By Dan Charest @dannyacharest on August 1, 2014
Being a Hall of Fame athlete does not essentially translate to being a popular game analyst. So what makes an effective color commentator? For me, it is one who makes you watch the game even if you are not personally affected by the outcome. To do such, the color man (or woman) has to have a collection of traits, such as energy, intelligence, personality, unbiased opinion, a love of the game and intangibles that fit their identity on the call.
Jay Bilas: NCAA Basketball-ESPN
Doris Burke: NCAA Basketball, NBA-ESPN
Kirk Herbstreit: NCAA Football-ESPN
Brian Hightower: Rugby-NBC
Daryl Johnston: NFL-FOX
Mike Mayock: NFL, NCAA Football-NFL Network, NBC
Tom Verducci: MLB-FOX, MLB Network
Bill Walton: NBA, NCAA Basketball
Kevin Wong: Beach Volleyball-NBC
It's a shame that beIN Sport isn't an easily accessible network or else Ray Hudson might be higher on this list. Known for his outlandish imagery when breaking down a goal, the Englishman has a way with words that no other color man can duplicate. The only knock against Hudson is that his extreme excitement can get in the way of his partner Phil Schoen, an underrated American play-by-play man in the sport of soccer.
The former four-time Olympic medalist by way of Trinidad and Tobago, Boldon knows the ins and outs of the sprint races on the track while doing it all with positive vibe. NBC approves of Boldon so much that they made him a correspondent for their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics, where he hosted and reported on stories throughout Sochi.
For a league as prestigious as the SEC, it is ironic that a former quarterback from Purdue is the lead color commentator for the conference's — and arguably America’s — biggest games. What makes Danielson among the best is that he can break down a play before he needs the replay. And working with the legendary Verne Lundquist, it equates to the best broadcast team in college football.
For three years ESPN encountered headaches when trying to find a viable replacement for Mark Jackson. But when Jackson was fired by the Golden State Warriors after their first-round playoff loss, the Worldwide Leader inserted the former color man right back into his former role with Van Gundy, his former coach. The two have a balance that is unmatched in broadcasting, and along with Mike Breen, they make up the top three-man booth in sports.
Broadcasting the sport of tennis is the most challenging of any, for the commentators cannot even talk during the action. Therefore, it's difficult to separate yourself from the pack as a tennis color man. But the quick-witted Gilbert has done it, helped in part by creating obscure nicknames for the sport's participants, such as "The Sloane Ranger" for Sloane Stephens, "K-Viddy" for Petra Kvitova and "Granola Bars" for Marcel Grannollers.
McManaman, the former Spice Boy, and Twellman, the former stud of the New England Revolution, have one distinct thing in common: They both play Scottie Pippen to Ian Darke's Michael Jordan during ESPN's soccer broadcasts. But don't think they get pushed away by the legend that is Sir Ian. Twellman was the network's breakout star of the World Cup while Macca is known for his hard-hitting analysis plus his semi-chronic moans after a near-miss.
"Inside the Glass" is a brilliant concept — unparalleled by any in sports — and Pierre McGuire is its face. The two-time Stanley Cup winner (assistant coach with the Penguins in the early 90s) eats, breathes and lives the game, and his insight down at ice level is more valuable than that of the actual color man, Eddie Olcyzk.
Snarky comments aside, Daggett sticks the landing when it comes to analyzing his sport of gymnastics. His play-by-play man Al Trautwig is a well-known and respected media member who has been broadcasting since the days when Daggett was winning Olympic gold. But for NBC's gymnastics coverage, Daggett has all the personality. Together since the 2000 Sydney Games, Daggett is the true star of this three-man broadcasting team — which also includes Elfi Schlegel.
Does anyone love broadcasting more than Bill Raftery? It certainly does not seem like it. Whether the former Seton Hall head coach is paired with Gus Johnson on FOX or Verne Lundquist on CBS, Raftery always makes time for his typical trademarks: his tip-off mumbling of the matchup in view, telling defenders to "set your puppies" or blurting out "Onions!"
Baseball can be a bore and a drag. Fortunately, "Eck" can swagger into the broadcast booth, be himself and drop new connotations on words such as "cheese", "gas", "salad" and "paint". Also, his uses of the terms "dead central" and "middle-middle" have to be heard to be fully understood with regards to the game.
He might look like he took one too many shots during his amateur boxing career, but Teddy Atlas sure has the same intensity at ringside as he did inside the ring. No broadcaster in sports sounds as passionate as Teddy is about boxing, and any sort of action will have Teddy on the edge or off his seat. Also it's unsurprising if his "Fight Plans", his breakdown of each fighter's style, are more entertaining than the fight itself.
Now here is a sport that is far from the mainstream. Typically matching their outfits, the extravagant Weir and the gold-medalist Lipinski don't take themselves too seriously yet deliver the call with the grace and elegance the sport craves. Both untested in color commentary role before Sochi, Johnny and Tara were media's biggest hit of the Games. And if you haven't seen Weir's hat he wore to the Kentucky Derby, I highly suggest doing so.
With "Sunday Night Football" being the most watched show in America, NBC needed a highly respectable replacement when John Madden left the booth before the 2009 season. Enter Collinsworth, who sees the game better than any color man in the business and is not afraid to deliver the bullish analysis when need be.
2014 is a down year for the sport of swimming on NBC. Not necessarily because we cannot watch American dominance at the Olympics or the World Championships, but because we won't be able to see Rowdy Gaines in action behind the mic. The best thing about Rowdy is however close the race gets, his intensity level rises with it, making for some of the best commentary. At least he gets to call the NCAA Championships on ESPN during the big meet offseason.
Boy are we lucky some NFL team has not come to swoop up Jon Gruden or what? Now entering his sixth season in the Monday Night Football booth, Gruden is arguably the most important figure in broadcasting on ESPN. Virtually everything that comes out of the Super Bowl XXXVII winning coach is entertaining, not to mention his overwhelming fervor for the game. Heck, the guy wakes up at 3:17 a.m. to watch film.
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