Two months after being let go by Beasley Media and Philadelphia’s 97.5 The Fanatic due to COVID-19-caused cutbacks, former morning host Tra Thomas launched a YouTube channel and is back to creating content.
In the Trenches with Tra Thomas gives fans a chance to learn from a three-time pro bowl offensive tackle, who played the position at a high level for a decade. Fans are more intelligent now than ever thanks to the wealth of stats and information available at their fingertips. But offensive line play from inside the trenches is rarely detailed.
Most of his 11-year NFL career was spent protecting Donovan McNabb’s blindside. For two seasons, Thomas was also an assistant coach with the Eagles under Andy Reid. Away from the field, his media credits feature TV and radio work including co-hosting Farzetta and Tra in the Morning on 97.5 The Fanatic up until March 31, 2020.
Thomas’ knowledge of the game and his experiences as both an NFL coach and a broadcaster are on full display in the YouTube series. He’s an entertaining personality with a great ability to explain the intricate details of football. If Thomas wants to get back into broadcasting, networks should be knocking on his door, if he’d rather return to coaching, teams should get on the phone.
Thomas spoke about his time with The Fanatic, his desire to coach, Drew Brees and much more in our conversation.
Brandon Contes: In the Trenches, was this a new idea you had, or something someone brought to you?
Tra Thomas: It’s something I’ve been tossing around for a while, to teach people what really happens on the offensive line. When you watch a game, you see the jumble and then the running back gets through. You see a big pass and great catch, but you don’t get a chance to see how the play develops. What happened once the center came up and made the right call, why did the hole open? I’ve always wanted to get into teaching and showing the game from an offensive lineman’s perspective.
BC: Sometimes the game gets dumbed down to reach a larger audience and for offensive lineman, you pretty much only hear their name on a broadcast if they do something wrong. But sports fans have such a hunger for information, do you see a niche for this type of show?
TT: I think so. I don’t want to just show a play and have you say, ‘look at what he did, that’s awesome!’ I want to show you it was a slide protection, so he took this particular stance and shot his hands at this particular time. Like you said, for offensive linemen, if you don’t hear their name, then they’re doing a good job. Offensive lineman get pointed out for messing up.
This might not be for casual viewers. If you want to be somebody that just goes ahead and has a couple drinks and watches the game, then do that. But if you really want to learn the game, I can teach you something.
BC: Do you have a medium preference, radio or TV?
TT: I like radio because you can show more of your personality with less restrictions. But when it comes to football, I also like to show the visual part. For me to just talk about it, you don’t really understand it. Being able to show the film is the aspect I prefer about TV and that’s where In The Trenches aligns.
BC: Would you like to return to broadcasting full-time? Did you enjoy the daily grind of morning radio?
TT: Oh yeah, it was a lot of fun. Radio was cool because I could relax and really enjoy being around and listening to the fans.
I enjoyed the daily process of it. Building the show, building the fan base, bringing energy and different stories. I could also branch out and experience other sports. Even though I don’t know much about hockey, I was able to learn the game, and the fans helped me gain a better appreciation for it.
BC: And the bottom line is, you were a professional athlete, you can relate to other athletes and what they’re thinking no matter what sport they’re playing.
TT: That was always my angle because I can’t sit up there and give you a bunch of stats. My memory is a little jacked up from football, so I won’t know everybody’s name and history. But I can give the perspective of athletes, their mindset and what they should be thinking at the time.
BC: Did you find that radio filled a competitive void as a retired pro athlete? Especially being an underdog in Philly, going up against Angelo Cataldi and WIP.
TT: Of course, you never want to get into something and suck at it. You want to build a show and do your part. I wanted to come in with energy, but I also wanted to get a lot of reps. Just like getting ready for a game, you need reps in radio to get better and I enjoyed getting better with each show and learning something new every day.
BC: Obviously a global pandemic is hard to predict or anticipate and the financial impacts were felt all over sports radio, but were you blindsided by being let go from The Fanatic?
TT: I was. I didn’t expect it. I get it, I understand it, I don’t hold any hurt feelings about it. But my name was on that morning show, so I was a little shocked. A lot of people lost their jobs, you just take it in stride and keep moving.
BC: I know you were in mornings and he’s on afternoons, but did you have any interaction with Mike Missanelli? I don’t know if you saw, but he just recently made a lot of headlines with his headphones.
TT: Any time I saw Mike in the studio he was always a cool cat, we never had any issues. At the station’s anniversary I did a few segments with him and it was a great experience. I always enjoyed getting to sit down and talk to him every now and then because he’s been in the game for so long.
BC: I saw your ‘I just got fired painting’ that you posted on Twitter, it was really impressive! How long have you been painting?
TT: [Laughs] I’ve been painting for about three years. I own a business called Pinot’s Palette in Cherry Hill, and earlier this month was our three-year anniversary. But painting is something I like to do. It’s relaxing and takes my mind off whatever is going on.
BC: How is that, being a small business owner right now with everything having been shut down for a few months?
TT: Yea it’s like everything else. Everybody’s feeling the crunch right now. This isn’t ‘woe is me’ because a lot of people can’t open their doors. One thing my wife’s great at is coming up with different ways to bring in business. We do paint kits for people to do at home and we deliver them. We also did a virtual class with Zach Ertz and his wife for the Ertz Foundation. So we’ve been keeping busy, but like anything, if you can’t get people in your door, you’re going to feel it.
BC: Do you wish you still had that bigger radio platform right now with everything going on in the world and especially in our country. The pandemic, the president, the social unrest and social injustices, do you wish your voice was louder and still had a daily platform?
TT: [Deep Sigh] Right now – with the way things are for me – I think it’s best that I’m not out there in front of a microphone. I know how I get about this stuff. There’s a lot of pain, a lot of anger, a lot of frustration. And I’m not one that can voice it well without it being a problem. Everything happens for a reason. Right now, I’m good where I am and then we just take it from there.
BC: Years ago, when Chip Kelly was with the Eagles, you commented on some players feeling a hint of racism and the lack of Black coaches on his staff, which is really an inherent problem throughout the NFL. What did you think of the NFL’s recent idea of incentivizing teams for hiring Black coaches?
TT: Should you have to do that? That’s the sad part about it. You feel like that’s what you have to do to get ownership or other coaches to go and hire Black coaches. I get why you would want to do it, it’s just frustrating knowing that’s what you have to do.
You have so many coaches out there who are extremely good at what they do, but it’s hard to break in. I’m not that familiar with how the NBA does it, but to me, from the outside looking in, it looks like they’re more accepting of giving their own players the opportunity to gain experience and get a job. I understand there’s a process to it, but you see sometimes coaches are what they’re perceived to be, and you wonder why you aren’t getting that opportunity.
I think everything going on right now will open a lot of people’s eyes and hopefully those opportunities will also open up. Personally, I love coaching. I would much rather get back into coaching before doing more broadcasting if presented both opportunities. My wife always said I’m a coach doing radio. I love being in the trenches, I love teaching people and one of the biggest things I really appreciated during my time coaching was watching what you teach actually work. There’s no better feeling to be able to say, ‘I helped mold this, helped create this and look at it work.’ I love the process.
BC: How about similarly, the lack of minorities in broadcasting. It’s a white male dominated industry.
TT: Yea, and it’s important to have different people who can see things from different perspectives. And that goes for anybody in broadcasting, you need to be able to offer different perspectives and make it relatable. Especially as an athlete, you’re going to see the game differently. To be able to explain it to people so fans can understand it, and they walk away from the game having learned, that’s great, that’s something you can carry with you.
BC: Did you experience racism at all as a player and in the locker room? As a 32-year old white fan, I’ve learned that I was naïve to a lot, but I’ve always been made to feel that sports is unifying.
TT: Once you get in the locker room and by the time I got to the professional level, I didn’t really experience any of that. That’s not to say we were all sitting around singing Kumbaya, going to each other’s house for sleepovers. But you have a mutual respect for each other, especially everyone I played with. You might have someone who said something slick, but it never created a huge issue in the locker room. I was extremely fortunate as a player that I really didn’t have to go through a situation where I felt like I was being mistreated because of my race.
BC: What does Drew Brees’s comments do to the Saints’ locker room? Will players accept his multiple apologies as genuine or will it have a lasting negative impact this season?
TT: I think they’re going to accept his apology and move forward. Sometimes within a team, an incident like this can even make them a tighter group. You never know how it’s going to be perceived.
Drew just said how he felt, he went out and apologized for it and I think the team will receive that. As time moves on and guys get to the locker room and around each other, it can start to heal a lot of things. Being around each other more and being able to voice whatever is going on, will help the locker room move forward.
BC: What about the league flipping on the anthem, Goodell admitting they were wrong for not encouraging peaceful protests and essentially saying it’s OK to kneel during the anthem.
TT: It was much needed. Especially with everything going on, it’s right there in your face. It was extremely needed, and he made the right call. So now, what’s the next step? Yes, you apologized, you said ‘hey man, I’m sorry we weren’t looking at it that way. Now it’s right here in our face and we see what it’s really all about.’ But what’s the next step? Who’s going to give Kaep an opportunity?
BC: Was Emmanuel Acho on the Eagles while you were coaching?
TT: Yes he was.
BC: Did you have interaction with him? Did he show the entertainment qualities and even the leadership qualities that we’re seeing?
TT: That was my first year of coaching with the offensive line, so I didn’t have that interaction with him to really get to know this side of him. But I could tell he was very well-spoken and it seemed like he was extremely aware of himself.
BC: Was there a player or coach during your career that you looked at as potentially being a good sportscaster?
TT: You know what? John Harbaugh. I would sit in his meetings and he would give the best pre-game speeches with a story or something to get you inspired and motivated. And he explains things well, I think he could get into broadcasting.
BC: Are you surprised the NFL hasn’t been stunted much by the COVID-19 pandemic? Pretty much every other sport was hit hard, but the NFL moved right along with free agency, the draft, it looks like they’ll do the same with training camp and the regular season.
TT: Not at all. Let’s just keep pushing, let’s go. That’s what football players are – you put your head down and go. We don’t really think about it. A lot of people always ask, ‘did you ever question what was going on with a play call?’ And the answer is no.
Whatever play you call, my job is to go out there and try to execute it. If I don’t agree with it, who cares, we don’t have time for that. Call the play, let’s go to work. In football you have guys that are programmed – these are our days to work? OK cool, let’s go. I’m not surprised by that at all.
Brandon Contes is a former reporter for BSM, now working for Awful Announcing. You can find him on Twitter @BrandonContes or reach him by email at Brandon.Contes@gmail.com.
NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs
Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?
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?
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.”
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.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.
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.”
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.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.