 1984 as UCLA upset #4 Illinois. Following his playing days, primarily in the USFL, he went on to be the head coach at Colorado, Washington, and UCLA. 

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Since 2012, Rick has been a host on SiriusXM. He currently co-hosts “Full Ride” with Chris Childers weekdays from 10am to 1pm Eastern on ESPNU Radio, SiriusXM Channel 84. Steve Cohen, SiriusXM’s SVP of Sports Programming says of Neuheisel, “The knowledge and passion he possesses for college sports is infectious. He’s never boring and fans love the entertaining way he presents his brand of college sports talk. “

I really like that Neuheisel has fully embraced the medium. He doesn’t take himself too seriously and he has written and performed numerous college sports related parody songs including “Born in the SEC,” “We Love This Game” and “Johnny Football.” 

I chose Rick for the sports radio Heisman for his knowledge, personality and preparation. Additionally, Rick was a quarterback and since 2000, only two non-quarterbacks have won the Heisman. 

BRANDON CONTES – Brian Jones (Texas Longhorns LB, currently off air)

I can listen to anyone talk about the NFL, NBA or baseball, but as a native Long Islander and St. John’s alum, my college football fandom was never strong which is exactly how I know Brian Jones is great.

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The first time I heard the college football analyst and former NFL linebacker was on CBS Sports Radio.  Jones was hosting weeknights with Chris Moore and I followed him through his years as a morning host with Gregg Giannotti.

I didn’t find Jones entertaining because of his college or NFL affiliations, but because of his infectious personality.  Sure the insight is intelligent and the analysis is well-thought, but its Jones’s genuine energy that makes whatever topic he’s talking about a must listen.

Networks are filled with talented college football talkers, but in a sport where it’s difficult to keep my full-attention, I seek commentary from Jones.  Through his ability to entertain, when you hear Jones on the radio you forget he’s a “football guy” and understand his talent as a “radio guy.”

Jones hasn’t had a regular radio show since CBS Sports shuffled their lineup after Giannotti joined Boomer Esiason on WFAN.  He keeps busy with multiple TV shows along with contributing as a radio guest, but I hold out hope that at least a podcast is in Brian’s future.

 

BSM Writers

NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs

Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?

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Several years ago, the NFL objected to NBC wanting to employ Mike Tirico as the lead play-by-play voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts. The league preferred Al Michaels because he was NBC’s No. 1 NFL play-by-play announcer and wanted the TNF telecasts to carry the same prestige as Sunday Night Football.

Following the network’s heavily-criticized broadcast of Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL may want to impose its authority again and insist that a top-tier broadcast team call the action of an important postseason game.

The consensus among fans and media watching Saturday’s broadcast was that Michaels and analyst Tony Dungy were surprisingly low-energy for an NFL playoff game, let alone one that became so exciting with Jacksonville rallying from a 27-0 deficit for a 31-30 victory on a last-second field goal.

Such a lackluster broadcast led to questions of whether or not Michaels was now past his prime after a season of calling subpar TNF games for Amazon and what initially appeared to be another snoozer when the Jaguars fell behind by 27 points. Pairing him with Dungy, who was a studio analyst all season, certainly didn’t help.

Dungy was as basic as a game analyst could be, typically narrating replays viewers could see for themselves while adding little insight. Worst of all, he demonstrated no enthusiasm for the action, leaving Michaels to fill most of the airtime. The veteran broadcaster showed that he can no longer carry a broadcast by himself. He needs the energy and back-and-forth that Cris Collinsworth or Kirk Herbstreit provide.

So how did NBC get here?

Most football fans know that the network’s top broadcast team is Tirico on play-by-play alongside analyst Cris Collinsworth. But they had their own assignment during Super Wild Card Weekend, calling Sunday night’s Ravens-Bengals match-up. With the postseason field expanding from 12 to 14 teams, resulting in six games being played on Wild Card weekend, NBC was awarded one of the additional playoff broadcasts.

Thus, another broadcast team was needed for that second Wild Card game. Fortunately, NBC had a renowned play-by-play man already in place. Michaels finished out his final season as SNF‘s lead voice by calling Super Bowl LVI, part of a powerful one-two combination for NBC Sports coming toward the end of its 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics coverage.

Ending his legendary career with a Super Bowl broadcast would’ve been a wonderful final note for Michaels. That appeared to be a natural path when Tirico moved from ESPN to NBC in 2016. Network executives admitted that a succession plan was in mind for Tirico to take over SNF eventually. At the time, Michaels also likely thought he would retire by then.

But when confronted with the possibility of retirement, Michaels realized he wasn’t interested. He was still enjoying broadcasting the NFL. His skills were still sharp. And perhaps most importantly, he was in demand. Amazon wanted Michaels as the lead voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts, bringing instant credibility to a streaming venture that drew some skepticism. ESPN considered him as its Monday Night Football play-by-play man.

As it turned out, ESPN made a bold move for MNF, swiping Fox’s No. 1 NFL crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. That left Amazon for Michaels, and the streaming giant paid him a commensurate salary with the top broadcasters in the industry as part of his three-year contract.

Yet Michaels wasn’t done with NBC either. After his agreement with Amazon became official, NBC announced that its relationship with Michaels would continue in an “emeritus” role allowing him to broadcast the network’s Olympics coverage and that additional Wild Card playoff telecast.

NBC can’t have been happy that most of the social media chatter afterward focused on the broadcast, rather than the game result. Especially when the discussion centered on how poorly Michaels and Dungy performed in what turned out to be a thrilling playoff game. That’s a pairing that the NFL probably doesn’t want to see again.

Michaels will likely call at least one more Wild Card playoff game for NBC since he intends to work on the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. He’s also under contract with Amazon for another two seasons unless he decides to retire before that deal expires. So perhaps the simple solution is keeping Dungy out of the broadcast booth and giving Michaels a better partner.

But can NBC drop in another analyst who hasn’t worked with Michaels all season? Anyone would arguably be an improvement over Dungy. Is it at all possible for Herbstreit to be hired on for a one-off playoff broadcast, thus ensuring that the broadcast team will have some on-air familiarity and chemistry?

Otherwise, NBC’s only other option may be its Notre Dame broadcast team of Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett. (The network tried that last season with Tirico and Drew Brees, only for Brees to wilt under the harsher NFL playoff spotlight.)

The pair also called USFL broadcasts for the network, so at least there would be familiarity rather than trying to figure each other out during a telecast. Yet Collinsworth and Garrett aren’t terribly popular with viewers. And as with Brees, that crew will face intense scrutiny with a larger playoff audience.

Unfortunately, NBC appears to be stuck here. Unless the new Big Ten broadcast team of Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge gets a shot. That might be the best option! Other than Notre Dame or USFL games, where are the other opportunities for NBC to develop a No. 2 NFL broadcast team? No one wants to put Al Michaels through Chris Simms in the broadcast booth, right?

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BSM Writers

Al Michaels Has Options But He Has To Make a Choice

“It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.”

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I don’t ask much out of game announcers; get excited when appropriate, get the simple information correct, don’t get so caught up in your shtick you put yourself above the game. Al Michaels has been doing all those things well for the better part of half a century and few would argue that he’s not one of the best to ever do it. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose his fastball.

Before you read any longer, I am not here to say Al Michaels has lost his fastball. What I am here to say is Michaels has all too often this season seemed upset with and disinterested in the game he is calling. That isn’t entirely surprising when you consider some of the Thursday night action he called on Amazon Prime where the average margin of victory was almost nine points per game.

On top of that, the Amazon schedule had a dreadful two week stretch with Colts 12-9 win over the Broncos in Week Five and the Commanders 12-7 win over the Bears the next Thursday. It was in that Broncos-Colts game Michaels asked Herbstreit if a game “can be so bad it is good?” Herbstreit’s answer was “No”, by the way. It was the full 15 game schedule that Michaels told The Athletic’s media critic Richard Deitsch was like trying to sell a used car.

All of that is fine, the inaugural Amazon Prime season was not a smashing success. The streaming giant missed audience projections and will lose advertising revenue because of it. The lackluster schedule did not help that. But Michaels was given a second life; he was the NBC play-by-play announcer for the Saturday Night Wildcard Playoff game between the Chargers and Jaguars. It initially looked like Michaels might be the problem as five first half Jags turnovers had them in a 27-0 hole. But the home team staged a nearly unprecedented comeback for the win.

It was the performance by Michaels and, to a lesser degree, his analyst Tony Dungy that has led to criticism. Criticism might be too soft of a word, Michaels was roundly dragged for his lack of enthusiasm during the comeback and specifically on his call of the Jacksonville game winning field goal. The enthusiasm of the call of the game winner had a mid-3rd quarter of week four feel to it.

Me telling Al Michaels how to do play-by-play of an NFL game would be the equivalent of me telling a physicist how to split an atom. So, this isn’t just a Michaels criticism, few things bother me more than hearing a game announcer complain about the length or quality of a game as if he’d rather be anywhere else. It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.

How many NFL viewers would sit in the seat Michaels, or any NFL announcer occupies, for free? They’d feel like they won the lottery if they also were getting the money those announcers are getting paid to be there. The guy that works a 12-hour Thursday construction shift just to get home and crack a beer for the NFL game probably doesn’t want to hear how tough that game is to announce.

On top of all of that, Michaels was given the gift of one of the wildest NFL Playoff comebacks you’ll ever see and, at times, sounded as if he was completely disinterested in being there. Pro tip: the best NFL announcer in those moments is Kevin Harlan (see: Miami at Baltimore from earlier this season. That has nothing to do with my lifelong Dolphins fandom). Michaels’ lack of enthusiasm was compounded by the exact opposite from Mike Tirico on the very same network for the Bengals-Ravens Wildcard game Sunday night. 

Tirico, like Michaels, has a sterling resume of play-by-play accomplishments. The difference is Tirico sounded like he was having the time of his life on Sunday night. 

To be fair, their two styles are different. Michaels has a very old school, Pat Summerall approach. Summerall, Vin Scully and Dick Enberg came along at a time when announcers were far more likely to let the pictures tell the story. More new school guys like Harlan and Tirico approach it differently.

Look, Al Michaels helped us believe in miracles. His place in the Sports Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame has long since been cemented. Being a hall of fame inductee doesn’t mean your style will forever be accepted by the masses. That leaves you with a few options; you can continue your style and accept or ignore the criticism or you can ride off into the sunset and enjoy the fruits of your decades of labor.

Al Michaels has what we all want; great options. He can choose any of them and be a winner in the game of life. It doesn’t matter if he enthusiastically embraces them, or not. 

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BSM Writers

Bernie Kosar Was the Victim of a Policy That Doesn’t Work Anymore

“The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.”

Demetri Ravanos

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One week ago, Bernie Kosar lost his job on the Browns Radio Network for placing the first legal sports bet in the state of Ohio. Kosar, just like Jets coach Miles Austin weeks earlier and Calvin Ridley last year, violated a league policy that forbids team employees from placing a bet on any NFL game.

The integrity of the games still matters. The belief that what we are all seeing is being fairly contested is what gives those of us that like to have a little vested interest in the outcome the desire to lay our money down in the first place. I get the league’s discomfort with a coach on the staff of a team in the middle of the playoff hunt making bets. I get its fear of the message it sends to have players making bets.

Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners are well within their rights to object to men that can potentially control the outcome of a game or postseason seeding doing anything that even appears to jeopardize its fairness. Even perceived impropriety can compromise the league’s tremendous value.

But Bernie Kosar doesn’t have that kind of influence on the outcome of a game. He is just a broadcaster and not even a game analyst. He is part of studio coverage.

I am far from the first to point this out, but in 2023, the NFL has three official sports betting partners. Just last week, it approved the first ever in-stadium sportsbook, which Fanatics is set to open inside of FedEx Field. If the NFL is comfortable enough with the reality that its fans like to bet to make those things a reality, then Kosar losing his gig is absurd. It is the result of nothing other than “well, that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking.

Maybe Kosar was terrible on the radio and the team was looking for a reason to move on. I don’t live in Cleveland and I am not a Browns fan, so I have no idea.

How many times have we heard that NFL owners hired Goodell to “protect the shield”? I’m not even really sure what it means or when it applies anymore. If I had a vested interest in the public perception of the league, I know that I would want someone to do the PR math on this situation.

Bernie Kosar isn’t an addict that can’t watch a game without the high of winning or the emotional distress of losing everything at stake, at least not as far as we know. This was a bet made through an advertising partner, to benefit charity. He even said on his podcast this week that the purpose of making the bet was to generate some money for former players in need of help.

This is like Disney threatening daycare centers with lawsuits for painting Mickey Mouse on a classroom wall. The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.

Surely you have seen Garrett Bush’s impassioned rant on the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show about the obstacles facing Damar Hamlin because of how many hoops the NFL makes former players jump through in order to get some kind of pension.

On January 2, we were all united in our concern for a guy that hadn’t even completed his second full NFL season. We didn’t know if he was going to live, but if he did, we all knew that the NFL had done everything it needed to in order to protect itself from ever having to pay a dime for his medical care. Less than a week later, Bernie Kosar was fired for what amounted to a charity stunt that was meant to raise money and attention to very similar issues.

At both the league level and the team level, there was incompetence that lead to a man unnecessarily losing a gig and to the Browns and the NFL looking horribly out of touch with reality.

Are we acknowledging that people gamble or not? Are we acknowledging there are responsible ways to bet on football and are interested in generating revenue off of it or not? Because it doesn’t seem to me that the same league that just gave the thumbs up to open a sportsbook inside of a stadium is really that concerned with people that cannot affect the outcome of games betting on those games.

Has the NFL come out and said that it is going to cover every medical bill for everyone that has ever played the game? We know that this is a brutal game that leaves a physical and physiological impact on the men that played it. Why would we make it harder for someone that knows that pain to help others do something about it?

I feel awful for Bernie Kosar. Whether he needs the money or not, it is embarassing to be at the center of a controversy like this, particularly because in the NFL in 2023, there is no reason for a controversy like this to exist.

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