The Game Before The Games: Analyzing the Sunday Pregame Shows


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Dec 12, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; General view of Rich Eisen (left), Deion Sanders (second from left), Steve Mariucci (center), Marshall Faulk (second from right) and Michael Irvin on the NFL Network set before the game between the San Diego Chargers and the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For some who try to immerse themselves into the National Football League as much as they possibly can, football Sunday doesn’t begin at 1:00 p.m. on the East Coast or 10:00 on the West Coast. It actually begins three or four hours before kickoff of the early afternoon games with the various national pregame programmes.

The first pregame shows of the day are done by ESPN and the NFL Network. ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown has been a staple of the network’s wall-to-wall gridiron coverage for years. They do have plenty of good analysts who know the game well, including Cris Carter, Mike Ditka, Keyshawn Johnson, and Ray Lewis. Also, since they have plenty of time to fill, the taped interviews conducted in between segments  with some of the top figures in the game are some of the best in sports.

But, there is also the feeling that sometimes, the personalities on ESPN’s take themselves a little bit too seriously just because they feel they’re big shots with Bristol signing their paychecks. If their talent had a little more personality that their show would be somewhat more appealing.

Also, Chris Berman is much better on NFL telecasts than he is for MLB. As for Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter, the latter was better when he was the lead reporter for the NFL Network.

Speaking of which, the NFL Network’s pregame show is, hands down, the best of the national pregame shows. Rich Eisen is a seasoned veteran and one of the most well known sports personalities in the United States ever since he was a SportsCenter anchor on ESPN. He’s been the face of NFL Network since it debuted 10 years ago. Also, personality wise, one can tell that the NFL Network’s personalities are being themselves on-air. Steve Mariucci, Marshall Faulk, Michael Irvin, and Warren Sapp are very good on television. Personally speaking, it is my choice pregame show prior to 1:00. Between it and ESPN, sometimes it can be easy to forget that ESPN is even doing a pregame show because that of the NFL Network’s is the best in my opinion.

NFL Network does its pregame show out of its Los Angeles studios.

Its pregame show prior to Thursday Night Football is not too bad either and broadcasts directly from the stadium where the game is taking place.

Fox’s (Fox NFL Sunday) and CBS’s (The NFL Today) also feature interesting elements to both.

CBS’s show (done out of New York) is hosted by James Brown, who once was the host for Fox’s show (done out of Los Angeles). Other personalities include Boomer Esiason, Shannon Sharpe, and Bill Cowher. Cowher’s name is one who always comes up whenever coaching vacancies arise in the NFL, even though he has repeatedly said that he enjoys being an analyst on TV.

Of course, that’s what all coaches say.

Then, there’s Fox’s show which seemingly tries to cater to a younger audience than that of the CBS show. But, as we all know, fans of a pregame show will watch that of the network that is showing their team’s game later in the day. CBS has the AFC games and Fox handles NFC games.

Fox’s show has Curt Menefee, Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long, Michael Strahan, Jimmy Johnson, and Jay Glazer. Menefee’s a good host and Johnson and Strahan are also good analysts who know the game. Not too much on Long and Bradshaw, though. Glazer is one of the best NFL reporters out there as well.

There was once upon a time where the Fox show featured Jillian Barberie doing weather updates—when James Brown hosted that show. She alone probably gave Fox ratings on Sunday afternoons beginning at noon.

But, the flagship feature of that show comes in the second half of it with comedian Rob Riggle doing creative and funny bits and eventually giving picks on a few of the day’s games. Prior to Riggle, this was once done by Frank Caliendo, who is known far and wide throughout the NFL for his impersonations of John Madden.

Sometimes, Caliendo did a better Madden than Madden himself did.

Fox’s team, of course, will be featured prominently in the New York/New Jersey area this year as Fox will broadcast this season’s Super Bowl from MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Hopefully Menefee and the rest of the Fox crew packs warmly. Fox NFL Sunday broadcasted their opening week pregame programme this year from Manhattan’s Times Square, possibly as a test run for when they broadcast from the Tri-State area in just 50 days for the Super Bowl.

Of course, the Super Bowl pregame show is a marathon—on ESPN, NFL Network, and the network broadcasting the Big Dance (which this year is Fox).

Also, there’s NBC’s Football Night in America prior to Sunday Night Football, which has become the flagship football game for the week. Given that it starts at 7:00 pm and not noon, it really is the first pure highlights programme that recaps the day’s action. It starts its telecast around the exact same time that the later afternoon games are beginning to wrap up. Dan Patrick, Bob Costas, and Cris Collinsworth are seasoned veterans. Rodney Harrison, Hines Ward, and Tony Dungy provide excellent pregame commentary, and they also have brilliant reporting from Sports Illustrated’s Peter King.

Since the Football Night in America format is different from that of the other pregame shows given that it starts after most of Sunday’s games have taken place, it can’t be fairly compared against the others. It is more of a hybrid of SportsCenter and NFL Total Access than a straightforward pregame show. But, if it was, here are the “power rankings”, if you will, for the national pregame shows:

1.    NFL Network’s

2.    NBC’s

3.    CBS’s

4.    ESPN’s

5.    Fox’s

There is an alarm clock nearby that is not set for 1:00 pm on Sundays—it is set for 9:00 am.