What? Did the former Big Ten Wonk violate his historic rule and talk about announcers today? Actually, I think the historic rule would be better stated like this. Complaining about announcers is dull. Grading announcers can be good. I really miss SI’s Dr. Zimmerman’s grading the NFL guys at the end of the season.
There was actually a great piece on announcers in last week’s Sports Illustrated profiling Al Michaels and Bob Costas. (I still get the paper copy of SI. I know, I’m crazy that way.) The part I liked was a quote from Jim Nantz. He says it is much harder to call a game by staying out of the spotlight, than to take the spotlight. In some ways, people may view this as a knock on Gus Johnson. And I’ll agree that Gus Johnson and Kevin Harlan often impose their voice on the game. But I don’t think tone is critical. You can be a good announcer whether you are vocal or laid-back.
I think the biggest key for any announcers is incredibly simple. They have to react honestly and genuinely. This is why Verne Lundquist and Dick Enberg are so under-rated. They manage to show appropriate and genuine interest and excitement in every game they call.
And this is what gets other people in trouble. There are basically two parts to this. First, you have to care about the game. Over the course of a season, it is hard not to have a game or two where you phone it in, but look at the excitement in the student section. If you can't muster some honest interest in the game's outcome, you shouldn't be calling the game.
Second, you have to hold off on the hyperbole. Does anyone remember when baseball announcer Tony Schiavone used to call wrestling matches for TBS? Every show was the biggest and most exciting show of all-time. Every main event was the biggest main event of all-time. When you try to call something like that, even a fake sport, it wears thin pretty quick. You have to give the fans credit for being smart. They understand what is a key moment and what is not.
And whether you call it calmly like Dick Enberg, “Oh my!” or dramatically like Kevin Harlan “Up-high, down hard”, it only works when you care and when the reaction is real.
Update: By the way, I've already received some mocking for my Tony Schiavone reference. All I can say is this. If you were in a college dorm in the late 90's, there's a good chance you know who he is.