Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

Babble in the Booth

And now, sports fans, the received wisdom of the ages: "Three announcers in a sports booth is one too many."

One announcer is a call. Two is a discussion. Three is a crowd.

But networks persist in trying it. Now, on Monday Night Football, ESPN has Tirico, Kornheiser and Jaworski. It sounds like a Democratic machine ticket from the 1950s for mayor, president of the city council and comptroller. They're each, all three, by themselves, quite fine at what they do. They seem to know their football — especially Jaworski, who lets you know he knows his football. They also seem to have chemistry, which is supposed to mean a lot.

Unfortunately, three voices in a booth usually all sound the same, especially when then never stop. It's just babblebabblebabble ... four-man-front ... babble-babble ... third-down-percentage ... babblebabblebabble ... check-off-red-zone ... babble babble.

If you're going to have three guys, they can't all sound the same. Be honest. When you listen to the three tenors, can you really tell which one is Domingo and which one is Carreras and which one is Pavarotti (God rest his soul)? Do you really know which one is singing "O Sole Mio" or which one is singing "Come Back to Sorrento"? Be honest. You don't.

The only time three-in-a-booth worked was when Howard Cosell was on Monday Night Football or when Al McGuire was on college basketball. Because Cosell and McGuire were sui generis. In fact, Howard would have called himself sui generis. Howard told me once that no matter how powerful television might be, one authentic radio voice can possess even more authority. In a fit of modesty, he said he had only the second most distinctive voice in radio. Paul Harvey, he said, was No. 1.

Fair enough. But if you don't have a Cosell or a Paul Harvey or an Al McGuire, please, stick to two in a booth, as NBC does on Sunday Night Football, with Al Michaels and John Madden. That is so much better. There are actual moments of silence. You can even tell them apart.

So, on Monday Night Football, I love it when the sideline announcers are allowed on stage for their brief interregnum. Sideline announcers are sports television's feeble way of acknowledging that women can now be let out of the kitchen. Never up in the booth, of course. Just down on the sideline.

But I love sideline announcers myself. Not because they are women, but because they have women's voices. I finally come to life when I hear a sideline announcer on Monday Night Football because at last I can hear someone distinctly. I'm like a dog who can suddenly hear a shrill sound no human being can.

It is babblebabblebabble ... both-feet-were-inbounds ... babblebabblebabble ... safety-blitz ... babblebabble ... and then, at last, the softer, most distinct babblebabblebabble ... concussion-team-trainer ... babblebabble ... turf-toe-gone-to-the-locker-room ... babblebabble ... half-time-pep-talk.

But then it is back up to the three guys in the booth and it all runs together again, one big endless bloviation blur. Of course, as any of you who turns on ESPN knows, the E stands for excess.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford