Good headline, right? Understand, that I mean “country as hell” in the most positive and glowing way possible! As a college football fan that grew up in Alabama, I expect my football conversations to be dripping in dropped Gs, exclamations like “whoooo!” and four letter words stretched into two syllables.
The polished, bend-over-backwards to be be vanilla presentations of College GameDay and NFL Sunday Countdown are fine. The information is usually solid, but the shows don’t hold my attention because they don’t feel very authentic to me. They are big jock laughter performance art.
ESPN has a strong piece to work with on its NFL coverage, and if Andrew Marchand of The New York Post is to be believed, there’s a chance it could add another.
I implore ESPN to hire Philip Rivers, but not for Monday Night Football. I get the temptation to add a future Hall of Famer to the booth, but come on. Everyone in Bristol knows that Philip Rivers and/or Brian Griese are not going to affect the ratings one bit. To do that, you need the very best matchups each week.
Philip Rivers can make a bigger impact in the studio. Put him alongside Randy Moss in the studio on Sunday NFL Countdown, let Sam Ponder introduce a segment, and watch them go.
Rivers and Moss are a classic TV formula with a country drawl. Rivers is an Alabama boy that wears his Christianity on his sleeve and married his high school sweetheart when they were both 20 years old. Anyone in his family would tell you “he don’t cuss” and “he loves all them babies”. Moss was a West Virginia hell-raiser that had a criminal record by the time he was 18 and a rap sheet by the time he was 19. He loves football, owned a truck racing team, prefers to deal in “straight cash homie,” and has a history of daring authority to do something about his rule breaking.
There are dozens of examples of the sinner and the saint through TV history. It is Bart Simpson and Milhouse, Richie Cunningham and Arthur Fonzerelli, Jim and Dwight. The only difference is Moss and Rivers would be that no one is being asked to play the fool and everyone sounds like an extra on the Andy Griffith Show.
In recent weeks, I have seen some writers suggest that FOX would be an ideal landing spot for Philip Rivers. The network could train him up to be a future replacement for Terry Bradshaw on FOX NFL Sunday.
Forgive me for being blunt, but that is a dumb idea. If you are looking for an eventual replacement for Terry Bradshaw’s energy, it’s not Rivers. The people suggesting this see two white, Southern quarterbacks and think it is a one-size-fits-all situation. That’s not the case. There is a huge difference between being upbeat (Rivers) and being an outright goofball (Bradshaw).
That over-the-top jock laughter is a staple of Sunday pregame shows. It doesn’t have to be that way. It is the same logic that gave us laugh tracks on sitcoms. If you see and hear other people having fun, your brain can trick you into thinking you are having fun. Ask yourself if you have ever heard Matt Hasselbeck say or do anything that would actually cause Rex Ryan to pound his fist on a table in a fit of hysterics.
What if ESPN didn’t have to manufacture fun? What if network executives looked at what it has on the radio and on SEC Network in Marty & McGee and decided to bring that energy to a bigger stage?
ESPN has been pretty transparent in its desperation to add attention grabbers to Monday Night Football, but would doing that with Philip Rivers solve whatever problem it is the network thinks exists? Sliding him into a spot currently occupied by Brian Griese or Louis Riddick doesn’t guarantee can’t-miss television. In fact, I am not even sure it makes a meaningful difference at all.
Philip Rivers needs a partner that speaks his language. Two people become a comedy duo through comfort, conflict, and space to work. They also need teammates that can create opportunities and then get out of the way and let them shine. That is absolutely what ESPN would have with Ponder and Ryan.
Give America the gift of two rowdy country uncles talking ball, ESPN! If executives feel like they absolutely have to have Rivers in the Monday Night Football booth, so be it. Just make sure Randy Moss is in there with him (something I’ve advocated for before).
Tony Romo is on a different level as an analyst. Troy Aikman is an icon to sports media’s target demo. Drew Brees…well, let’s just say I am not optimistic NBC will be satisfied with that investment in the long-term.
With Moss already in house and the network showing interest in Philip Rivers, ESPN has the chance to do something very special, For a network that has struggled to find star power for its NFL coverage, it is now being presented with a golden opportunity to create an iconic duo made up of two current or future Hall-Of-Famers that can offer first hand perspective on the stars of today’s game.