As they struggled to fill the gaping hole left by John Madden and Al Michaels at the end of the 2005, the process of the higher-ups at ABC/ESPN to find their perfect three man booth was painfully transparent. It felt as if they were trying to insult our intelligence by thinking that we could not fathom thoughtful commentary and analysis, but that we needed to be entertained. But by hiring former Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden, ABC/ESPN has finally gotten back to the formula that John Madden had a pivotal role in carving out for football broadcasters and commentators.
Many do not know that behind Madden's seemingly aloof and befuddled grandfatherly facade, lies the man who helped make broadcasting what it is today. From a NYT article
Madden’s influence on sportscasting has been enormous. He parsed X’s and O’s in a clear but garrulous, even hyperkinetic, fashion never seen before. He turned the Telestrator into an onscreen tool to suit the antic personality he displayed as the Raiders’ coach and as the wild, red-headed, arm-flailing Miller Lite spokesman.
Whereas before Madden joined broadcasting, televised football thought to be more like a drama. With narrow camera angles on the person with the ball, all the pomp and bombast of a horn-heavy epic soundtrack, and with Keith Jackson eloquently narrating the action, NFL ball was more like a war film than a football game. John Madden felt the average football watching audience was adroit enough to grasp the X's and O's of football. He petitioned for wider camera angles so that one could see the entire field in order to better understand the game. He also brought the now-ubiquitous telestrator to pro football to diagram what was happening on the field. John Madden was a large player in bringing the audience into football, not holding it high above them.
Bringing Gruden into the booth is a tip of the cap to John Madden, acknowledging his spirit is alive and well on MNF. Aside from the fact that both were former head coaches of the Raiders and that they're both named Jo(h)n, Gruden is like a lusty reincarnation of Madden on Monday Night; Madden 2.0 if you will. Where the lovable senility of John Madden once reigned, the fire and vigor of Jon Gruden now resides, with some additional improvements over the old guard. Having been a head coach in the NFL as recently as last year, Jon Gruden is intimately aware of the up-to-date inner workings of personnel, scheme and culture of the NFL. He brings to the table enthusiasm, recognition and an incredible knowledge base to the booth, which serves as a great compliment to the almost transparent play-by-play of (Ann Arborite!) Mike Tirico, and the savvy commentary of the veteran broadcaster (and former QB) Ron Jaworski. Even in the waning minutes of the Jets-Ravens game last night, when the thirds battled it out for roster sports (as an aside: Danny Woodhead is awesome!), Gruden and Co's discussions were illuminating and riveting while the gameplay, simply, was not.
I for one am finally ready for some football.