What's the deal with the Troika Tracker? Find out here. In the meantime, enjoy our regular summaries of what makes Paul Maguire, Mike Patrick and Joe Theismann the worst big-time broadcast crew in football.
November 20, 2005
NFL Week 11: Kansas City 45, Houston 10
At the start of any Sunday night game on ESPN, it usually isn't long before one of the analysts says something utterly inane or ridiculously obvious. It almost seems like they are racing to see which one can get there first. In Week 11 of the NFL season, Paul Maguire decisively beat Joe Theismann out of the blocks.
Prior to kickoff between Kansas City and Houston, the camera showed beleaguered Texans head coach Dom Capers. Both play-by-play man Mike Patrick and sideline reporter Suzy Kolber had previously alluded to his uncertain future as the leader of a 1-8 team, but Maguire decided to revisit the subject: "If they win, he stays. If they lose, he goes. It's that simple."
Really? NFL coaches are judged by wins and losses? Poor onfield performance can result in firings? A coach with one victory through nine games might be in trouble at the end of the year? That is astounding.
Ah, but the competition to become the "Buffoon of our Broadcast" (or simply "BOOB") is a marathon, not a sprint. Theismann knows that slow and steady can win the disgrace, and he quickly made up ground with a very succinct approach. On Houston quarterback David Carr's getting sacked 186 times in his career, he offered this commentary: "Ouch." A 23-yard touchdown run by Kansas City's Larry Johnson inspired another one-word observation: "Wow." Rarely has the home viewer had the privilege of such penetrating insight.
Theismann is also the consummate name dropper. Before the midway point of the first quarter, he had already mentioned his recent conversations with Kansas City offensive coordinator Al Saunders, QB Carr and Chiefs head coach Dick Vermeil. He evidently wants you to realize that he puts some work into this, that he actually does some preparation. He only appears to be mailing it in.
Maguire, meanwhile, feels the need to alert you when he is about to impart information. There are several variations on this theme of advance notice, but the full repertoire was on glorious display Sunday night:
"I'll tell ya..."
"I'm gonna tell you something..."
"I'll tell you what..."
"Let me tell you..."
"I'm gonna tell you what..."
Another annoying aspect of the broadcast (and there are many) is Theismann's use of pet names. ESPN colleague Chris Berman was not merely referred to by the common moniker "Boomer," but also "Boom Master," which sounds like a job on a porn set. Theismann also frequently calls Maguire either "Paulie" or "Paolo" as they engage in banter that amuses no one but themselves. When the former Notre Dame and Redskins quarterback is paired with Al Michaels next fall, might we occasionally be treated to an "Alan" or even an "Alberto"? Do stay tuned.
For his part, Maguire giggles like a schoolgirl most of the time, often laughing at his own attempts at humor. The real comedy (or tragedy, depending on your perspective) is that he is sometimes calling a game that exists only in his own mind. Two cases in point:
The situation: After losing a fumble, Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson jawed with an opposing player and then shoved him.
Maguire's analysis: "Johnson just hit somebody in the face again. He went after Benny Sapp and hit him in the mouth."
Reality: Replays clearly showed that Johnson pushed Sapp in the chest.
The situation: On a botched 53-yard field goal attempt, Houston holder Chad Stanley mishandled the snap.
Maguire's analysis: "It hit the holder Stanley in the head. The ball goes out of his hands and hits him right in the head."
Reality: Replays clearly showed that the ball glanced off Stanley's shoulder pads.
Maybe Maguire would be better-suited for radio, where his misstatements can't immediately be refuted by visual evidence. Even when slow-motion replay contradicted what he had said, he didn't retract or amend his statements in either instance.
As the teams returned from intermission, Theismann made a bold prediction: "The Texans will get a dose of Larry Johnson in this half." Let me get this straight: The team with the 31-7 lead will continue giving the ball to the running back who already has over 100 yards rushing?
Sure enough, the Chiefs did feature Johnson prominently in the second half. He finished with a team-record 211 yards on 36 carries. Theismann was like Nostradamus...or maybe that's Notredameus.
So who won Sunday night's BOOB title? With all due respect to Kolber, this is an award for analysis, so her talents take her out of consideration. (She actually offers astute observations and thoughtful commentary.) Plus, the title generally goes to someone in the booth...unless Joe Namath happens to slur his way through an interview.
While the Texans continued strugg-a-ling, victims of a 45-17 beatdown, Theismann and Maguire were in postseason form. They finished their race to disgrace in a virtual dead heat. Fittingly, on this evening, there were two huge BOOBs.
October 16, 2005
NFL Week Six: Seattle 42, Houston 10
Well, weeks of travel by the Chief Angry Troll kept us from the Troika Tracker for quite some time, much to the chagrin of our groupie trolls all across Pigskin America, who littered us with angry e-mails.
"What gives?" asked Ken Hornack, a reporter for the Daytona Beach (Florida) News-Journal, in an e-mail to the CHFF crew, echoing the sentiment, not to mention the linguistic breadth, of our typical reader.
Our anonymous readers were less forgiving: "You're a f*cking moron," read one of these anonymous missives. "If you say you're going to do something, do it." Ahh, our loyal fans. We love you all.
With that said, we've gone above and beyond this week and, after spending Sunday night in agony watching the ESPN Sunday night broadcast crew – three hours which retarded our football knowledge by a good 23 years – we've finally zeroed in on the core of the problem with the Maguire-Patrick-Theismann troika.
It's Maguire. It's goddamn Maguire and his incessant demands that you "watch!" or "look!" at the very same thing being shown to you on the TV screen. Hey, Maguire is a football legend and a gridiron pioneer. He's one of just three men who stuck with the AFL for every year of its existence. We admire his contributions to the game. On the field.
But he sucks in the booth.
By our count, he demanded that we "watch!" or "look!" no fewer than two dozen times during ESPN's Sunday night broadcast of the Houston-Seattle game. Maguire's habit is the verbal equivalent of a newspaper reporter demanding at the beginning of each paragraph that you "read!" or "comprehend!"
The picture is already doing its job. The job of the analyst is to bring context to the picture, and to tell you what factors affected the play that the average sighted fan might not have seen. For example, did the defensive backfield shift one way or another that you can't see on TV? Or was a runner launched into the secondary by a complex blocking scheme that perhaps the average fan, watching only the ball, did not see?
But that's not Maguire's understanding of the job. More often than not, he simply restates what you've seen for yourself.
Seattle's very first series alone gave us all we need to know about Maguire's complete inability to analyze football with anything more than a second-grader's command of the game.
The play: With about 9:30 left in the first quarter, Seattle running back Mack Strong runs for 16 yards on a draw play.
Maguire's analysis: "Look at this draw play!"
The play: It's 4th and 1 and Seattle is going for it.
Maguire's analysis: "It's 4th and 1 and they're going for it!"
The play: Seattle converted on the fourth down, with a 5-yard gain by Shaun Alexander. The Seattle ballcarrier ran right, stopped, faked left, and then ran right.
Maguire's analysis: "Watch how he stops!"
Maguire was in classic form after Alexander picked up the first down. He capped his well-formed flair for the obvious with his penchant for hyperbole by declaring Seattle's offensive line "the best in football."
But we digress ... we'll address more on hyperbole in a future issue of the Troika Tracker. Back to the action in all its analytically repetitive glory.
The play: Seattle's first drive concludes with a touchdown, as Alexander runs over Houston's Marcus Coleman.
Maguire's analysis: "Alexander runs over Marcus Coleman. Watch him!"
Sometimes Maguire mixes it up, blending his demands that you "watch!" or "look!" with rhetorical questions such as "Did you watch?!" or "Did you see?!"
The play: The camera zooms in on Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who runs for 12 yards.
Maguire's analysis: "Did you see Hasselbeck?!" Of course we f'in saw him, Maguire, every f'in camera and 20 million viewers were zeroed in on him!
The play: The camera closes in as Seattle receiver Joe Jureveicius was catching the ball.
Maguire's analysis: "Did you watch Jerevicius when he's catching the ball?!"
No offense to the sight-challenged, but Maguire's commentary helps nobody but the blind. We don't mean that facetiously. He simply restates what's unfolding on TV, as if he thought we were listening to him on the radio or as if we simply couldn't see.
But why does he continue to routinely restate the obvious? We got some insight – comically and unintentionally – during this game.
Patrick: "Paul, did you ever have any major injuries?"
Maguire: "A lot of concussions. Both knees, and a lot of concussions."
Cold, Hard Football Facts: No shit.
Maguire may chime in more often than Theismann, but let's be fair here. Maguire's got nothing on his booth-mate when it comes to restating the obvious.
The play: Early in the second quarter, Houston quarterback David Carr takes off and runs.
Theismann's analysis: "What he did was take off and run!"
Maguire went strangely silent for long stretches of the second quarter. Apparently, his philosophy is: "If you have nothing stupid to say, don't say anything at all."
As evidence, consider Maguire's analysis of Carr as he attempted a pass late in the first half: "Talk about courage! He just stands there and stands there and waits to get it off until the last second."
Sure, maybe you were up getting another beer because your "Go Get Me a Beer Woman!" of a wife finally told you to screw yourself. Hey, it happens. So, maybe you missed this play and, as you heard Maguire's enthusiastic call, you ran back in to see Carr get leveled on the replay as he courageously stood in there and completed a clutch pass attempt.
Well, that's not what happened. Here is what happened. On that same play in which Maguire lauded Carr's courage, nobody so much as laid a finger on him. And, oh yeah, his courageous pass attempt fell woefully incomplete.
Maguire's gift for repeating for viewers what they just watched on the screen continued well into the second half.
The play: On a fake punt by Houston, ball carrier Vernand Morency almost slips and falls.
Maguire's analysis: "He almost slips and falls!"
The play: On the first play of the fourth quarter, Seattle's Alexander runs through a hole that was wide open.
Maguire's analysis: "Look at the hole! It's wide open."
The play: Later in the same drive, it was 2nd and 23, and Seattle ran the ball.
Maguire's analysis: "It was second and 24 (sic), and they ran the ball!"
Then, of course, Maguire tells you to "look" as they show the replay, as if you were going to shut your eyes. Unfortunately, we can't bring ourselves to turn away. Anytime the Maguire-Patrick-Theismann troika is in the booth, it's like a pigskin carwreck that you can't take your eyes off of – a Mack truck called the obvious careening through a red light of decency and crashing into an unsuspecting tour bus filled with analysis and common sense.
We can't look away. But maybe next time we'll just block our ears.
September 11, 2005
NFL Week One: Indy 24, Baltimore 7
Our man in charge of the Troika Tracker OD'd on Buffalo sauce Sunday afternoon and failed to catch all but the final 20 minutes of ESPN's Sunday Night Football broadcast from Baltimore.
You might think this would have inhibited our ability to piece together a decent Troika Tracker for Week One of the NFL season. It did not. The broadcast crew of Maguire, Patrick and Theismann gave us more inexplicable comments and insightless observations in a single quarter of football than some crews do over the course of an entire season. They truly make our job easy.
* Our favorite line of the night came from Maguire late in the third quarter, as he and we at home watched a replay of Baltimore back Chester Taylor's 23-yard run straight up the middle:
"What they did here is run straight up the middle."
Nice analysis, Paul. We're sure your visually impaired viewers appreciated the insight.
* On the final play of the third quarter, the Ravens converted a fourth down while trailing 17-0.
"There's no decision that's going to be made except to go for a touchdown," said Maguire, with an entire quarter yet to play. Baltimore promptly attempted a field goal three plays later. Apparently, Maguire didn't quite understand the difference between trailing 17-0 (when a field goal brings you within two scores)and trailing by 20 or more (when a field goal doesn't do you much good).
* Theismann had a classic later in the quarter:
"(Deion) Sanders is playing nickel back. For those who don't understand the nickel back, he's the guy who usually covers the slot receiver."
We're sure a lot of people found this quite interesting, Joe. But we'd think someone who fails to comprehend the concept of the nickel back might not have a full grasp of the slot receiver position, either. No explanation of slot receiver was forthcoming.
* A few moments after Indy running back Edgerrin James ran in for a 9-yard touchdown to give Indy a 24-0 lead, Maguire offered one of the rare insights that make him one of our favorites:
"James is one of those guys...you better put him on the ground."
Yes, that was the entire sentence. Apparently, James is different than the guys you're NOT supposed to tackle.
* The Cold, Hard Football Facts, of course, must give credit when credit is due. We already pegged James the second best ballcarrier in football heading into this season. But soon after his game-sealing 9-yard score Sunday night, ESPN offered a great graphic that even we found impressive. It compared James to a player we believe is the best of all time, Jim Brown.
Brown averaged 125.5 yards of offense per game (rushing and receiving) over the course of his career (118 games, 14,811 yards). It was a record at the time Brown retired in 1965. James has averaged 126.2 yards offense per game over the course of his 81-game career (81 games, 10,222 yards). We don't care where you're from. That's pretty good company.
* Of course, James' future in Indy remains uncertain. He's the only one of Indy's "Triplets" still looking for a long-term deal. The conventional wisdom is that one of the three must go and that James is the odd man out.
Theismann pointed out that Indy's new stadium deal (the Colts play in the NFL's smallest arena) should allow the Colts to keep the "Triplets" together.
"Indy's going to get a new stadium that will be a revenue producer," said Theismann. "Which means they can afford players like Edgerrin James."
Apparently, Joe forgot about something called the salary cap. The Colts could move their games to the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It's still not going to change the parameters of the cap.
* Indy, of course, went 0-5 in the preseason, which was a source of at least some mild concern among Colts fans. Clearly, the winless string didn't matter as Indy more or less dominated the Ravens, a team that was a preseason favorite among some "pundits" to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
"To me, the preseason means nothing," said Maguire, two weeks after a month of August in which his preseason broadcasts routinely touted the importance of exhibition football.
Aug. 25, 2005
Atlanta 23, Jacksonville 7 (preseason)
* Early in the first quarter, Patrick pointed out that Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick's 56.4 percent completion rate in 2004 was a career best. That's a poor completion rate for any quarterback in the modern NFL, let alone for a career best by a Pro Bowl performer.
But Theismann, as hype-crazed ESPN "pundits" so often do, quickly rushed to the defense of a player who's been criticized by many outside the mainstream media (including the Cold, Hard Football Facts). The criticisms follow the same general tenor: Vick is a brilliant athlete who's out of his element playing NFL QB and should be moved to another position, as often happens with other great and athletic college QBs (Pittsburgh's Antwaan Randle El, who played QB at Indiana, and Jacksonville No. 1 draft pick Matt Jones, who played QB at Arkansas, are two of the most recent examples).
"People who criticize him don't understand that it's about production – passing and running," said Theismann, admonishing us ignoramuses at home who take advantage of our God-given right to look at a stat sheet and box score every now and then.
Well, Joe, we do realize that it's about production. That's why we have a problem with Vick: he produces only in the running game, as his 902 rushing yards last year, a modern QB record, can attest. His 7.3 yards per rushing attempt over the course of his career, meanwhile, put him on pace to shatter the all-time record (6.4 YPC, currenty held by former QB Randall Cunningham).
It's the passing game where Vick woefully underperforms. He passed for just 2,313 yards last year, placing him 26th among the league's QBs. Even part-time performers like Tennessee's Billy Volek (eight starts, 2,486 passing yards), aging warhorses who are now out of football like Vinny Testaverde (3,532 passing yards), and oft-criticized borderline starters like Kyle Boller (2,559 passing yards) were more productive in the passing game than Vick last season. Sh*t, Joe, even Arizona quarterback Josh McCown passed for more yards in 14 games (2,511) last year than Vick did in 15. That's right, people. Josh McCown.
Sixteen NFL QBs – essentially, half the league's starters – generated more yards of total offense than Vick last season. Daunte Culpepper, the league's leader, set an NFL record with 5,123 yards of total offense – nearly 2,000 more than Vick. You're right, Theismann, it is about production. And Vick doesn't produce – especially when you consider his production relative to the undue hype he receives from "pundits" like you.
* Theismann, himself a pretty fair running QB in his day, again praised Vick's athleticism later in the first quarter when he (Vick, not Theismann) took off on a third-down play and raced for the first-down marker. Theismann's effusive praise apparently clouded his ability to see – Vick fell short of the first down and the Falcons were forced to punt. The commentators essentially ignored the announcing gaffe, moving on as if it never happened. We let the memory of it fester like a Civil War battle wound and consumed gross amounts of whiskey to deaden the pain. At least that was our excuse.
* Jacksonville running back Fred Taylor became the object of Maguire's ball-washing best later in the game. Taylor is an incredibly talented back who's been hampered by injuries throughout his career, including last season. But Maguire said the injury label is a "bad rap" because Taylor was only injured "early in his career."
The truth is that Taylor has played just two complete seasons in his seven-year career. He missed seven games in 1999, three in 2000, and 14 in 2001 before missing the final two last year with a knee injury. Taylor's very own team bio on the official Jacksonville Web site says that he missed "24 full games and parts of nine others in his first four NFL seasons." True, Taylor did make 46 consecutive starts from 2002 to 2004, but the injury bug reared its head again when the back was knocked out of the final two games of 2004.
* At the end of the first half, we discovered that Maguire was watching a different game than the rest of us at home. Jacksonville quarterback Byron Leftwich tossed a deep ball into the end zone in an effort to connect with rookie phenom Matt Jones. The ball landed three to four feet beyond the reach of the 6-foot, 6-inch wideout. But not in Maguire's book.
"Matt Jones almost outruns this ball," said Maguire, loosely defining the word "almost." Then, as if we thought it was a simple slip of the tongue – clearly, Jones was nowhere near outrunning a ball that landed well beyond his reach – Maguire hammered home the point enthusiastically: "He almost outruns this ball!"
If it were a radio broadcast and you couldn't see the play unfold, Maguire would have led you to believe that Jones made an incredible TD catch after slowing down to wait for the throw. We cringed in embarrassment for Maguire while his call on this play unfolded, though not quite as badly as we cringed and contorted when Joe Namath asked Suzy Kolber for a kiss on national TV two years ago. 
* The ever-professional Patrick saved the day for Maguire and Theismann. On the very same play in which Leftwich overthrew Jones, the quarterback took a painful-looking shot to the gonads. "They don't have a Hallmark card for this," said Patrick.
They don't have one for insight-less broadcasters either. But maybe they're working on one.