Michael Irvin was a great football player. He was one of the best receivers of the 1990s, and is certainly worthy of Hall of Fame consideration.
Now, he’s an analyst. And since I began to watch him a bit more regularly since he began on ESPN in 2003, I have concluded that as an on-air talent, he … was a great football player.
Believe me, I would have written this column weeks ago. My problem with Irvin has nothing to do with him being arrested last week for having drug paraphernalia in his car. My problem is not with Irvin, but rather with what he represents.
The problem I have is not specifically with Irvin’s legal problems, though I wonder about the idea of giving someone who has been busted twice for drugs such a high-profile role on a network.
Actually, the problem is not with Irvin, but with ESPN. Irvin yells, makes little sense, and adds very little to shows, aside from personal star power.
But he’s not the only one. John Kruk has been just as frustrating at times.
ESPN used to be the network that I watched all the time. Any big sports fan that was lucky enough to have cable probably has fond memories of Chris Berman, Tom Jackson and the late Pete Axthelm on NFL Prime Time.
Berman could be overbearing at times, but he still had a likable quality. No matter how loud he was, he was pushing sports, not himself. He’s still like that, for the most part.
Jackson is one of the best analysts in the business. He dissects plays and strategy without coming across as arrogant. At the same time, he has a natural, clear and calm delivery.
Most readers may not remember Pete Axthelm, who died in 1991. In truth, my memories are vague as well, since he died when I was 10. But I remember him being a nice balance with the others and a clear commentator.
That was the best of ESPN. But times have changed, and not for the better.
I’m not sure when ESPN’s transformation happened. In 1992, the network used a marketing slogan that told viewers that ESPN was “in your face.” I didn’t really like the slogan then, and it didn’t last very long. But now, 13 years later, ESPN has become what it claimed.
Michael Irvin screaming, the reporters on Around the Horn bickering, and announcers bellowing “jacked up” on Monday nights is what greets an ESPN viewer.
Then there are the SportsCenter anchors. Years ago, in the days of Keith Olbermann, Craig Kilborn and Charlie Steiner, the show oozed with humor and creativity.
But now, those men are distant memories, and their replacements make me long for the dignified delivery of Bill Patrick.
Maybe Kilborn and Olbermann were just as interested in making themselves stars. But they were good. Their quips didn’t seem to be rehearsed.
This would normally be the part of the column when I would contrast the anchors of yesteryear with a few of today’s talent.
The problem is, they have all (with the exception of Dan Patrick and Linda Cohn) become unrecognizable. In fact, when I think of the show now, I just think of one red-faced, catch phrase spewing hack.
But I have trouble coming up with a name. How ironic.
(In some ways, Olbermann and Kilborn, who crossed over to other areas of media, are to blame. Their success undoubtedly led the network to search for anchors who tried to emulate them).
I’d just like to watch an ESPN program where catchphrases weren’t used, where voices weren’t raised, and arguments weren’t so common.
I’d like ESPN to find a comfortable spot on my TV. Not in my face.
Note: Yes, I love Pardon the Interruption. But it’s only good when Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon host it. Those two work so well together, and don’t take themselves too seriously. Plus, they are funny. It’s why I’m willing to forgive the occasional screamfest.