An underrated — at least I think it’s underrated — factor in the enjoyment of sporting events is the skill level of the play-by-play commentators. That’s why NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football was so hard to swallow in 2010.

For whatever reason, the league-owned network decided to add the infamously bad Joe Theismann to an already remarkably bad booth containing the rather boring Bob Papa and Matt Millen, whose credibility went out the window the minute Charles Rogers attempted to play in the CFL. To boot, there wasn’t a more annoying color analyst in the business than Theismann.

But Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated reports that NFL Network is on the verge of finally doing something right. The very likable and intelligent Mike Mayock will join the broadcast team in 2011. Mayock’s always done a great job on NFLN as a studio analyst and on NBC’s college football broadcasts — no one was quite sure why he wasn’t in the mix for Thursday nights years ago.

Deitsch also reports that the network is looking to replace Papa after three years on the job. And they’re apparently chasing this guy!…

Love it. These moves would be the best the channel has made since Cris Collinsworth was made the top analyst in 2006.

Don’t get me wrong: Papa was a big step up from Bryant Gumbel, but neither make the national play-by-play cut in my opinion. Gus Johnson has become a sports pop culture hero. He’d be a tremendous upgrade.

In fact, a two-man booth with Johnson and Mayock would immediately become my favourite booth in pro sports.