The most interesting and impactful offseason NFL television changes involved CBS, which acquired rights to air the first half of the Thursday night package, tinkered with most of its announcing teams and changed two-fifths of the cast of its studio show.
The NFL Today has become younger and more contemporary by replacing Dan Marino and Shannon Sharpe with Tony Gonzalez and Bart Scott.
But is the show better? That’s not as clear cut.
Marino seldom said anything memorable or particularly insightful. But Sharpe offered a comedic touch, which the show sorely needed, as well as cutting candor. He didn’t deserve to be pushed aside.
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Scott flashed potential on CBS Sports Network’s pre-game show last season, displaying a willingness to criticize without fear of angering players. But he needs to become a lot more concise.
A standout linebacker for the Ravens and Jets, Scott said he “was surprised” to get the job and passed up a chance to resume playing after a year away because “we know how rare these jobs are, Shannon being around 10 years, Dan for 12.”
I spoke for a while with Scott earlier this offseason and was impressed by the depth he displayed in discussing the Dolphins’ bullying scandal, including taking issue with Mike Pouncey’s alleged contention that Jonathan Martin isn’t “black enough.”
Said Scott: “To all the African American players who said Jonathan Martin wasn't black enough, it's totally out of line. Who made them the Martin Luther King or Malcolm X of blackness?
“The same arguments they can say about Jonathan Martin, when they have kids, those are the same things that can be said about their kids [because of their socio-economic status as children of parents with money]. When their kids play, they are going to say they had a silver spoon in their mouth. It's not racism. It’s classism. So Martin is a victim of racism and classism. I feel bad for the kid.”
Scott made a good point on the N-word: “All the words in the world you can use — why do you have to use that one? Pick some other word because that comes with a whole lot of history and baggage.”
Scott said the Dolphins’ immaturity extends to the playing field because “the biggest sign of immaturity is not being able to beat the teams you’re supposed to beat.”
That was a reference to the season-ending losses to Buffalo and the Jets that cost Miami a playoff berth.
All sound points. If Scott can offer this type of analysis on other issues, CBS’ faith in him will prove justified.
As for Marino, he won’t have an NFL presence this season for the first time since he broke in with the Dolphins in 1983. He will spend a lot of time with his family this fall.
CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said the network’s Thursday night package that begins in Week 2 will look somewhat different from its Sunday games, even though Jim Nantz and Phil Simms will be in the booth.
“We’re trying to establish Thursday night as a destination for programming, much like Sunday night and Monday night have become,” McManus told the Miami Herald. “It’s going to look different. From a standpoint of the graphics, the music, the new technology, it’s going to be considerably ramped up with respect to what we do on Sunday afternoon.
“It will feel like a CBS telecast, but it won’t feel like Sunday afternoon. And we’ll have elements of NFL Network in the pregame and game telecasts. Kickoff will be 8:30 p.m. We're coming on the air at 7:30 and do close to an hour pregame show. It’s not unlike our Turner relationship with the NCAA, where we take the cream of the crop from Turner and CBS for the NCAA Tournament.’’
McManus and NFL Network officials settled on a studio cast featuring two CBS personalities (James Brown and Bill Cowher) and one NFL Net analyst who previously worked at CBS before leaving in a contract dispute (Deion Sanders).
The first eight games of CBS’ Thursday package and one December Saturday game will air on CBS and NFL Network. The other eight games will air only on NFL Net, but with CBS producing, and Nantz and Simms announcing. NBC retained the regular-season Thursday opener.
• Because of their strong chemistry and Ian Eagle’s excellence as a play-by-man man, CBS made the sensible move promoting Eagle and Dan
Fouts to its No. 2 team rather than having Fouts work with Greg Gumbel, who loses his spot on the No. 2 team following the departure of Dan Dierdorf.
What seems unjustified is slotting Trent Green (who was mediocre during a short-lived Fox tenure) alongside Gumbel at No. 3, ahead of Rich Gannon, who deserved a move up the depth chart. Gannon will be paired with Kevin Harlan on CBS’ No. 4 team, with Spero Dedes joining Solomon Wilcots on the fifth team.