The news of Tiki Barber appearing on SNY over the weekend got us thinking. No, don't worry, Barber didn't say anything in his coverage of the Giants/49ers game that actually stimulated any brain cells. Instead, Barber's precipitous fall from the Today Show to a regional network got us to wonder where Barber ranked in all-time busts in the sports media. There have been many flops in the world of announcing and analyzing sports. Some were world-class athletes who became cringe-worthy analysts. Some were athletes who flopped when given a stage even bigger than sports. Some were comedians or celebrities who brought more eyerolls than eyeballs. Check out our list of the Top 10 Sports Media Busts and let us know what you think!
(10) John Sutcliffe - ESPN's Monday Night Football -Our first entrant doubles as the most recent. It's great that ESPN seeks to give crossover exposure to ESPN Deportes. By all accounts, John Sutcliffe is a great journalist there. However, when his time on the mothership came earlier this year as a sideline reporter on ESPN's Monday Night Football, Sutcliffe dropped the ball so bad that he was taken off the air midway through the broadcast.
(9) Bobby Valentine - ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball -Bobby V was always a great soundbyte as a manager because of his wit and personality. Naturally, one thought these traits would make a great transition into the studio or the broadcast booth. And yes, when Valentine was hired to be a part of ESPN's Baseball Tonight stable, the move was met with excitement. While Valentine never wowed the masses in the studio, he never really embarrassed himself. As it turns out, Bobby V saved that for the booth as part of the revamped Sunday Night Baseball team in 2011. Valentine was routinely panned by the masses on Twitter, with this out-of-nowhere rant on Cubs SS Starlin Castro Exhibit A. Thankfully, the Red Sox saved viewers by hiring Bobby V as manager this winter while ESPN hired Terry Francona.
(8) Joe Montana & Isiah Thomas - NBC Sports -Though Montana and Thomas were all-time greats in their sports, NBC swung and missed when hiring the two as analysts in the 90s. All the poise Montana showed as one of the greatest QBs ever never got the chance to show through his bland takes. In fact, Montana gave analysis worthy of a man whose family was being held off-stage at gunpoint. Meanwhile, Thomas's soft voice and stammered analysis made him a difficult listen, even when NBC pushed him as their lead NBA analyst.
Apparently, the broadcasting of these two was so lackluster, YouTube is devoid of worthy clips. But, thanks to the outstanding SI Vault, we have some perspective. First, Montana in his own words, "In TV, nobody cares if you get it right; they just want you to yell, to seem definitive. It was the old, 'If you can't dazzle 'em with brilliance, then baffle 'em with b.———-.' I had to go." Next, John Walters on Isiah, "His energy level wavers during a telecast, and he says "You know" too much, as in, "Yeah, you know, we, you know, Jordan when he guards you, you know, he shuts you down, you know?"
(7) Bryant Gumbel - NFL Network -For a league owned network, the choices NFL Network made for their lead broadcasting team were a disaster until very recently. Yes, many with short memories will think the pairing of Matt Millen and Joe Theismann was the low-point for NFLN. But hey, at least those two provided AA with plenty of material. Bryant Gumbel on the other hand, introduced as the network's first play-by-play voice, was just terrible. And not even terrible in an entertaining way. Gumbel was awful from the word go because he was insufferably boring and couldn't get the basics of play-by-play correct. AA founder Brian Powell called him human tryptophan (which by the way is a chemical myth, but that's another story). Clearly, Gumbel is at home making news on Real Sports and leaving the announcing to brother Greg. At least he got into subliminal swearing before his time was up.
(6) Dave O'Brien & Marcelo Balboa - ESPN's 2006 World Cup -Today, soccer on American TV is treated with the respect it deserves... well, for the most part. However, it wasn't long ago that ESPN treated soccer fans to perhaps the worst announcing duo of all-time for the 2006 World Cup in Dave O'Brien and Marcelo Balboa. O'Brien, a baseball announcer, was a square peg in a round hole while Balboa babbled incoherently throughout the tournament. The duo was unlistenable with no feel for the game. The critics, of which there were many, certainly got to Mr. O'Brien:
“There’s kind of a petulant little clique of soccer fans. There’s not many of them, but they’re mean-spirited. … And they’re not really the audience we want to reach anyway.”
Nothing sums up the attitude of networks to soccer pre-World Cup 2010 than this quote from O'Brien. While FOX is still catching up, ESPN has changed the way the game has been presented through their EPL and World Cup coverage the last few years. Let's hope the trend continues.
(5) Magic Johnson - Wherever there's a camera recording -The Magic Hour...need we say any more?
Yes, by itself The Magic Hour would seal Magic Johnson's place on this list. Before Tiki Barber, Magic Johnson was the first high-profile athlete looking to make a broad crossover into television. Here was a very popular athlete who sadly became the worst late-night talk show host in the history of television... well, except for maybe Chevy Chase. The real surprise though is that Magic continues to use his access and influence (somewhere Craig James nods in approval) to keep getting jobs as a basketball analyst with the likes of NBC, TNT, and now ESPN. As if asking Magic to speak with insight about anything besides the Lakers was hard enough, ESPN now has him doing highlights for God's sake! Here's vido evidence from a few weeks ago of the latest Tragic trainwreck.
(4) Rush Limbaugh - ESPN's NFL Countdown -Whether you like him, hate him, or try to ignore him, Rush Limbaugh is a force of nature in the media world. Rush Limbaugh is also a huge NFL fan. So, looking for any attention they could get under Mark Shapiro, ESPN went looking for anything that could generate buzz. Let's call this the "Playmakers" era of ESPN. One of the places ESPN turned was Rush Limbaugh, NFL analyst. For the most part, Limbaugh served his purpose of stoking debate on the show. If anything, Limbaugh was ahead of a time where a troll like Skip Bayless can draw ratings by purposefully generating fake debate and controversy. Of course, the brief Limbaugh experiment came to a screeching halt (albeit delayed) when he made a racially insensitive analysis of Donovan McNabb's supporters.
(3) Tiki Barber - NBC -Tiki Barber was groomed as the next big thing in the sports media and TV at large. He had star analyst potential written all over him as his NFL career ended. He was an outspoken player, intelligent, handsome, and seemingly had all the tools necessary to transition into a major media career. Not only was he pegged for NBC's Football Night In America, but for the bright lights of the Today Show as well. One problem, Tiki was not good. His football analysis was forgettable and his Today Show career was even worse. Getting painted by the Blue Man Group was his career highlight! Even his former teammates took turns blasting Tiki for his criticism of the Giants. But what really sunk Tiki was ditching his wife, who had just gave birth to twins, for a 23 year old intern. With the potential greatness in store for him, Tiki's torching of his own media career was quite the accomplishment.
(2) Emmitt Smith - ESPN -We've come to another one of AA founder Brian Powell's favorite targets, Emmitt Smith. It's with great sadness that the current AA staff hasn't had the joy of experiencing the wonder of Emmitt Smith trying to articulate coherent thoughts on football. For those of you who have forgotten, here are some of Emmitt's greatest hits.
"They do a very good job of flying around the Football field and carousing the Football carrier."
"You cannot change the stripes of a leopard."
"Eli Manning has been given the rites of patches."
Wow, those made Matt Millen look like the president of the local chapter of Mensa. Somehow, Emmitt went on from being unable to find a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight to winning Dancing With the Stars. Of course, Emmitt didn't have to analyze football to fare well on that stage. If only Emmitt were still around to talk about the growth of Eli Manning since receiving his rites of patches.
(1) Dennis Miller - ABC's Monday Night Football -Dennis Miller was a disaster as an analyst on ABC's Monday Night Football. In a last ditch effort to save Monday Night Football on ABC, they turned to a comedian who was more comfortable talking Otto von Bismarck than the zone blitz. The following are actual quotes from Dennis Miller WHILE BROADCASTING A FOOTBALL GAME...
"When the hell is Warren Moon going to retire? I mean, this guy is older than the cuneiform in Nebuchadnezzar's tomb."
"That field goal attempt was so far to the left it nearly decapitated Lyndon LaRouche."
"Warner had more hands in his face than an OB-GYN delivering Vishnu's triplets!"
After two seasons where Miller irritated football fans and perplexed the masses, the misguided experiment was mercilessly ended. Somehow, ESPN decided to carry on the Miller legacy by hiring Tony Kornheiser and featuring in-game interviews with celebrities that distracted from the game as much as Miller's rants on Eastern religion and political hacks. For years, Monday Night Football was trying to find the next Howard Cosell. For some reason someone has yet to properly explain, ABC thought Dennis Miller was the answer. Instead, what ABC found was the biggest bust in sports media history.
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Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.
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