He is everything that’s joyful and jazzy about baseball, this Mookie Betts fun doll. The World Series quickly became his empire, a takeover involving the typical arsenal — bat, defense, leadership, neck jewelry almost bigger than him — but also the lost art of the stolen base, assuring free tacos for 330 million Americans if they wait in Taco Bell drive-thru lines for a waived $1.49 heap of promotional heartburn.
LeBron James was tweeting about him. HIs teammates were comparing him to God. Trending? Betts was propelling the Los Angeles Dodgers to a place they haven’t been in 32 years, along with possibly saving a slog sport desperate for his speed and fire and all but giving America a new Election Day option. Who wasn’t talking about Mookie?
Well, Blake Snell wasn’t talking about Mookie. He wanted to know why people generally ignore him and the Tampa Bay Rays, who happen to be in the same pandemic-neutral ballpark as champions of the American League. “I just think a lot of people don’t talk about us because there’s other teams to talk about, but when you look at this team, it’s a very fun team to watch, very fun team to talk about,’’ he said. “We just don’t have the (Mike) Trouts or things like that, or the Betts and (Cody) Bellingers and (Clayton) Kershaws. We don’t have that because the hype around Tampa isn’t as big as it is in L.A. for obvious reasons.”
Snell then took the mound and backed his babble, reminding a scarcely watching world how the Rays can bump Mookie off center stage and still make this a competitive fight. He began Game 2 by blowing away Betts on strikes, then mixed sliders and curveballs with 95-mph heat. The Dodgers kept whiffing, eight times without a hit before the fifth inning, allowing the Rays to rediscover their minimalist mystique. With Brandon Lowe — as in Wow — breaking out of a slump with two home runs, the Rays rode their robust bullpen to a 6-4 win, tying the Series at 1-1 while the Dodgers again were following the blueprint of how they’ve blown championships.
It’s doubtful they will blow another. But before anyone builds an Andrew Friedman statue at Dodger Stadium, consider that the spreadsheet savant left the rotation short of arms when he cut ties in the offseason with elite starter Hyun-Jin Ryu and veterans Kenta Maeda and Rich Hill, then traded Ross Stripling in August. Thus, Game 2 became a night to use an opener — the strategy originally hatched out of necessity by the inventive Rays due to scant resources and a low payroll. It is unbecoming of a major-market, revenue-rich team to borrow from the Rays, especially when Friedman left his Tampa Bay creation for L.A. six years ago, and it’s even more dubious when the strategy doesn’t work. A team with a prorated payroll of almost $100 million in a COVID-shortened season, compared to $28 million for the Rays, can’t do better than rookie Tony Gonsolin and a flock of relievers who allowed runs and don’t compare to the Rays’ arsenal? Oh, the horror: The franchise of Kershaw, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Don Sutton, Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser used an opener in a World Series game.
“We didn’t have anybody that was on regular rest,’’ explained Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who didn’t want to use Walker Buehler on three days’ rest after Kershaw started Game 1.
So, we actually have a series now. Aren’t the Dodgers skippered by Roberts, who can make errant decisions in October like no one we’ve seen this century? Can they win with Buehler and Kershaw, both unpredictable,as the only front-line starters? Would forgotten man Alex Wood really start a Game 7? Do the Rays have their undefinable mojo back, with postseason master Charlie Morton pitching Game 3 against Buehler? “That game was a better indicator of the kind of team we are,’’ Rays third baseman Joey Wendle said. “Just a complete team win, everybody contributing at different parts of the game.’’
All that said, let’s not have short-term amnesia. The Dodgers still have Betts, the difference between this team and previous flameouts. It’s one thing to channel the late Kobe Bryant and summon the “Mamba Mentality,’’ with Betts endearing himself to an already adoring Los Angeles by enacting what the legend told him last year: “He said each and every day he wants to be the best person in the gym and to put on a show.’’ It’s quite another, in Game 1, to join Babe Ruth as the only players with a walk and multiple steals in a World Series inning, allowing us to imagine a foot race between Betts and the portly Ruth and wonder: Did the Babe do it for tacos, too?
“I wanted everybody to get some tacos,’’ Mookie said with a Mookie grin. “That’s what was important to me.’’
Unfortunately, he’s also what’s wrong with baseball, this Markus Lynn Betts. No sooner did Joe Buck say the Dodgers don’t buy championships than Betts imposed his will on October, reminding us that he was given a 12-year, $365 million extension during a pandemic. The wee-revenue Rays can’t even dream about acquiring such a force until the afterworld. Tell me, in what economic sphere is this fair? It’s amazing, yes, that the Rays used intellectual guile to reach the Fall Classic, but it’s all hocus-pocus when the Dodgers were one of the few teams able to take on Betts and extend him for record numbers when he shockingly became available.
None of this is promising for the competitive future of a teetering sport — Game 1 was the lowest-rated Series game EVER — that faces a crippling labor impasse after next season. Nor is it healthy when the Boston Red Sox, they of the substantial revenues and expensive ticket prices, trade Betts in an all-time-shameful salary dump and bamboozle fans by downsizing the grand plan. John Henry and Tom Werner might be jacked to have boatloads of freed-up money and long-term flexibility, but even as the owners who broke the Bambino curse and won four World Series, they’ll never live down dealing Mookie. it was as cold and cutting as the New England winter, dumping a generational superstar — “a six-tool player,’’ says Red Sox legend David Ortiz — to push the financial reset button.
So any celebration of Mookie Mania must be accompanied by reality: He is to the Dodgers what James is to the L.A. Lakers — a hired gun — the difference being James’ arrival as a free agent while Betts came in a trade that brought modest returns to Boston. Both are 21st-century mercenaries. Both wanted to be in southern California, the most desired destination in American sports, and with the Dodgers valued at $3.4 billion, they could more than meet Betts’ ultimate price to stay. And in a few days, both could be attached in history as the driving forces behind two championships in pandemic L.A., the saviors who rescued prestigious-but-underachieving franchises from themselves.
“@mookiebetts did it all,’’ James tweeted during a transcendent Game 1.
Think about it. What does it say for Mookie if he win a World Series in Boston, then wins one in L.A.? Until the Angels figure out how to surround Mike Trout with sufficient talent, which might be never, Betts stands to be baseball’s most valuable player in the 2020s regardless of annual trophies. “I think we would have beat the Red Sox if we had Mookie Betts,’’ said Roberts, referring to their 2018 loss.
A three-hour opening glimpse of Betts was enough to think he could save the sport, too. Dating back to the scandalous steroids era, baseball has been fixated on home runs, ball-juicing, launch angles, exit velocity. Betts? He homered, but it ranked last on his list of Game 1 joys. He’ll take his track-meet sequence in the fifth inning, which resuscitated the vitality of stolen bases and how a running game can unnerve pitchers. He swiped second — tacos for all! — then third in a double steal. With an enormous lead off the bag, it took only Max Muncy’s contact grounder to first for Betts to safely slide home.
Was this actually … excitement? Should we summon the kids, tell them to get off their video games and phones and watch Mookie? He was asked which satisfied him most, the home run or the steals? His favorite feat involved feet. “I’m most proud of the contact play. Got a run there, and then it was first and third and we scored a couple more,’’ Betts said. “It just showed we don’t have to hit home runs to be successful. Stolen bases are a thing for me. That’s how I create runs and cause a little havoc on the bases. Once i get on the base paths, I’m just trying to touch home. However I get there is how I get there.’’
Listening, Rob Manfred?
“Whether it’s a defensive play that helps the team or a base-running play that gets him into scoring position for a teammate to drive in a run — I think he just gets more satisfaction out of that,’’ Roberts said. “When it’s a home run, which certainly helps the team, he just doesn’t care for the statistics. He just plays the game to win.’’
Listening, Barry Bonds?
I have to laugh when Friedman, who created the Rays paradigm, claims he didn’t jump to the Dodgers’ baseball operations perch in 2014 because of the staggering financial advantages. “Payrolls,’’ he said, “don’t decide the standings.’’ Please. As a bargain hunter with the Rays, he could use his algorithmic acumen and more-with-less culture to contend for playoff berths more seasons than not. But other than perhaps one chance title, he wasn’t going to be a perennial World Series contender in a zillion years. At Dodger Stadium, whenever it reopens, he has the resources to sustain a dynasty, with zero dollars — not a one — committed to anyone but Betts beyond 2022. That way, there is money to make lucrative commitments to Bellinger, Buehler, Corey Seager and other homegrown gems. That way, Friedman has a comfort zone in creating depth and versatility throughout the roster. It’s easier to cultivate a farm system, as he has expertly done, and unearth castoffs such as Muncy and Chris Taylor when he knows team co-owners Guggenheim Baseball and Todd Boehly will approve a Betts windfall and future Bellinger and Seager windfalls with a single-syllable answer: “Sure.’’
That’s why Rays owner Stuart Sternberg smacked of someone in bitter denial when asked by the Tampa Bay Times about Friedman’s departure. “I understand why he left, but I don’t understand why anybody ever doesn’t want to be part of what we’re doing. So it goes both ways,” he said. “It’s not fair to the people who have been with me since 2004 who are incredibly responsible for all this. And they’ve chosen to stay and be part of things. So I don’t want to feel great for somebody who’s left when I’ve got people here. I understand it. I’m just one of those guys — I don’t understand why people leave. Right? But they do and I get it. I get it. It’s just hard for me to fathom sometimes.”
Then came the dagger. Sternberg said team president Matt Silverman, who replaced Friedman as baseball boss six years ago, has been most important to the Rays’ overall success. “At the end of the day, and I could say this definitively, there’s nobody more responsible for our successes than Matt Silverman. Period. There’s not even a doubt,’’ Sternberg said. “And also (executive) Brian Auld’s outsized role in creating, nurturing and pounding in our culture.”
The Friedman Series had yet another angle: the unrealistic views of the owner he spurned. Why wouldn’t anyone want to remain with the Rays for life when you can run the Dodgers? As long as Major League Baseball doesn’t evenly split revenues among 30 franchises, it’s a no-brainer to leave behind a team valued barely at $1 billion while stuck in an untenable stadium mess. Last offseason, Friedman was allowed to add Betts to his overflowing roster while the Rays did their usual hoping and praying with minor deals. The Randy Arozarena pickup was a steal, but he could be a flash in the plan. Over the next dozen years, how many MVP awards and World Series runs will Betts have? That’s why Friedman left Rays blue for Dodger Blue. And that’s why, most likely, he’ll be wearing a ring this winter while Sternberg will wait the rest of his life. The Rays can defy baseball economics and slip through the AL during a pandemic. Can they really beat a blueblood with money and Mookie in the championship round?
Just the same, the pressure is squarely on the Dodgers to win it all after multiple collapses in previous autumns. Such is the tradeoff for having high payrolls and valuations and the wherewithal to bring in Betts. “The job is not done,’’ Kike Hernandez reminded. “The goal wasn’t to get to the World Series. The goal is to win the World Series. From the moment we were able to put a season together, once they figured out the COVID thing, everybody was expecting us to get to the World Series. We were expecting to go to the World Series.’’
It’s the case every year, actually. So is this the year they finally don’t choke? Ask Kershaw, who, you might have heard, has marred his Hall of Fame legacy with personal fall failures. Calmed by Betts’ impact, he again reverted to his best-pitcher-of-a-generation form in Game 1. Doesn’t he look much more relaxed than typical October Clayton? “I think we’re the best team. And I think our clubhouse believes that,’’ Kershaw said. “As a collective group, if everybody is doing what they’re supposed to be doing and playing the way they’re supposed to, I don’t see how that can happen.’’
Meaning, another crash.
The usual tension has been replaced by a welcome looseness. Bellinger, who fortunately suffered no damage when his shoulder popped in a violent forearm bash with Hernandez last weekend, had fun with the story. When he homered in Game 1, he safely tapped cleats with the others. “Going straight foot. It was pretty funny,’’ he said. “I think I’ll continue to do that maybe my whole career. Who knows?’’
It’s no coincidence that the feelgood mood coincides with the feelgood Mookie. His leadership skills, as a vocal clubhouse presence, always invoke the fun mantra. “I’m having tons of fun,’’ he said. “I’m just happy to be here with this group of guys. They’ve made it so much fun and easy to play.’’
What does he enjoy more, crossing home plate or driving in runs?
“I like winning,’’ Betts shot back. “Whichover one is needed that day, I’m just trying to do that.’’
You might say it isn’t fair, a player of his magnitude dropping into L.A. to form a baseball superteam. As it is, their use of institutional influence is almost bigger than the sport. After learning they lost the 2017 Series to a cheating Astros team that was electronically stealing signs, Friedman and team president Stan Kasten demanded instant justice from Major League Baseball. While Houston kept the trophy and the players somehow weren’t punished, the Dodgers did get heads on a platter through Manfred: those of general manager Jeff Luhnow, manager A.J. Hinch and then-bench coach Alex Cora, who lost their jobs. This week, Luhnow continued to deny direct involvement in the scheme and said he was targeted as a scapegoat by … the Dodgers.
“I was certainly not expecting for the team I spent eight years building to fire me and let me go,” Luhnow said. “I know the Dodgers, for sure, were adamant about some big punishments. And they wanted the manager, and they wanted the general manager to go down in this scandal. And they got it. And I think the investigation was not attempting to really uncover who did what, and who was really responsible. The goal of the investigation was to deliver punishments that Rob could feel good about and that would calm the panic.”
Whether that’s true or the desperation of a man trying to save his career and reputation, the Dodgers simply carried on with their process. They do what they want and spend what they want. For 32 years, they haven’t been able to win what they want. But because they had $365 million to offer Betts, along with warm weather and palm trees, they are close to getting it. The Astros outcheated them in 2017, the Red Sox outspent them in 2018, the Nationals outpitched them in 2019.
Will the Rays out-algorithm them? Armed with the Mookie Betts, the Dodgers have no excuse not to win. Even if few are watching on screens and inside a spooky Texas ballpark, the fun doll is capable of transcending a spreadsheet, a pandemic and, I dare say, an election involving a sitting President who’s probably waiting in line for a free taco.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and regular sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.
Does Mike & The Mad Dog Reunion Really Have Broad Appeal?
“My confusion is not about the content. It is about the strategy.”
I know this is an unpopular opinion, especially on a site built on the back of sports radio, but I also know that I am not alone when I say this. I do not get why ESPN is reuniting Mike & the Mad Dog on First Take on Wednesday.
That is not a comment about Mike Francesa or Chris Russo as people. I am not going to sit here and tell you their show was not groundbreaking or pretend that its success did not make it easier for the sports format to spread across the country. They deserve all of the credit and accolades they get from our industry.
My confusion is not about the content. It is about the strategy. Who outside of New York and/or outside of the broadcast industry feels like this is must-see TV? This feels like some real whiffing of our own farts.
When ESPN writes a press release about the success of First Take, they tend to highlight two demographics. It’s either with men 18-49 or with men 18-34. The age range is important because Mike & The Mad Dog hasn’t been a thing for almost 15 years. Francesa and Russo have had their own success in that time. It is not like they disappeared, but 2008 was a long time ago. Even lifelong New Yorkers in the desired demos may not have a strong connection to Francesa and Russo as a brand.
And then there are those of us outside of New York. We may understand that Mike & The Mad Dog was a thing, but what does it really mean to us? Outside of industry professionals, I would venture a guess that if you say “Mike and the Mad Dog” to someone from the Central, Mountain or Pacific time zones, the very best-case scenario is that they would tell you that it sounds familiar, but they have no idea why.
Mike and the Mad Dog is a very specific dynamic, and credit to Stephen A. Smith and his producers, it is a dynamic that is perfect for First Take, but thanks to First Take, it isn’t a dynamic that I can only get from those two guys anymore. Their loud, unrelenting debates were revolutionary in 1989 when the show launched. Since then, the style has spawned so many imitators that I would worry the significance of the reunion will be lost on the average Joe tuning in from outside the Tri-State Area.
Smith is important enough to ESPN that if this is what he wants to do on First Take, then the bosses needed to make it happen. I respect that. But selling this as an event? It seems more exclusionary than anything. To us everywhere-elsers, Wednesday is just going to be an extraordinarily loud episode of First Take.
I have been working for Barrett Sports Media long enough to know the influence that people that are successful on New York radio have across the sports media industry. Why else would FS1 rearrange its schedule to make room for Craig Carton? If First Take were a show dedicated to debating ratings points and the value of digital audiences versus broadcast audiences, then a Mike & the Mad Dog reunion would be a home run.
But First Take is where sports fans turn to hear discussion of the Cowboys’ most recent playoff failure and the possibility that Nikola Jokic wins a third straight MVP award. Those are topics that cast a wide net – think like the net that commercial fishing vessels drop into the ocean. Using a walk down memory lane with Francesa and Russo as a ratings driver is like trying to catch fish with a pool skimmer.
Well okay, maybe not a pool skimmer. New York is really big, so let’s so it is like trying to catch fish with a laundry basket.
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.
Jamie Erdahl Reflects On First Season of Good Morning Football
“I learned a lot [and] I got the nuances of the show down. Next year, I hope to elevate even more [and] just push the box a little bit more in.”
Jamie Erdahl, who was named in July 2022 as a new host of Good Morning Football on NFL Network following Kay Adams’ departure from the show, has looked to redefine the role of studio host and shatter the boundaries of being simply a moderator passing the baton to analysts throughout her career in sports media.
“I don’t personally feel that it’s my job to include them,” Erdahl said of her colleagues. “I like to think that this show is the four of us including each other in the conversation, and I happen to be the one that gets us on the air [and] gets us off the air, but everywhere in-between that it’s very much an equal lift if you will.”
Since its inception in August 2016, Good Morning Football has provided football fans unparalleled coverage of their favorite sport through recurring segments, interviews with active players and alumni, live demonstrations and insightful analysis. Aside from Erdahl, the show cast consists of Kyle Brandt, who was the former executive producer of The Jim Rome Show, along with NFL analyst Peter Schrager, former NFL cornerback and Super Bowl champion Jason McCourty.
Erdahl never thought hosting a national morning football show produced by a league-owned media outlet was realistic nor possible in the first place, wherefore she focused her early career endeavors towards covering local teams. In fact, her first exposure to sports media was as a 16-year-old shadowing broadcasters and answering the phones at KFAN Sports Radio in Minneapolis, screening callers who wanted to discuss the Minnesota Vikings among other topics.
After transferring from St. Olaf College to American University, Erdahl was placed into a production internship with ESPN through the Association for Women in Sports Media in a role she refers to as one of her “most formative professional experiences off-camera.” Her principal responsibility was cutting highlights for Baseball Tonight and SportsCenter, along with writing scripts for the anchors to recite over the highlights during the broadcast.
“To this day, I don’t think I would be as great or as strong at reading highlights if I had never had that opportunity at ESPN,” Erdahl said. “….I don’t think you can be really good on the air if you don’t have a full understanding of what it takes to get there from a production standpoint.”
Out of college, Erdahl returned to Minneapolis, where she worked as a freelance reporter at Fox Sports North, a regional sports network. In that role, she was a sideline reporter for various high school basketball games and Minnesota Lynx WNBA contests. One year later, she made the move to Boston to join NESN as an on-air anchor and reporter, contributing both to studio coverage and in-person event coverage ranging from the Boston Marathon to Boston College hockey.
Through several years of persistence and determination, Erdahl was afforded more opportunities and chances to continue elevating her skills. During her first year at NESN, she was working on NESN Sports Today as an anchor and reporter while also filling in for Jenny Dell as a field reporter for Boston Red Sox games. By September 2013, she was named the new rinkside reporter for Boston Bruins live game broadcasts where she succeeded Naoko Funayama, an established broadcaster who held the role for nearly six years.
“[Boston], more than any [market] I’ve ever been around, expects the world of you,” Erdahl said. “They expect the world of their athletes; of their coaches; of their organizations; and then of the media that covers the team. They’ll sus you out right away if they have a sense that you don’t know what you’re talking about or if you don’t know their team like the back of your hand like they do.”
Over her season as the rinkside reporter for Boston Bruins games on NESN, Erdahl performed her job well but internally struggled to report solely on the team. In being immersed in the dynamic atmosphere of a professional team, it is entirely plausible that while the storylines may change, much of the quotidian routine is mundane in nature.
Akin to a beat reporter, Erdahl’s job was to focus her work on the Bruins and NHL at large while remaining cognizant of Boston sports. Through it all, she inherently desired something more – a role in which she could cover several teams within a sport rather than just one.
“I am amazed at the people who can do 162-plus baseball games a year,” Erdahl said. “I just applaud them so much. I think your wealth of knowledge is admirable, but I found it so challenging to, let’s say, do 82-plus [games] of hockey because I felt like I wanted more sport variety.”
In 2014, Erdahl signed with CBS Sports as a sideline reporter for the NFL on CBS, traveling every week around the country to uncover stories and perspectives enhancing the game broadcast. She primarily worked with the No. 3 broadcast team of Greg Gumbel and Trent Green, along with director Suzanne Smith, who has served as one of Erdahl’s mentors. The move from reporting in one city to adopting a peripatetic lifestyle helped her with professional development and allowed her to cultivate relationships around the country.
“When you are at the regional [sports network], you’re just answering to that one team,” Erdahl said. “I loved reporting but what I loved about when I got to CBS was [that] you are answering to the broadcast; you are answering to players from both sides. You had to work to make sure that your coverage was fully equal.”
After several seasons covering the NFL, Erdahl was named the lead reporter for college football on CBS Sports, including within its SEC broadcast package. Despite the game being similar in many ways, college football presented challenges to Erdahl, largely due to the size of the rosters and the fact that many SEC on CBS Game of the Week broadcasts regularly included the Alabama Crimson Tide, Georgia Bulldogs and Louisiana State University Tigers.
Next season will be the final year CBS will broadcast SEC games before the conference’s media rights agreement with The Walt Disney Company (ABC/ESPN) takes effect: a 10-year deal worth a reported $300 million annually. CBS will broadcast the Big Ten Conference instead, inking a 7-year deal for the second-best rights package worth a reported $350 million annually.
“Here I was back again [asking], ‘Okay, how do I make things new and fresh?,’” Erdahl said. “You can’t talk to Tua Tagovailoa every time on the phone. You’ve got to branch out; you’ve got to tell other guys’ stories.”
In addition to reporting on college football and NFL games, Erdahl was one of the first anchors on CBS Sports HQ, a free 24/7 sports news network available to stream on multiple platforms. She also reconnected with her athletic roots when she provided sideline reporting for CBS Sports’ coverage of March Madness. Her alacrity for the game and proficiency in its vernacular gave her an advantage as a media member reporting on one of the year’s premier events.
“My translation speed, let’s say, of what I hear in a basketball huddle is so much faster to laymen’s terms in basketball than it is for football,” Erdahl said. “That’s just a matter of I played basketball; it is a part of my lifeblood; it is part of my body and soul and upbringing.”
Erdahl eventually moved back into sideline reporting for the NFL on CBS; however it differed the second time around because she had two young children at home and had to leave them from Thursday to Sunday each week. Although she was content with her role at CBS and had the support system in place to make it possible, she wanted to be able to see her children grow up and spend time with them.
At the same time, continuing to cover football was important to her and a reason why she considered a studio-based hosting role. In the end, she was ultimately named the new co-host of Good Morning Football on NFL Network.
“Professionally, I think I was very much honing my skill set to become a really great, strong sideline reporter at CBS,” Erdahl said. “I grasped at the opportunity to become a really great, strong studio host. I’m not there yet – it’s only been six or seven months – but I really wanted this job in particular to get me to a place within the NFL [and] within the industry to be a really good host.”
For 15 hours per week, Erdahl is on television discussing the game of football with Brandt, Schrager, McCourty and Selva, along with a plethora of other guests and industry experts. Entering the role from the perspective of a sideline reporter, she has found many aspects of her previous role permeate into this job, most notably those pertaining to listening to others.
“As a sideline reporter, all you can do is be eyes and ears and you’re just hoping that if you’re not the one saying it on the broadcast, you’re relaying information back to the truck or to the play-by-play guy to make sure that what you’re seeing or hearing on the field is getting on to the broadcast…. I like to take that back into a studio setting. Very easily we could sit around the table and we could each talk for a minute and give our takes, but then you’re not really listening to each other.”
Before landing the job, Erdahl had conversations with Kay Adams where they discussed the role and just what makes it unique. Their discussions left Erdahl energized and eager to get started and disseminate her opinions and points of view to consumers on weekday mornings.
“You get to have your own arc of creativity, no matter what chair you’re sitting in,” Erdahl expressed. “I think Kay did that incredibly well for six years. People loved Kay for all the things that she did – but the job isn’t, ‘Here’s how Kay did it; do it the way Kay did.’ That’s not how it was presented [to] me [and] I don’t think Kay would have wanted it that way.”
Over the years, Erdahl has established relationships with colleagues and competitors alike in sports media, staying in touch and reaching out for advice. She was friendly with many of her colleagues at the NFL on CBS, including Tracy Wolfson, Amanda Balionis and Melanie Collins, along with ESPN/Amazon Prime Video’s Charissa Thompson and NFL Network host Sara Walsh. She also estimates speaking to SEC on CBS analyst Gary Danielson weekly, someone who was instrumental in her development as a broadcaster and learning more about the game of football.
Erdahl and the rest of the Good Morning Football on-air personalities do not simply show up to the studios to broadcast each morning; rather, there is an immense amount of preparation that goes into each and every show beginning the night before.
On a shared document, show producers compile a layout for the next day’s program and Erdahl and the other personalities write notes and perspectives to better inform the rest of the crew as to their individual thought processes. There is a production crew that works overnight to monitor the news cycle and prepare production elements for the next day’s program so by the time 7:00 AM ET comes around, the team is ready to produce three hours of insightful football coverage.
“The information wheel in the NFL is just constantly turning so it’s easier for me just to kind of, throughout the day, remain aware of it so then at night, I can answer all my stuff and then tomorrow, I feel a little bit more prepared,” Erdahl said. “I’m not cramming for an hour before the show…. It’s easy to kind of stay swimming in it.”
As Erdahl reflects on the impending completion of her first full season on the show, she intends to learn from her mistakes, such as relying on certain statistics or storylines as a crutch for extended periods of time, to improve as a studio host. She also aims to augment her creativity, learn more about the history of the game and demonstrate energy for the game – all qualities imbued within Brandt, Schrager and McCourty, respectively – to become a “master of the NFL.”
“I was lucky I got through the season,” Erdahl said. “I learned a lot [and] I got the nuances of the show down. Next year, I hope to elevate even more [and] just push the box a little bit more in terms of making sure I don’t have those crutches.”
Viewers of Good Morning Football or other NFL Network programming might be skeptical towards the legitimacy of some opinions because of the oversight the league has on the broadcast outlet. Yet over her time with NFL Network, Erhardt does not feel as if she has been suppressed in editorializing her views.
Moreover, it is the responsibility of the show to balance subjectivity and the maintenance of professional relationships in football with the display of objectivity and proffering of genuine analysis. After all, she believes the league trusts that she is on the air for a reason, and works to ensure the league communicates its storylines in a way discernible to a variety of demographics.
“I haven’t felt the hindrance whatsoever in terms of editorial direction that would make me feel like I shouldn’t do something,” Erdahl said. “I would say mostly on the daily, I get the green light from the things that we try to accomplish as a show.”
There are many football fans across the United States, and it can be safely assumed that many of them have at least thought about potentially covering the game as a media member. Yet very few aspiring media professionals reach the point Erdahl has; in fact, some of her most memorable moments over the years are when she was told she had received certain jobs. Although her skills on the air are evident, her demeanor and team-oriented mindset has separated herself from other candidates and led to sustained success and growth amid a competitive marketplace.
“Sixty percent of being good at this job has nothing to do with being on television, in my opinion,” Erdahl articulated. “I think it’s about a good, honest, ethical person that is nice to people; that is easy to be around; that coaches and athletes in particular want to be around and want to talk to [and] tell their story to. The other stuff will come because you are speaking to something that you went about the right way.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he serves as the production manager for the New York Islanders Radio Network and lead sports producer at NY2C. He has also worked on live game broadcasts for the Long Island Nets and New York Riptide. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks and wrote for The Long Island Herald. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Why Do NFL Fans Want More Greg Olsen and Less Tony Romo?
Olsen creates the perception that he studies each team, breaking down film of offenses and defenses, in preparation for the telecast.
Five years ago, Tony Romo retired as an active NFL player, jumped into the CBS broadcast booth, and immediately became the darling of fans and media for the excitement he brought to his telecasts. Romo’s enthusiasm for the game and understanding of modern offense allowed him to predict plays successfully, making him an instant sensation.
Greg Olsen will finish his second season as a full-time broadcaster on Feb. 12 from the NFL’s biggest stage, calling Super Bowl LVI for Fox with play-by-play partner Kevin Burkhardt. Olsen hasn’t drawn the must-see buzz that Romo did early in his TV career. No fan likely tuned into Fox’s top NFL telecast, “America’s Game of the Week,” to listen to Olsen’s analysis. His work doesn’t draw nearly the same amount of acclaim.
But the shine has worn off Romo with viewers during the past couple of NFL seasons. Watching a game with Romo in the booth previously felt like sitting alongside a fellow fan, jubilant at fantastic plays or clever strategy, and disappointed at performances that fell short. His energy also elevated Jim Nantz as a play-by-play announcer, bringing him back to life after 13 seasons alongside Phil Simms.
Now, however, Romo’s outbursts — noises in place of words, or outright yelling — seem like a crutch when coherent thoughts can’t be articulated. Where there was once fascinating insight from the analyst position, the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback often resorts to clichés and platitudes that don’t add to a fan’s understanding of what’s happening on the field.
Worst of all, Romo sometimes talks merely to talk, filling a quiet space when a broadcast needs to breathe or the images are saying enough on their own. That’s especially awkward when paired with a veteran like Nantz, who’s a master at letting the moment speak for itself rather than trying to punctuate it with unnecessary narration.
On Fox’s telecast of the 49ers-Eagles NFC Championship Game, Olsen explained how play-calling changes when an offense intends to go for it on fourth down. He showed an awareness of the strategies that each coach employed to gain an advantage or neutralize what the opponent was doing well.
Early on, he highlighted San Francisco defensive end Joey Bosa holding back on his natural impulse to pursue the quarterback at all costs. Instead, he maintained a position that prevented Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts from running to gain yardage when pass plays weren’t available.
With analysis like this, Olsen creates the perception that he studies each team, breaking down the film of their respective offenses and defenses, in preparation for the telecast. He doesn’t appear to be surprised by what he sees because that prep work — watching film, talking to coaches and players — informs him of the eventualities and possibilities that could arise during a game.
The hardcore football fan, those who repeatedly watch highlights and replays, loves that kind of analysis. Such attention to detail feels gratifying because it demonstrates that the person calling the broadcast is as serious about this stuff as the viewer who’s waited all week for the big game.
Yet a more casual fan is also drawn in because of Olsen’s amiable personality and ability to explain things simply and clearly. It’s similar to what viewers enjoy about ESPN’s “ManningCast” for Monday Night Football. Yes, there are jokes and funny moments. But Peyton and Eli Manning both explain strategy and preparation very well.
By comparison, Romo comes off like a broadcaster who’s winging it, letting his personality and enthusiasm fill gaps created by a lack of preparation. That might be a completely unfair criticism. We don’t know what kind of work Romo puts in leading up to a telecast. Maybe he watches as much film as Olsen. Perhaps he talks to everyone available to the broadcast crew in production meetings.
If so, however, that doesn’t show itself on the CBS telecast. Romo’s work on Sunday’s Bengals-Chiefs AFC Championship Game telecast was an improvement over his call of the Bengals-Bills divisional playoff clash. During the previous week, Romo acted as if he didn’t have to provide any insight because this was the match-up fans had anticipated all season and already knew everything about the two teams.
Perhaps in response to that criticism, Romo made a point of highlighting the importance of each team’s defensive coordinator — Cincinnati’s Lou Anarumo and Kansas City’s Steve Spagnuolo, respectively — in disrupting the performance of quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow. But rather than demonstrate an actual strategy during a replay, he stated that each defense would come after the opposing QB and create pressure.
Ultimately, the difference between Romo and Olsen seems to be schtick versus knowledge. But it’s also a product of how each analyst reached their position. Romo joined CBS’s No. 1 NFL broadcast team without previously calling any games. (As BSM’s Garrett Searight points out, that immediacy and recent connection to the game fueled what felt like fresh analysis.)
Meanwhile, Olsen called games during bye weeks while he was still an active player and was on Fox’s No. 2 crew with Burkhardt before being elevated to top status following the departure of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman to ESPN. He’s had to get better out of necessity. Even now, as Olsen establishes himself as his network’s top analyst, he faces the possibility of being bumped from that position when Tom Brady retires and cashes in on the massive contract Fox offered him.
Compare that to Romo, who’s the highest-paid NFL analyst on television. His $18 million annual salary set the bar other top broadcasters are trying to reach. And he has seven years remaining on the 10-year contract he signed with CBS. That is significant job security. Even if network executives (or Nantz) lean on Romo to improve his flaws, how much motivation is there when he’s already been anointed a broadcasting king?
However, NFL fans and sports media are making it clear what they prefer from their football broadcasters. They want insight and substance. They want to learn something from the commentary, rather than just be told what they can see for themselves.
Olsen is providing that and is being rightly lauded as a broadcaster living up to his status. Romo is suffering a fall from acclaim and has become a weekly punching bag. If he and CBS want to change that, he’ll have to bring more to the booth each week. In the meantime, Fox should consider appreciating what it already has, rather than welcome a glitzy name.
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 email@example.com.