King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Let us now praise Ron Jaworski. Plus: Was Cardinals-49ers slogfest good D or bad O?


Salon Staff
September 11, 2007 3:00PM (UTC)

I'm throwing roses at my TV. The Ron Jaworski era has officially begun on "Monday Night Football" and I'm in boob-tube heaven. Ron Jaworski is the best football analyst in the business.

He has a sense of humor and everything, but what he does is he talks about football, a subject about which he knows a lot. He actually provides the kind of analysis you would expect from someone who was an All-Pro quarterback in the NFL. That is, he tells you things you might not know just from sitting on your couch. The guy he replaced, Joe Theismann, liked to talk about what a nice fellow this or that player is.

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Jaworski has already been working with Mike Tirico and Tony Kornheiser on preseason games, but this column studiously avoids those because they're boring and pointless, and also because it doesn't want to get suckered into an opinion based on something that happens in August, like the Oakland Raiders looking really sharp.

So I waited until the regular season opener to get a load of the new ESPN announcing threesome. I've been a fan of Jaworski's for years, so he had me at Hank Jr., you might say. But he didn't disappoint.

In the first quarter of what turned out to be a sloppy but entertaining Cincinnati Bengals win over the Baltimore Ravens, Jaworski talked a lot about the positioning of the defensive backs, the kind of thing you can watch NFL football every week for 20 years and never hear a word about from the chattering classes.

As the Bengals lined up for a third-down play Jaworski pointed out that the Ravens cornerbacks had positioned themselves to the inside of the Bengals wide receivers, which, he said, is usually a pretty good indication a blitz is coming. It was.

A simple thing, but how many games do you have to watch before you get analysis like that on network TV? The answer should be one, but the answer is thousands. I usually watch the linebackers to try to spot a blitz.

A few minutes later, flamboyant Bengals receiver Chad Johnson scored a touchdown. He's known for his celebrations, and he'd promised something that would top anything he's ever done if he scored. ESPN made a big deal of following him to the sideline to see what he'd do. He ended up pulling an oversized yellow blazer out of a trash bag and putting it on. It had "FUTURE H.O.F. 20??" written on the back.

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Kornheiser tried to make some hay out of this frankly lame stunt, expressing disappointment and riffing that you could go to Macy's to watch a guy put on a jacket. Jaworski said, "I don't care about the jacket. I love the route he ran!"

I heard violins! He wanted to talk about football!

Thank the football gods, or whoever, that Kornheiser and Theismann, who had a history, never clicked with each other on the air and that Theismann was considered more expendable. Replacing him with the football wonk Jaworski is the first time I can ever remember a TV network making a change that benefits the hardcore fan at the expense of the casual fan.

The folks who tune in because their friends are watching, or because they're interested in the up-close-and-personal sideline stories about the players and their moms, they're not going to get much out of Jaworski. Those of you who think it's fun to tune in to a game and learn something about a quarterback's options if the free safety has his feet lined up a certain way, well, if you're like me, you're swooning over Jaworski.

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Jaworski backed off the heavy stuff as the game went on, joshing comfortably with his pal Kornheiser while still offering solid analysis. Tirico, by the way, whom I've never liked, is growing on me now that he has cut down on the old-time radio voice and stopped trying to sound like Keith Jackson. I liked his curmudgeonly dismissal of Johnson's end-zone shenanigans, which tickle Kornheiser. "To each his own," he mumbled, and then he shut up about it.

But back to Jaworski. Late in the game, the announcers were talking about all the guys on the Bengals named Johnson. "You know who the biggest Johnson is?" Jaworski asked.

Kornheiser just chuckled as Jaworski yammered on blithely about Jeremi Johnson, who came to camp over 300 pounds and had to lose 20 before he could practice.

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"Big fella," he said. Kornheiser: "I'm gonna let you have that all by yourself."

Even his bloopers are good. Ain't he dreamy?

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Good defense or bad offense? [PERMALINK]

Late in that pooch of a Monday nightcap between the Arizona Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers, B-announcing team analysts Mike Ditka and Mike Golic tried to sell play-by-play man Mike Greenberg -- and us -- on the idea that we were watching improved defenses, not just incompetent offenses.

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The Cardinals and Niners were both near the bottom of the league defensively last year, but the lack of offense signaled a big change, Ditka and Golic said.

I don't think so. I hate to doubt Panel o' Experts co-champ Golic, and it's a long year that might prove him and Ditka right and me wrong, but that sure looked like a pair of lousy offenses to me, led by a pair of quarterbacks, Matt Leinart and Alex Smith, who still don't look ready for prime time, though Smith looked better on the game-winning drive. The 49ers won the game 20-17.

The three Mikes also went into loving detail about Cardinals defensive back Eric Green's failure to recover a 49ers fumble in the end zone on the play before the winning touchdown, talking about his poor technique, how he should have done this hook-slide thing and cradled the ball instead of falling on it from above. Or something.

What? If Green swats the ball out of bounds, the game's over and the Cardinals win. It wasn't poor technique. It was a brain cramp.

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And incidentally: Exactly who asked for a double-header on a Monday night? I'm sure football fans on the East Coast appreciated the Cardinals-49ers game ending at 1:40 in the morning on a Tuesday as much as we on the West Coast appreciated the Ravens-Bengals game starting at 4 in the afternoon on a Monday.

Previous column: Who needs preseason?

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