If someone knows of a positive review for Bryant Gumbel as NFL Network play-by-play man, please pass it along. I haven’t seen one, and not until recently have I had a chance to listen to him call a full game. Most play-by-play guys who reach this level have followed the game closely since they were kids. Or at least it seems that way. One gets the feeling Gumbel hasn’t followed football much, and that he wouldn’t be interested in watching these games without someone paying him to do so. It’s a remarkable thing.
Dick Vermeil is in the booth with him for the Chiefs-Raiders game tonight. They were talking about running backs when Gumbel said, “You must have coached against the Nigerian Nightmare when you were in Philadelphia.” Vermeil said he had not. Gumbel sounded surprised. Vermeil’s last season coaching the Eagles was 1982. Christian Okoye’s first season in the NFL was 1987. This would be like a political analyst not knowing when a prominent senator served.
Sports fans tend to be quite knowledgeable and passionate. You don’t have to follow the Raiders or Chiefs to realize, quickly, that Gumbel simply hasn’t followed football.
NFL Network is already fighting perceptions that the league is maximizing profits by covering itself. It seems like they would want a likeable, authoritative and disarming voice in the booth. Gumbel’s obvious intelligence works against him. His low football IQ implies a disdain for the viewer, as if he’s above doing his homework. It’s an annoying combination.