Monday, June 21, 2010

The Darke Side

Before TigerBlog ever wrote a story about Princeton athletics, he found himself behind the microphone for a football game between Princeton and Penn on WXPN, the Penn student station. For the record, it was the 1984 game at Palmer Stadium, and TB is pretty sure it was his first time in the old horseshoe stadium.

Since then, TB has done hundreds of games on the radio (and a handful on TV) between Princeton football, basketball and lacrosse. He's had the opportunity to do NCAA tournament basketball and NCAA championship games for men's and women's lacrosse.

For much of the time that TB was doing men's basketball, his partner on-air was Tom McCarthy, who today is the lead man on TV for the Philadelphia Phillies. McCarthy also does, among other assignments, NFL football on Westwood One radio. Clearly, Boog has made it big.

TigerBlog has never understood why the biggest time announcers get paid so much money, because there is no correlation - at least in TB's mind - between who is doing the event and the size of the audience. If a correlation does exist, it's how many people don't watch because of who the announcer is, not the other way around.

It's the game itself people tune in to see, and they don't have any control over who is announcing it. Nobody, TB believes, looks at the menu of available games to watch and then chooses because of the announcers.

And some of the top announcers have become insufferable to listen to. It's become all about them, all about their schtick, rather than about the game.

In many ways, contemporary announcing has become a contest to see who can be the most clever, the most hip, the hottest, the one to say the most controversial thing.

American announcing, at least.

That's not McCarthy's style. He continues to be the same as he was when he was doing Princeton games. Well-prepared. Fair. Impartial. Content to be the narrator rather than the protagonist.

It's why he remains TB's favorite announcer. His second favorite? That's easy.

Ian Darke.

For those who don't know, Darke is one of the top English soccer announcers, and he currently is doing games on ESPN from the World Cup.

TigerBlog has watched a great deal of the World Cup games so far, and he has made a bunch of observations.

For starters, France has completely melted down. Though the French can mathematically move on, it's unlikely to happen. TB isn't sad about this, after the way France got in with the handball that wasn't called against Thierry Henry against Ireland.

And the rule where a second yellow card knocks you out of the next game is awful, because yellow cards are often given for dubious infractions.

Beyond that, soccer continues to be a great TV sport. It has a great deal to do with the fact that the games are going to be played in a window less than two hours with no commercials during the play itself.

Contrast that with a college basketball game that will have nine official media timeouts - and that's before any team has taken one.

Or with the seventh game of the NBA Finals, which went 2:47. Or a Major League Baseball game, which is more likely to go past three hours than it is to go less than 2:15. Or college football, which on network TV can drag on close to four hours.

Then there's the coaching. Most American sports are overcoached completely, and in many cases - the NFL, college basketball - it's as much about the coaches as it is about the players.

At the World Cup, the players play. There aren't 20 coaches on the sidelines. It's, well, refreshing to watch.

Of course, there are issues with the officiating, most notably with Koman Coulibaly, the ref of the U.S.-Slovenia match. As an aside, TB believes that Coulibaly bears a striking resemblance to James Jones (Yale's men's basketball coach) and Joe Jones (former Columbia coach). TB doesn't need to go into what happened at the end of the U.S. game; he'll only say that the team will have no excuses should it fail to advance and that finishing second in the group could be better than finishing first, depending on who finishes 1-2 in Germany-Serbia-Australia-Ghana group.

Mostly though, TB has loved the announcing from the World Cup, especially Darke. During the Cameroon-Denmark game, Darke said: "Cameroon is attempting to assert its authority on the proceedings." Later on, when a Danish player made a run down the sideline, Darke called him "ambitious."

The best part is how understated he - and the other British announcers - are. They call the game, and they let the game be the story.

And the level of preparation? It's astonishing. Think about it. These guys have had to learn 32 different teams, which means memorizing the names/numbers of hundreds of players, many with difficult pronunciations.

That's how TigerBlog tries to do it for Princeton games. Be prepared. Be understated. Be impartial. Don't be the show. Let the game stand on its own.

After watching the World Cup, it's going to be tough to readjust to American sports, a world without the likes of Ian Darke.


Anonymous said...

Another observation from the World Cup that you didn’t mention ...

Portugal scored as many goals as Dustin Johnson had strokes on the third hole yesterday at Pebble Beach.

vinny chase said...

martin tyler is just as impressive

Anonymous said...

The Scot's are incomparable as color absolutely must pay attention to the beautiful speech. Question: which announcer called New Zealand's "strike, right at the death." Wonderful expression.
Here is my vote for ABC/ESPN for having masterful game day callers as well as fascinating, intelligent commentators in the studio. No sports blah, blah--straight incite--even from Lalas.