Connect with us
BSM Summit
blank

BSM Writers

8 Panelists Paint The Full Picture of 20 Years of ‘Around The Horn’

“Most of them have good things to say about the show. Some of them don’t. I’m including it all to paint a full picture of what the show is and what it is capable of.”

Demetri Ravanos

Published

on

blank

Twenty years has absolutely flown by. I remember watching the debut episode of Around the Horn in the bedroom of the house I lived in during my senior year of college. On Tuesday night, ESPN acknowledged the show’s history and influence with a primetime special.

As viewers, we all have our opinions. To some, the show is excellent, one of the standard bearers of debate television. To others, it is something they see but never hear as they sit in the airport bar waiting on their flight to board.

Last week, Tony Reali was at the center of a lovefest – an opus by The Athletic’s Stephen J. Nesbitt that just maybe you could finish in the 20 minutes it takes to play the final two minutes of an NCAA Tournament game. Today, I think it is important to put the panelists in the spotlight and let them share their thoughts and insight on the show. Although, to be fair, plenty of them say nice things about Tony.

Most of them have good things to say about the show. Some of them don’t. I’m including it all to paint a full picture of what the show is and what it is capable of.

These are their words, not mine. Enjoy.

J.A. ADANDE

It just hit me that I’ve spent almost twice as many years of my career doing work because of Around the Horn than I spent getting in position to be on Around the Horn. I’d been writing professionally for eight years — including five at the Los Angeles Times — when ATH started in 2002. That was back when you had to be at one of the five partner newspapers (the LA Times, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Dallas Morning News, the Boston Globe and the Denver Post) to be on the show. The show elevated my profile and there’s no question that without it I would not have been hired by ESPN in 2007 and Northwestern University in 2016. 

Expanding the roster and constantly bringing in new and diverse talent has kept the show fresh — and added to the list of people who can thank the show for their current jobs. And the maestro, Tony Reali, has been holding it all together for almost the entire time, along with producer Aaron Solomon behind the scenes.

BOMANI JONES

I did my first episode of Around The Horn in October 2010. The year before, I’d been let go from hosting local radio. I’d just started doing “The Morning Jones,” a radio show on Sirius, where we were building our community largely through Twitter. I managed to tweet my way into Tony Reali’s orbit, which led to the most shocking e-mail of my career — one from Aaron Solomon, asking me to appear on Around The Horn. Seeing how I’d been let go from ESPN in 2007, there was no way I thought this would ever happen. In fact, much of my content was created to be an alternative to ESPN because my time there was done. Now, I had the chance to appear on a bedrock of their programming.

That day changed my life and career. It affirmed my confidence in what I had been doing, and encouraged me to double down on my approach, even while surrounded by people representative of the older guard. It made me both visible and credible, as no one could get on that show without being eminently respected in sports journalism. But it was also a lot of fun. It was fun to get to know all those people I’d only read and seen on TV. It was a treat to be on conference calls and realize those Bob Ryan outbursts happen in real life, too. It made me better as a presenter, learning just how much one can say in limited time.

And maybe the biggest thing was, for the first time in my career, I was really part of a team, even if I’ve still never met most of those teammates in person. Being a panelist on Around The Horn remains one of my greatest privileges in this business, and each of those 20 years the staff has earned has been well-deserved.

MINA KIMES

Like a lot of television folks who transitioned from writing to analysis, I got my start on Around the Horn. The show was an opportunity, but also an education–it’s where I learned how to develop and deliver opinions, how to listen to others instead of just waiting for my turn to talk, and how to have fun on camera. I think that sense of fun–and family dynamic–has played a big role in the show’s staying power, but I’d also attribute its success to its willingness to push the envelope on commentary. Don’t be fooled by the consistency of the look and feel of the show; Around the Horn has evolved at a rapid rate over the years, bringing in new voices and tackling topics that you rarely see explored on sports television. That’s a tribute to the creativity and open-mindedness of Tony Reali, but also a number of people behind the scenes, all of whom are the best of the best.

JAY MARIOTTI (From his Substack – used with permission)

No one out there cares about your pedigree or diploma. No one cares if you’re straight or gay. No one cares if you’re male or female. No one cares if you’re young or old. The viewers respond to panelists who alternately make them think, make them mad, make them laugh.

We did that on “Around The Horn” for a long time. That isn’t happening today, and the result is lost relevance.

Praise Reali, a good guy in a tough racket. But also acknowledge Reality.

When 331 million people live in America and fewer than 300,000 are watching the ESPN blowtorch on a given afternoon — and a lot of them are sitting in a bar or dentist’s office with the sound turned down — well, don’t tell me the show is better. The show is just sort of there, bro.

WOODY PAIGE

Being asked to do Around The Horn was a career- and life-changing experience. I actually turned it down twice. Shortly after starting the show I went into Patriots locker room for post-game interviews and the offensive linemen started yelling at me to come talk to them. I was amazed. As a journalist nobody ever wanted to talk to me. I realized this was a new world.

BILL PLASCHKE

For 20 years, Around the Horn has made me laugh and cry and  most of all, think. My participation on the show has broadened my horizons by challenging me to think of the sports world in ways that impact all members of society, not only sports fans. It’s a silly game show that is really a sophisticated debate show. It’s a sports show that is really a life show.

BOB RYAN

 “Around The Horn” was originally billed as “A show of competitive banter.” That it was in its debut in November of 2002, and so it remains in November of 2022.

I love matching wits with these clever panelists. And I believe anyone watching the show will invariably leave it much better informed than when he or she began viewing that afternoon.

SARAH SPAIN

What does Around The Horn mean to me? Quite simply, it’s my favorite job I’ve ever had. Not just because I love the format — part sports talk, part trash talk — but because the host, staff and panelists are like a giant (occasionally dysfunctional but more often than not loving) family. No matter what mood I’m in when I arrive, I am, without fail, all smiles when I leave. (Even when I lose!)

The show has lasted for decades because the scoring system is a compelling and entertaining mystery, the panelists all offer a different style and brand of takery, it’s a refreshing blend of informed discussion, authentic disagreement and good-hearted digs, and, most importantly, because of the star of the show, Stat Boy-turned Man In Black, Tony Reali. Reali’s sense of humor, heart, care for each panelist and ability to bring out the best in them is like a legendary coach calling up the right plays at the right time. May he lead us in points and mutes for another 20 years.

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?

Avatar photo

Published

on

blank

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?

Continue Reading

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.”

Avatar photo

Published

on

blank

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. 

Continue Reading

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

Published

on

blank

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.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

blank

Barrett Media Writers

Copyright © 2023 Barrett Media.