Oh My! Enberg (and Cross) Still Get It Done
Be honest: If somebody had asked you back in August if you thought you'd be watching the Tennessee Titans' game at the Jacksonville Jaguars in three months, you would said "only if I need to nap that afternoon." Outside of Nashville and a very confined stretch of Interstate 95 in northeast Florida, who really gave this matchup any thought?
Well, the Titans, while lacking the constant adoration of national television, are undefeated. Really. And so Sunday's contest in the facility formerly known as the Gator Bowl and Alltel Stadium actually mattered.
Not a bad game, either. Here's how CBS's broadcast team of Dick Enberg and Randy Cross brought it to the home viewer:
Who Are These Guys?
Enberg's first shot at the big time came on Jan. 20, 1968, when the 33-year-old Michigan native called the Houston-UCLA men's basketball game in the Astrodome. By modern standards, that doesn't sound like a revolutionary, life-altering assignment. But when a syndicator known as TVS took on that project, the contest between Lew Alcindor and Elvin Hayes became the first regular season college basketball game to be shown on live national TV. It was to college hoops what the Colts-Giants title game a decade earlier had been to the NFL. (In 1969, the NCAA allowed the first live broadcast of the national championship game.)
And it wasn't the first of Enberg's firsts. While a student at Indiana University, he did the inaugural radio broadcast of the Little 500, the cycling race that inspired the movie "Breaking Away."
He later served as play-by-play guy on eight Super Bowls. For years, he was NBC's lead announcer - often alongside color man Merlin Olsen - on NFL games.
Fun Enberg factoid: He was a professor and the baseball coach at what is now Cal State-Northridge from 1961 to '65. We presume Enberg's teams didn't play Matador Defense even though the school's athletics teams are known as the Matadors.
Cross was the center on the San Francisco 49ers' dynasty, which won three Super Bowls in the 1980s. The final game of his 13-year career was Super Bowl XXIII, in which the Niners beat Cincinnati. Enberg was the play-by-play man that day.
Cross went to the broadcasting booth and has worked for CBS and NBC as a game analyst and studio commentator since the 1989 season.
Culturally speaking, he is best known for his performance in a Lite Beer from Miller commercial in which he goes unrecognized in a bar until he bends over to pick something up. Only when patrons see him in his longtime professional stance do they figure out his identity.
Enberg took the first week of the NFL season off but has worked with Cross every week since. This was their third game in Jacksonville and their fourth involving the Jaguars in the past nine weeks. For three games in October, the two were joined by another former Miller Lite pitchman, Dan Fouts.
Story of the Game: Their Version
Early on, Enberg and Cross said this was likely to be a low-scoring, tense affair matching two stingy defenses and two quarterbacks who seldom make mistakes.
Story of the Game: In Reality
The analysis proved correct. The Titans' constant pressure on Jacksonville QB David Garrard turned out to be the difference. A late interception sealed it.
Was He In Bounds? Guess So ...
The biggest of them came with about five minutes left and the Titans up 17-14. The CBS crew didn't give it appropriate attention.
Garrard, hit while throwing, popped up a deep ball along the right sideline. Chris Carr of the Titans made a leaping catch that required great dexterity. But was it an interception? The officials said so. Replay suggested Carr's left foot was at least extremely close to the sideline. I replayed the thing via the magnificence of the DVR and thought Carr was on the line. I don't have HD, but the referee's sideline peep-show booth does.
Here's the important thing: Jaguars Coach Jack Del Rio was trailing in the final minutes of the game, and to the vast majority of the viewing public, there was considerable doubt about a vital call. When he didn't appeal the on-field ruling, the Titans got possession and quickly ran a play, foreclosing any opportunity to challenge.
As a viewer, I wanted to know why Del Rio didn't do anything. Did he have a challenge left? If not, tell me that. Did the HD screens in the press box - and by extension, the coaches' booth - indicate the call was clearly correct? Did Del Rio know that?
Furthermore, a replay suggested at least the possibility that Garrard was hit - unintentionally - in the head by Albert Haynesworth on the play. If he was, shouldn't the officials have flagged the Titans 15 yards and wiped out the interception?
Enberg and Cross didn't raise that point. They didn't have time to do it immediately because the action resumed so quickly, but why not a bit later?
A few plays after the interception, Kerry Collins found Justin Gage for another TD. That made it a 10-point game and ended any lingering doubt about the outcome.
Real Insight From Cross
Cross made several solid points throughout the game. The best of them was to question the Jaguars' repeated decision to throw in the direction of the highly acclaimed Cortland Finnegan rather than Tennessee's opposite cornerback, Reynaldo Hill, who has started only twice in the past two seasons.
"Am I missing something here?" Cross asked. "You've got one guy who's a sure-fire Pro Bowler and another guy who's 10 yards off the line and inexperienced. Go after the guy who's inexperienced."
Cross didn't fill the air with declarations of the obvious, and he didn't commit the more egregious sin of jargon-spewing.
But No One Mentioned ...
One element of this game was overlooked. Perhaps constrained by CBS's relationship with the NFL, Enberg and Cross failed to mention the Jaguars' lame attendance history. With an unbeaten opponent and divisional rival in town, the team still felt compelled to cover up four sections of upper-deck seats in order to prevent a local TV blackout from being imposed. (At least that's the way it looked on TV.) If there's another reason why four sections of seats were covered and unfilled, I'd like to know what it is.
If my suspicions are correct - the Jags failed to sell out three of their eight home games in 2007 while making the playoffs - I want to know that, too. (The problem, I suspect, is not the economy but the market, which is smaller than Grand Rapids, Mich., and Harrisburg, Pa., among others.)
Cross was most eloquent when he eviscerated Jaguars free safety Reggie Nelson for failing to bring down Gage, who ran for a good chunk of what became a 56-yard touchdown pass play in the third quarter.
"I won't insult anybody by calling this an attempted tackle," Cross said. "It's an attempted grab. Come on. Hit him. That was weak."
And Enberg, who can still call a game with the best, had no problem delivering his signature - and obligatory -- declarations of "Oh my!"
Enberg, had considerable trouble identifying Titans cornerback Eric King, a fourth-year pro from Baltimore who twice earned all-ACC honors at Wake Forest. Enberg referred to Eric King as "Larry King" and "Eric Hill" during the contest. If Larry King was really out there for the Titans, Enberg would have had quite a scoop. (King really was a radio analyst for the Miami Dolphins during their perfect season of 1972, but it's unlikely that the talk-show host, who turns 75 today, can really play the Cover Two.)
All in all, solid work by a veteran pair. They didn't inundate the viewer with hyperactive football talk and did a good job of providing context to the Titans' perfect record without hammering the point repeatedly. I really liked Cross's willingness to speak his mind, which is why I was surprised that the Carr interception passed without comment.
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