NBC turns Notre Dame football broadcasts into training ground

Rather than continue a lineage of proven, veteran announcers, NBC went the other direction, hiring 27-year-old Jac Collinsworth, the son of longtime “SNF” analyst Cris Collinsworth.

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Jac Collinsworth (right) and Jason Garrett call Notre Dame football for NBC.

Jac Collinsworth (right) and Jason Garrett call Notre Dame football for NBC.

NBC Sports

You might find this hard to believe, but I went to Notre Dame football camp in the summer of 1988, before my freshman year of high school.

I swear to Touchdown Jesus. 

This Jewish kid and his close Catholic friend, whose family bled gold and blue, spent several days on campus, learning from the staff of former coach Lou Holtz. I remember then-defensive coordinator Barry Alvarez teaching me how to backpedal into pass coverage. Ironically, I was wearing a Wisconsin T-shirt, and he called me “Badger.” (He became Wisconsin’s coach two years later.)

We did the whole Notre Dame thing: Toured the locker room, tapped the “Play like a champion today” sign and stepped onto the field. Holtz even spoke to us and performed a trick in which he tore up a newspaper and magically put it back together. (It must be his only trick because he showed it to the current team last month.)

My point is, Notre Dame football is special to me, even though I didn’t go to school there (I-L-L …). Naturally, the TV broadcasts are important to me. Since the Irish put their home games on NBC in 1991, fans have been blessed with some outstanding broadcasters: Dick Enberg, Tom Hammond, Don Criqui, Charlie Jones and Mike Tirico, to name a few.

Tirico’s Notre Dame days ended when he became the full-time play-by-play voice for NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.” Rather than continue a lineage of proven, veteran announcers, NBC went the other direction, hiring 27-year-old Jac Collinsworth, the son of longtime “SNF” analyst Cris Collinsworth.

That isn’t an accusation of nepotism. It’s a fact. So is that Jac graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 with a degree in film, television and theatre. It’s nice that NBC chose someone with Irish ties and promoted from within the network. Collinsworth has co-hosted “Football Night in America” since joining NBC in 2020, and he called USFL games for the network last spring.

But he doesn’t carry on the tradition, which makes me wonder just what NBC thinks of Notre Dame these days. The Irish still were basking in the golden glow of their 1988 national title when they agreed to a five-year, $38 million deal with NBC. They don’t carry the same heft they used to, but Notre Dame maintains a national following. Its games are a big deal and deserve a broadcast team worthy of them.

I gave Collinsworth and new analyst Jason Garrett, who replaced Drew Brees, a close listen the last two weeks – which was tough because they were tortuous games. Collinsworth didn’t deliver in the Irish’s loss to Marshall. His voice was practically monotone calling the action, resembling a flight attendant reciting safety instructions, and he failed to capture the enormity of the upset.

He made some technical mistakes, too. He asked Garrett a question just as the Irish were punting, and Garrett couldn’t answer because the broadcast went to commercial. They never revisited it. After plays, Collinsworth eschewed math for the yardage to go with, for example, “mid to long range.” He also was unaware the play clock had reached zero twice.

Collinsworth’s second game, a win over Cal, was better. He had more emotion, particularly on the Irish’s go-ahead touchdown, a couple of big sacks in the fourth quarter and the touchdown return of a fumble that was called back. He was quicker with the math on down and distance. He also showed his sense of humor during a sleepy first quarter, saying, “If you like watching punters, we have the game for you.”

But on sacks of Cal’s Jack Plummer, he used “Down goes Plummer!” too much, and the wrong word slipped out when he said “crossbar” but meant “upright” on a missed kick. He caught himself, though.

In both games, Collinsworth sounded knowledgeable talking about the teams. But all of his interviewing and studying couldn’t prepare him for live action. The USFL was supposed to be his training ground, not Notre Dame football in front of 2.5 million viewers for the Marshall game and 2.9 million for Cal.

Incidentally, Garrett impressed me. He brought emotion and valuable insight to the broadcast. The former Cowboys coach clearly understood his role. He got in and out with his commentary and didn’t talk over Collinsworth. It likely helped they worked together on USFL games.

Both will have to grow into their jobs on a national stage, but Collinsworth has more to do. He needs to command the broadcast and provide context for viewers. The Marshall game was a missed opportunity for him. Garrett understood, calling it one of the biggest upsets in recent college football history.

NBC will need more announcers starting next year, when its rights deal with the Big Ten begins. The package of prime-time games will require a top tandem to call it, one that doesn’t need seasoning. For Notre Dame games, fans might have to put up with the broadcast as much as they do the team.

Remote patrol

  • As predicted in this space, Andrew Catalon and James Lofton, CBS’ No. 5 crew, will call the Texans-Bears game at noon Sunday. (I’m 1-for-1!)
  • Other NFL games airing Sunday in the Chicago market: Lions at Vikings, noon, Fox-32 (Brandon Gaudin, Brady Quinn); Packers at Buccaneers, 3:25 p.m., Fox-32 (Kevin Burkhardt, Greg Olsen).
  • The Blackhawks’ preseason opener Tuesday against the Blues will air at 7:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago Plus. 
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