Starting with 'NFL Today,' CBS did a lot better than the Ravens on Sunday

From Tony Gonzalez and Bart Scott to Solomon Wilcots, lots of energy, few mistakes

September 07, 2014|By David Zurawik | The Baltimore Sun

I have to admit I was not overjoyed at the thought of spending the Ravens’ season opener with the fourth-string CBS broadcasting team of Spero Dedes and Solomon Wilcots.

But I only wish now that the Ravens had done as well Sunday as Wilcots, Dedes and CBS Sports did. While the Ravens lost 23-16 to the Cincinnati Bengals thanks to too many mistakes to even keep track of, CBS Sports had a solid opener from its revamped pre-game show with Bart Scott and Tony Gonzalez to the game coverage from M&T Bank Stadium.

Let’s start with the pre-game show — our first good look at the studio team after the long-overdue sacking of Dan Marino and Shannon Sharpe.

Energy, energy, energy — that’s what Gonzalez and Scott bring to the broadcast, particularly Gonzalez who is sitting in Marino’s old chair. When it comes to live TV, energy is everything. I’ll forgive a million sins for energy.

As much as I didn’t like Marino last year, I didn’t realize what a low-energy, self-entitled, I-deserve-a-TV-job-for-life presence he had become on that set. Really, compared to Gonzalez, he sat there like a toad, sucking the energy out of the room.

Marino was a major factor in making “The NFL Today” feel old, slow and smug. On its worst Sundays, it felt like a banquet of over-the-hill athletes waving around their clunky-looking, oversized rings and saying how much better the game was when they played.

There’s none of that with Gonzalez and Scott. And Gonzalez isn’t only about the energy. As animated as he is in his opinions, his delivery is super-smooth.

I like Mike Carey, the retired referee CBS also added this year to explain rules and controversial calls. And I think Carey is going to be good. But when he spoke Sunday during “The NFL Today,” you could practically see him editing his words in his mind before he spoke. It’s as if there was a one-second delay between brain and lips. A lot of smart and thoughtful people who are new to TV have that problem — before the consultants help them get past it.

But not Gonzalez; he looked like he had been doing live TV forever.

Ray Lewis received some favorable reviews when he debuted as an analyst on ESPN last year. But, believe me, Lewis was nowhere nearly as impressive in his debut as Gonzalez. The camera loves this guy, and he loves being in front of it. Lewis thinks the camera loves him, but it also shows how over-the-top and off-the-wall he can get when he goes all motivational-speaker-meets-messiah.

The banter between Gonzalez and Bill Cowher Sunday almost made me start to like Cowher — almost, until the former Pittsburgh Steelers coach started loving on the Steelers again in his analysis of the AFC.

Cowher did have one of the best quips I’ve ever heard from him during an exchange with Gonzalez after the former Atlanta Falcons tight end picked his old team as a franchise to watch this year.

“Yeah, they got a lot faster at tight end,” Cowher cracked, referencing the younger and quicker replacement for the retired Gonzalez.

As for Scott, he brings intensity to the set as well. But he struggled to find a rhythm for his comments, and he does not have the on-air ease of Gonzalez yet.

Outside of Gonzalez, the biggest winner in my book Sunday was Wilcots, as analyst on the Ravens game. I have never heard him bring it like he did Sunday. Nor can I remember him delivering as gaffe-free a broadcast.

His worst moment came late in the game when he and Dedes were talking about problems with Torrey Smith’s performance — only to be interrupted by Smith making a very good catch over the middle.

But that’s not some big mistake. And what they were saying about Smith was absolutely correct up to that point — just bad luck that the receiver made his best play of the day at that moment. It happens to every analyst now and then.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it was a great broadcast. The lack of replays was driving me a little crazy at one point.

I mean, come on, quit showing me shots of coaches on the sidelines when I should be seeing replays. Is it lack of equipment — or lack of dexterity in the control room?

And we really could have used a sideline reporter, though I get the economics of not having one with your fourth-string broadcast team.

Viewers will see a sideline reporter later this week when CBS unveils its “Thursday Night Football” primetime coverage of the Ravens and Steelers. I am really looking forward to that.

On the other hand, how could I not be looking forward to “Thursday Night Football” with all the ads and promotions I saw for it Sunday?

Hey, did you know “Big Bang Theory” is moving to Monday on Sept. 22?

You might have a missed a replay or two, but I’ll bet you didn’t miss that message.

Welcome back to NFL Sunday football in the world of television.

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