Intolerable NFL commentators are legion. Of course, some of this is not their fault. We binge-watch the sport once a week, leaving us exhausted, annoyed, tipsy and in need of much needed physical exertion. We take it out on the people talking at us, who are conveniently not in the room to defend themselves.
That said, there has been no shortage of documentation regarding the awfulness of announcers — there’s an entire site titled Awful Announcing. During games, Twitter transforms into a firing squad aimed at conservative playcalling and the commentators who ineptly defend it.
Still, I couldn’t find any hard data on just how bad announcers actually are.
So I listened to 32 NFL games — two per crew — charting every foolish, false, annoying, ridiculous and downright dumb thing each of them said. I did this not because I enjoy it (it was, indeed, awful) but to determine which NFL crew is the worst of the lot.
In general, there are three types of announcer comments: good, neutral and bad. Good statements offer some type of insight into the game. This is inherently subjective, since different people know different things. Neutral statements constitute the bulk of their utterances: neither offensive nor insightful. As a result, I decided to measure the bad statements.
I divided announcers’ verbal infractions into six categories that are not simply pet peeves, but likely to be annoyances for a majority of NFL viewers:
1. Clichés: a lazy conjecture presented as an explanation for an event on the field.
- “They believe they can win.”
- “It’s all about courage and no fear.”
- “[Player X] has a burning desire to get it done.”
I also categorized a comment as a cliché if the commentator offered some form of “this team playing poorly needs to play less poorly”.
- “I always think it’s important to get off to a good start.”
- “[Team X] has gotta keep [their opponent] out of the end zone in terms of a touchdown here.”
All the above examples are from one quarter of one game.
2. Factual Errors: These are statements presented as fact that can be disproved in the moment by the average football viewer without additional research. Many of these were events the viewer could see better than the commentators.
3. Nonsense: Admittedly, this is a catch-all category for when commentators say something that simply makes no sense. Such a category is unavoidably subjective to a degree, but I counted instances only where a commentator said something truly foolish, rambled incoherently or demonstrated a misunderstanding of a word’s meaning. Many are context-specific. Some examples:
- “I’ll tell you, about this Chiefs offense, we talked about it on the pregame show I did with Bill Cowher. Can they continue on like this without getting the big plays? We can see the potential’s there. And I’ll tell you this, that this offensive line, which is young, youngest in the NFL, all high draft picks, if they get it together, its going to change this football team entirely.”
- “That is huge for Le’Veon Bell, that six-yard gain.” [It was a six-yard gain on first down on the first drive in the first quarter.]
- “A good challenge but maybe not worth the challenge.”
4. Self-References: The inspiration for this category came from an old Dr. Z column in which he correctly points out that announcers should never talk about themselves. So any time an announcer talked about himself during the game, it was counted here. Anecdotes regarding what they ate for lunch, what they ate for dinner, what they ate yesterday (most of them were about food, really) were all counted. Most announcers rarely did this, which was a pleasant surprise.
5. Plays Off: This one is straightforward: If you’re a play-by-play commentator, you have one job. If the whistle blows and you haven’t said a word about the play that just occurred, you took a play off. (This category counted against only the play-by-play commentator, since color commentators bear no responsibility here.)
6. Off Topic: Related to self-references, but these don’t have to be about the announcers themselves. Any topic unrelated to the current football game was counted. Are you talking about the current quarterback’s college days? Fine. Are you talking about the current quarterback’s college roommate who isn’t in this game? Off topic.
After charting all 32 games, I collected 650 data points through these six categories, or 20 infractions per game. Some announcers had fewer. Others had many, many more.