ESPN has booted the wrong guy from its “Monday Night Football” booth.
Ron Jaworski is out, and he won’t be replaced. You know what that means? More opportunities for Jon Gruden to sing the praises of every man in uniform each and every Monday night during the season.
It’ll be the first time play-by-play man Mike Tirico has worked with just one analyst since MNF was handed from ABC to ESPN in 2006. And it’ll only be the seventh time in the 43-year history of MNF that the broadcast will only have two commentators.
And while Jaws annoyed the hell out of us at times, he’ll be missed solely for the fact that he hogged enough air time to keep Gruden at bay.
The three-man booth hasn’t worked for ABC/ESPN since Al Michaels was teamed up with Frank Gifford and Dan Dierdorf for much of the 1980s and 1990s. The Dennis Miller experiment in 2000 and 2001 was a train wreck, and Tony Kornheiser never seemed to gel with Tirico and Jaworski later in the decade.
But I’d honestly prefer Kornheiser and maybe even Miller to Gruden. At least both of those guys knew they weren’t there to break down the Xs and Os. They were there to bring some levity to the booth. They failed at that more often than not, but they weren’t impossible to ignore on most occasions. They only worked as third men.
As a third man in recent years, Gruden has attempted to be both the funny guy and the gridiron whiz. He’s probably forgotten more about the game than most of us know, but it hasn’t appeared as though he’s taken the job seriously enough. He strikes me as underprepared, lacking particularly in his familiarity with the rulebook and the changes made to it in recent seasons. It’s also sometimes hard to believe how often he throws out uninitiated comments that lack basic logic.
But that’s not Gruden’s biggest issue. His main problem is that he simply refuses to criticize. I can appreciate anyone’s effort to embrace a glass-half-full mentality in a sports world that rarely even recognizes the presence of fluid in said glass, but Gruden finds positives where they simply don’t exist and often looks the other way when presented with negatives.
The scary part is that, in recent years, Jaworski has often been there to step in and condemn bad players and the bad plays they make. Now, that responsibility will be left to Gruden.
And as long as Gruden has an aspiration of returning to the sidelines, I fear he’ll continue to sound more like a cheerleader than an unbiased analyst.
Top three Grudenisms
The guys from The Sports Geeks put together a pair of lists containing some of Gruden’s top quotes from 2011. Here are our three favorites:
1. “If I’m an official and I go under the hood, I’m gonna say it’s close enough, give it to him.”
2. “I called him light switch, because he can go from 0 to 80 in a hurry.”
3. “They call these guys Earth, Wind, and Fire. He must be Wind because I don’t know which way he’s going.”