My Take on the Top 25 Football Announcers

by Ken Fang on November 19, 2009

Lists by publications are made to stir debate and also give them a bit of publicity. The list that was published today by The Sporting News and sister publication Sports Business Daily/Sports Business Journal certainly does that. Already, I’m a bit perturbed that college and NFL announcers are mixed together as are play-by-play callers and analysts.

If it were up to me, I would separate the play-by-play men from the analysts. But that’s me. Just for kicks, here’s the list in full.

1. Gary Danielson, CBS
2. Cris Collinsworth, NBC
3. Al Michaels, NBC
4. Phil Simms, CBS
5. Kirk Herbstreit, ABC/ESPN
6. Troy Aikman, FOX
7. Ron Franklin, ABC/ESPN
8. Verne Lundquist, CBS
9. Joe Buck, FOX
10. Jim Nantz, CBS
11. Mike Tirico, ESPN
12. Brad Nessler, ESPN
13. Brent Musburger, ABC/ESPN
14. Jon Gruden, ESPN
15. Daryl Johnston, FOX
16. Ron Jaworski, ESPN
17. Greg Gumbel, CBS
18. Sean McDonough, ABC/ESPN
19. Todd Blackledge, ESPN
20. Dan Fouts, CBS

21. Bob Papa, NFL Network
22. Mike Patrick, ABC/ESPN
23. Chris Fowler, ESPN
24. Gus Johnson, CBS

25. Dick Enberg, CBS

I’m not enamored with this list. I’ll separate play-by-play and analysts and go from there.

Play-by-play and this includes college football and NFL.

1. Al Michaels – NBC’s Sunday Night Football
Probably the best all-around play-by-play voice ever. He’s called so many big games and rises to the occasion whenever there’s a big moment. Al does a tremendous job in doing football and yes, he does the wink-wink with the point spread, but there’s no one better at setting the scene, giving perspective and breaking down complicated moments than Al. Tops at play-by-play hands down.

2. Ron Franklin – ESPN College Football
Being forced out by ESPN after the college basketball season. Very classy. After Keith Jackson, one of the best ever to call college football. He’s a great fit at games. Why ESPN took him off the primetime package of games is beyond me. Ron is a very comfortable fit in the booth whether he’s calling the Big 12, SEC or other big conferences. ESPN is mistreating Ron this season.

3. Verne Lundquist – SEC on CBS
Calls a very good game. One of the announcer who just exudes college football. He wasn’t happy when CBS took him off the NFL after the 1998 season, but then he started on a tremendous run calling the SEC and he’s become quite comfortable calling the games. Whenever there’s a big game in the SEC, Verne is there and he’s very smooth. Love him and Gary Danielson.

4. Sean McDonough – ESPN/ABC College Football
One of my favorite announcers, his best sport is baseball, but he’s very good at college football and is unfortunately partnered with one of the worst analysts, Matt Millen. Sean is not afraid to call out bad plays and he’s also very good in spotting trends. Works extremely well with his partners to draw out the best analysis. Unfortunately, Millen’s credibility is shot.

5. Jim Nantz – NFL on CBS
He doesn’t scream. Jim gives the nuts and bolts of a game quite well. Has grown into a very good play-by-play man. He works well with Phil Simms. Jim won’t raise the decibel level on your TV. He’ll just provide you with the facts which is what you want.

6. Ian Eagle – NFL on CBS
He’s not on the list, but he should be. And he’s becoming a very good all-around announcer, calling the NFL, the NBA, college basketball and tennis. CBS would do everyone a favor in promoting him to the 3rd or 4th announcing team next season.

7. Dick Enberg – NFL on CBS
Dick has slipped over the past few seasons. One of the announcing elite, but he has made mistakes and miscalls. Still is better than many younger announcers.

8. Tom Hammond – Notre Dame Football on NBC
I think NFL Network should have hired Tom to replace Bryant Gumbel last season. He calls Notre Dame football quite well on NBC and only calls one NFL game a year, the Wild Card playoff game for the Peacocks. I’m glad he got to call 8 Notre Dames this season. He should have a full slate of games.

9. Sam Rosen – NFL on Fox
Sam is a very good nuts and bolts guy. He’s also a very good NHL announcer calling the New York Rangers on MSG Network. He’s always there with down and distance, who made the tackle and sets the scene very nicely. Sam should get more recognition for his work.

10. Gus Johnson – NFL on CBS
Yes, Gus yells. Yes, Gus screams. But yes, Gus can give you a signature call that gives the fan the exclamation point and proper perspective. The best case in point was during the Denver-Cincinnati game in Week 1. Tremendous stuff.

11. Mike Patrick – ESPN/ABC College Football
ESPN took Mike off the NFL when it lost the Sunday Night package and gained Monday Night Football. I thought Mike, Paul Maguire and Joe Theismann were perfect on SNF and should have remained the team for MNF, but what do I know? Mike is quite solid on college football. There are times when I wonder what hair color Mike is going to be from week to week, but that’s minor. He does get a tad too excited, but he’s very good.

12. Brad Nessler – ESPN/ABC College Football
There was a time I didn’t like Brad, but he’s grown on me. I can see Brad becoming a main guy for college football once Brent Musburger decides to retire from announcing. I like his style. He’s not forceful. His style is perfect for college football. I do hope to see him on some bigger games down the road.

13. Kenny Albert – NFL on Fox
A second generation announcer, Kenny has risen to the “B” team for Fox Sports. He’s been with Fox since the network got the NFL package in 1994 and he’s been a very good fit at the network. Another hockey guy who can call the NFL very well. I would take Kenny over Joe Buck any day.

14. Bob Papa – NFL Network
Bob does a great job calling the New York Giants on radio and does a very good job doing the games for NFL Network. Sometimes, the Thursday Night games are stinkers, but no fault to Bob as he doesn’t schedule the games. Bob is another guy who does multiple sports, NFL, boxing, basketball and does all of them well. He lets the action come to him and does a very good job in spotting trends. I’m hoping to see him get more games down the road.

15. Greg Gumbel – NFL on CBS
Greg was the #1 guy on the NFL on CBS and I liked he and Phil Simms. For some reason, CBS took him off, put him on the NFL Today for two seasons, then placed him on the #2 team with Dan Dierdorf. Greg is another guy who won’t go over the top. A very good nuts and bolts announcer and will give you the straight facts. Very good announcer.

16. Dave Sims – Westwood One Radio
Dave is one of the best announcers on radio, bar none. There was a time when he was so busy, you would see him doing Big East football on ESPN Regional TV, hear him doing the NFL on Westwood One Radio, basketball on ESPN and then perhaps a radio talk show guest spot. He calls Sunday Night Football on Westwood One and is a great listen. Calls the game well, spots the players, gives down and distance and is our eyes when we have to hear the radio call. Very good play-by-play man.

You may notice I’ve omitted Joe Buck who I think is horrible on the NFL. I’ve also left off Brent Musburger who I don’t think is a top notch college football announcer. He was a better host and is a better at doing college basketball, but I don’t think he belongs in the upper echelon of that sport either. Again, you can debate away.

Now to the analysts.

1. Phil Simms – NFL on CBS
I enjoy listening to Phil. He’s not afraid to admit he’s wrong. He studies tape every week and can spot things in the booth that other analysts cannot. I enjoy listening to his analysis whenever he calls a game.

2. Gary Danielson – SEC on CBS
I’ll agree that he’s the best college football analyst in the game today. He’s become an ardent apologist for the SEC which I find strange, but overall, Gary is an analyst who can spot a play before it happens. Very enjoyable listen. He and Verne Lundquist have become one of the best announcing teams on TV today.

3. Todd Blackledge – ESPN/ABC College Football
Todd and Gary traded positions a few seasons back. Remember Todd was teamed with Verne in the early aughts? He then left CBS to return to ESPN and then CBS hired Gary away from ESPN. Anyway, Todd has become a premier analyst in college football. Working with Brad Nessler, he’s an analyst who does a very good job in the booth. And his features finding great eating establishments in each town he visits have become must see TV.

4. Cris Collinsworth – NBC’s Sunday Night Football
There are times when Cris makes me scratch my head, but overall, he’s a quite good. When he did Thursday Night Football on NFL Network, he had to carry Bryant Gumbel for two seasons and that wasn’t easy. Cris is so good that he could be a studio analyst or a game analyst and for three seasons was both! It’s not easy to replace John Madden, but after 10 weeks of the NFL season, Cris has made the transition quite nicely.

5. Pat Haden – Notre Dame Football on NBC
It’s too bad that Notre Dame has fallen off the nation’s radar because Pat Haden would be considered one of the elite analysts. Pat used to be the top college football analyst for CBS and also did Sunday Night Football games on CBS Radio. Did them both well. Pat is also not afraid to scold bad quarterback play when he sees it.

6. Troy Aikman – NFL on Fox
I never thought I would see Troy in the booth when he was a player. I didn’t think he had TV in him, but he’s become quite good. At first, he was brought along by Daryl Johnston and Cris Collinsworth as he rose up the ladder on Fox. Now, he can stand alone and I wish he weren’t teamed with Joe Buck so we can really hear some good analysis. Troy is one of the best analysts in the NFL and I enjoy his work.

7. Bob Griese – ESPN/ABC College Football
Ok, taco comment aside, Bob is one of the better analysts in college football. He was teamed with Keith Jackson for a very long time and they formed one of the better announcing teams from the late 1980′s through the 1990′s. Bob may have slipped a bit, but he’s still good at spotting trends, noting passing routes and good on the telestrator.

8. Dan Dierdorf – NFL on CBS
I like Dan’s work from his days on Monday Night Football through now. Still keeps up with the game and gives a good perspective having been in the trenches on the offensive line.

9. Dan Fouts – NFL on CBS
Dan can analyze the NFL or college football with the best. He’s worked with some of the best play-by-play men, Al Michaels, Keith Jackson, Verne Lundquist and his current partner, Dick Enberg. Dan also had to deal with the failed Monday Night Football experiment with Dennis Miller. But through it all, Dan has persevered. His analysis is quite good. He’s had broadcasting in his background thanks to his dad who worked for CBS in the 1960′s. It would be nice if Dan had the opportunity to call a playoff game or two for CBS.

10. Jon Gruden – ESPN’s Monday Night Football
In less than one season, Gruden has shown that he can be one of the better analysts if he chooses to remain on TV. The thing is that no one believes he’s going to stay in the broadcast booth for long, despite signing a multi-year deal with ESPN this week. There were times earlier this season when I could not tell him or fellow analyst Ron Jaworski apart, but now I can. Jon has shown some humor and he’s not afraid to do so at his own expense. He’s very good and if he decides to stay in TV he can be one of the best analysts ever.

11. Daryl Johnston – NFL on Fox
Daryl has done TV for so long, it’s hard to remember that he got his start with CBS in 1998. He’s very smooth and yes, he has to endure Tony Siragusa who interrupts him quite often, but Daryl is such a team player that he seems to have fun with it. Moose’s analysis is solid and while he won’t be on the “A” team on Fox, he does get to call one playoff game a season and does it well teaming up nicely with Kenny Albert and Goose.

12. Craig James – ESPN/ABC College Football
Whenever Craig is in the booth, I enjoy his work. When he was in the studio, especially for ABC with Doug Flutie, I didn’t. I can’t explain it. But Craig is a good listen.

13. Ron Jaworski – ESPN’s Monday Night Football
Ron has a tendency to overhype things, but coming into the booth to replace Joe Theismann two seasons ago was a good thing. To be honest, he didn’t wow me last season when he started with Mike Tirico and Tony Kornheiser, but with Jon Gruden, has formed a good analysis team.

14. Boomer Esiason – Monday Night Football, Westwood One Radio
He’s good in the studio on the NFL Today, but when he’s on radio with either Marv Albert or Dave Sims on Monday Night Football, Boomer really shines. I like listening to his analysis and he’s not afraid to speak out when he has to. He and Marv are a good team, but I did enjoy when Boomer worked with Howard David.

15. James Lofton – Sunday Night Football, Westwood One Radio
James and Dave Sims are a very formidable radio team. James can spot trends as well and can give perspective on routes from his wide receiver days. Plus, being a Hall of Famer gives him a lot of credibility.

So you have my list of top football broadcasters.

  • gailsideman

    Analysts Charles Davis and Tim Ryan must be added to the best-of list. They are two of the most studied/knowledgeable/great communicators in sports TV.

  • Jason Coyote

    I heard Brian Billick on a game a week or two ago and must say he's pretty good for a rookie in the booth. If he decides to stay in broadcasting awhile he could eventually make this list.

    Most of your analyis was spot on Ken, although Aikman doesn't do much for me as an analyst. Whenever I hear him it doesn't seem like he's telling me more than I already know.

  • Jason Coyote

    I heard Brian Billick on a game a week or two ago and must say he's pretty good for a rookie in the booth. If he decides to stay in broadcasting awhile he could eventually make this list.

    Most of your analyis was spot on Ken, although Aikman doesn't do much for me as an analyst. Whenever I hear him it doesn't seem like he's telling me more than I already know.

  • Steve

    Verne Lundquist – SEC on CBS
    You got to be kidding me! He’s an idiot! always making small mistakes or not close on calls. Today he said the runner is between the 30 and 40. good grief only a 10 yard margin of error. He’s a nice enough guy but might be time to retire or at least be quiet on the mic.

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