The League


Week 6: Harlan and Gannon

Late in the telecast of the Saints' 34-3 home victory over the Raiders on Sunday, CBS color commentator Rich Gannon drew a comparison between New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees - who was having yet another great game - and now-retired NFL quarterback Daunte Culpepper.

Both quarterbacks suffered serious injuries in 2005 and went to noted sports surgeon James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., for surgery before the 2006 season. Brees rehabbed in Birmingham for weeks, Gannon said, while Culpepper didn't hang around long.

"He's made some bad decisions, Daunte Culpepper, and that was one of them" Gannon said. "That was a mistake and it came back to haunt him."

Strong stuff from Gannon -- it's pretty rare to hear out-and-out criticism of an NFL player on game telecasts. And if his comments seem off-topic, remember that this game was never close.

But it also led this viewer to wonder why Gannon couldn't be this compelling throughout the game.

Let's break it down, as we rewind the tape on at Gannon and play-by-play man Kevin Harlan in this week's Playback.

Who Are These Guys?

Harlan has done NFL play-by-play on network TV for 14 seasons, with Fox from 1994 through 1997, and with CBS since 1998.

His broadcasting career dates from his first job, as the as the radio and television voice of the NBA's Kansas City Kings, in 1982-93. He also calls NCAA basketball for CBS, and has done NBA playoff work for Turner Broadcasting since 1996. He has worked locally for the NFL Chiefs and the NBA Timberwolves, and even called the Goodwill Games in 1998.

So the guy's a pro.

Gannon, meantime, turned a record-setting college quarterbacking career at Delaware into 18 NFL seasons, retiring after 2004. He blossomed late, having his best years after moving to the Raiders in 1999. The pinnacle was 2002 -- he was named league MVP and led the Raiders to Super Bowl XXXVII.

This is Gannon's fourth season as an NFL color man for CBS.

Where Is That Guy?

If you like a lot of buildup for an NFL game, this telecast was not for you. No fanfare or elaborate storylines beforehand; Harlan just dove into describing the action and naming the personnel at kickoff. Heck, for 20 seconds or so, I was wondering if CBS had assigned a color man to the game. But a play or two in, Harlan relented and Gannon spoke up.

Story of the Game -- Their Version

Harlan and Gannon made a few early points that sounded like they might be themes for the games:

1) Tom Cable, in his first game as the Raiders head coach, had gotten his coaching start on the same college staff as Saints Coach Sean Payton.

2) Oakland's wide receivers stink. Going into the game, no Raider wide receiver had more than five receptions, and tight end Zach Miller led the team with 11 catches.

3) Balance. See below.

Story of the Game -- Reality

There wasn't much competition in this matchup. The obvious talking points afterward were:

1) The Raiders got rid of coach Lane Kiffin after a Week 4 loss to San Diego, but the team did not seem to get much bounce out of the new guy. Contrast that to St. Louis, where new coach Jim Haslett seemed to get the Rams to improve, or at least play harder, in an upset win over the Redskins.

2) Drew Brees is really good. He finished the game 26 of 30 for 320 yards and three touchdowns.

By the time the game ended, Harlan and Gannon had given viewers plenty of information on Brees. But they didn't touch Cable and the Raiders.

So Smooth

The best thing about this telecast was Harlan, hands-down. Listening to his info-packed play calls and smooth transitions to and from commentary and commercials was more fun than 75 percent of the game, in fact.

If you want to know who's on the field for a given play, Harlan's your man. He notes the composition of nickel defense packages and four-receiver offensive sets better than just about any play-by-play man I have heard.

But more important, Harlan is eloquent and knows that less is more in the booth. Examples:

His call of a Sebastian Janikowski 57-yard field-goal try field goal: "Nope .... Wide left."

He called penalties "self-inflicted wounds."

His call of a Shane Lechler punt to Reggie Bush: "Not very high ... not very long ... here comes Bush."

Going to commercial after the Saints made it 24-3 in the third quarter: "two plays, 17 yards, and just like that the Saints have blown this one open in the Superdome."

Fair and Balanced

On the Saints' first drive, Gannon said New Orleans is "striving for more balance offensively," since the team is ranked No. 1 in passing yards and No. 29 in rushing yards.

Then, on the Raiders' first drive, he said, "they are striving to get more balance offensively." Oakland coaches think they have been running too much on early downs, he said.

Network broadcasters meet with NFL players and coaches before every game they work. Why do I think every coach tells the announcers that their offense needs to be more balanced? Does it really tell us anything we don't know?

Obvious Patrol

After the Raiders converted a third and 8 early on, Gannon said: "This is going to be a very critical down in this football game, third down."

When the Saints faced a second-and-26, Gannon said: "When he looks at his play sheet, Sean Payton doesn't have a lot of plays for second and 26."

Verbal Tics

Two annoying devices both broadcasters kept coming back to:

Gannon: "That's what I like about ..." or "That's what's great about ..." Used over and over again.

Harlan: The common -- but still annoying -- practice of referring to an injury simply by naming the injured body part. "He's out with a groin," or "He has a knee." How did this become acceptable TV shorthand?


Gannon on Brees: "He's a system guy. He understands where people are going to be, and he trusts his feet." (I am hoping he said "He trusts his reads," but I listened to it three times and swear he said "feet.")

Gannon, following up Harlan's observation that Cable had made an interesting decision in trying a 57-yard field goal late in the first half: "It's really a double-edged sword. Now the Saints get the ball back, Drew Brees with all his timeouts and a short field."

Sounds like a single-edged sword to me ... with the sharp part facing the Raiders.

Euphemism of the Game

Harlan, explaining why a player was doubled over in pain after a pass bounced off his midsection: "I'll tell you where that hit him. It didn't hit him in the stomach. South of the Mason-Dixon Line."

Rich Loves Jamarcus

Gannon cut Raiders quarterback Jamarcus Russell too much slack throughout the game.

On the Raiders first drive, after Gannon handed out a deserved compliment to Russell for his use of play-action, the quarterback ran play-action again, helping to get Miller open -- really open -- down the middle. A good pass likely gives the Raiders a touchdown, but Russell was way off target. Gannon said nothing.

After Russell was a shaky 6 for 15 for 83 yards in the first half, Gannon said "His numbers aren't great, but I thought he looked sharp. He made some good decisions, he's taken care of the ball and he's a tough guy to sack."

After Russell missed a few more passes in the second half - yes, some were drops, but others were not thrown with much touch - Gannon said "Not a lot of production from Raiders receivers today." Russell was 7 for 21 for 91 yards at the time.

Rich Reflects

Late in the game, Gannon did something he should do more often - use memories from his actual experience as an NFL quarterback to elucidate a point. When Brees completed another nice pass, Gannon said: "I hope Jamarcus Russell in between series is watching the guy on the other side, Drew Brees. He is the perfect guy to pattern yourself after - he is the real deal."

Harlan: "Did you do that as a young quarterback?"

Gannon: "Always. I watched all these guys. Favre, Manning, Brady. I watched them to find out what they were doing and why they were so successful."

Ignoring the fact that Gannon was not a young quarterback when any of those three quarterbacks debuted in the NFL, it was a good moment -- one of the few times a viewer would think, "Oh yeah, Rich Gannon was a pretty good NFL quarterback. He knows what he's talking about."

Let's hear more of that, Rich.

By Jon DeNunzio  |  October 16, 2008; 12:40 PM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Week 4: Chris Myers Fills In | Next: Week 7: Eagle, Wilcots and Week 6

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