We’re a society that loves lists. ”Who are the most desirable woman alive?” “What are the most Ridiculous Toys Ever Made?” As if these lists could somehow give us a definitiveindex on where everyone stands on these pressing issues.
While these lists can be fun to read, and provide fodder for discussion, they all too often fail to address the crucial element of subjectivity.
Here’s a countdown of the top 25 football announcers, whether play-by-play or analyst, according to Sporting News and the Sports Business Journal. They list Gary Danielson number one, citing his ability to tell us what is happening “before we see it” and cites his great knowledge of the game. While it may be true that Danielson knows much about football, this list fails to take into consideration other crucial factors that make a good announcer. Things like “Does this guy make me want to staple my ears shut every weekend?” “Does this guy make more than 3 original observations per game, or does he hammer home the same handful of talking points for 4 straight hours?” “Has he ever pointed out something I didn’t already realize, or was about to realize in a few seconds anyway?”
This is why such lists are stupid. Why try to categorize something that is entirely subjective? Who cares that Gary Danielsen knows a lot about football? That shouldn’t make him qualified to tell me about it, right?
The main criteria by which an on-air commentator should be judged is what I call the Wake-Up Test. If I had to have this guy follow me for an entire day, from the time I wake up, to the time I go to sleep, narrating and breaking down the day’s action as it comes, how long could I take it before wanting to change the channel (Read: bludgeon) on him? If we removed these ex-jocks and motor mouths from the booth, and inserted them into real life situations, how would they hold up? Do they possess the basic communication skills to present information as it comes in a manner that is both pleasing to my ear and not overly annoying?
For instance, if Gary Danielson were by my bed tomorrow morning and were to start speaking the second my alarm first rings, he wouldn’t last past the first snooze cycle.
“I’m not so sure if this alarm is the one that’s gonna wake him up, Verne, I know it looks like he’s going for the wake-up, but it’s a fake! I’ve watched the tape of his previous mornings, and he’s had a tendency to hit snooze a couple times. Watch him hit snooze here, I bet he hits snooze, I’m not so sure if he’s not gonna hit snooze here, Verne! It’s a fake Verne, he’s gonna hit snooze, watch. Here. Watch. Watch for the snooze press, did you see him press snooze….Riiiiight, there! Pause it. Pause it right there! He hits snooze! Did you see that, Verne? You see him hit snooze?” (As I go back to sleep, Verne Lundquist scoffs incredulously at Gary’s brilliant ability to predict the future.)
If I held ESPN college basketball “analyst” (and I use this term loosely, like, as loose as my pants would be if I borrowed a pair from Shaq) Dick Vitale up to the Wake-Up Test, he might get past my alarm clock, my eating of cereal and maybe even my drinking of copious amounts of coffee, but around the time of my morning poop, he’d be out.
“NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL A DIAPER DANDY BABY! THAT SHIT WAS AWESOME WITH A CAPIT–Aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh my face! I’ve been stabbed! I NEED A MEDIC, BABY! OR A POEM BY J.J. REDICK, BABY!”
Yeah, no thanks to Dicky V.
Jon Gruden of Monday Night Football would almost last an entire day, before his overly enthusiastic praise of even the most menial tasks would begin to grate on me.
“Guys, I tell you what. This guy is really SOMETHIN’ you know that? This guy sets up his DVR list, like NOBODY ELSE on a COUCH right now! Are you KIDDIN’ ME? It’s an absolute PRIVILEGE to watch this guy operate the clicker on a daily basis!”
Thanks for the kind words Gruden, but you’d say that about anyone. You can’t open your mouth without verbally fellating whoever’s in front of you.
If it ever actually came down to putting The Wake-Up Test to practice, the only choiceany self-respecting sports fan could make is CBS’s Gus Johnson. You may know Gus as the Man Who Yells A Lot, but he’s also the guy who should be the top choice for all NFL and college basketball games. (The reason he’s not? Network execs have no idea what fans actually want.) Gus makes everything that happens slightly more awesome. He’s there to serve, not to pander. He doesn’t point out things you already know, he doesn’t pretend he’s doing a radio broadcast and over narrate the action, (“Point guard passes to the post, Center posts up, he dribbles, dribbles, dribbles, he’s still dribbling. He passes back out to the guard, dribbles, dribbles…still dribbling, he almost passes it to another guy…still dribbling, some other guys run around, he almost passes it again, he shoots, he scores! 2 points on the board”) and, most importantly, he makes you feel like he’s excited to be there, probably because he is legitimately excited to be there.
Could you imagine Gus narrating even the most nerve-wracking elements of your everyday life? Here’d be Gus as you navigate rush-hour traffic on I-285:
“The exit is approaching fast, he MUST GET OVER soon…. There are dozens of cars in the adjacent lane, but he needs to get over and find that on-ramp…. He’s checking his rear-view, he starts to accelerate and turns the wheel, and this is it! 1 MILE TO GO! … He’s been awesome. He hits his blink-KEEEEEEEERRR…… Gets it, OOOOAAAAAHHHHHHHH! * Aaaand we’re, goin’ ta Dunwoody! Ha-Hahhhh! RUSH HOUR TRAFFIC! This… Is… The correct exit!”*
The same list that named Gary Danielson football’s best broadcaster listed Gus at 24. The aforementioned Verne Lundquist, who is about 30 years past his prime, checks in at number 8. It’s almost like they made the list in reverse order. There is no way Gary n’ Verne could ever beat out Gus Johnson in a Best Announcers list if we include the Wake-Up Test in our criteria. There’s just no possible way. Which is why such lists are stupid. Why should we care if a guy is an “expert” on the sport if he fails to make us not hate him while doing it? The ability to not come across as a smug, self-important, blowhard should count for something, right? Gus Johnson, ladies and gentlemen, is the best commentator in sports right now. He would easily pass the Wake-Up Test, and I’d beg him to be back the next morning.
* This is Gus’s trademark yelp. The only correct way to spell it is however the fuck you want. Johnson’s greatest attribute is his ability to go from audible to inaudible in less than a second.
* I followed the blueprint from Johnson’s legendary call on this play from the 2006 NCAA Tournament. I resisted the urge to go with this classic Gusism because it was just too easy.