Sports media: Fox’s Gus Johnson won’t be music to Northwestern fans’ ears
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If you’re a Northwestern fan and you’ll be watching the Big Ten championship game Saturday on TV, prepare to be annoyed.
Not because the Wildcats face an uphill battle against talent-laden Ohio State, a 14-point favorite. Not because Buckeyes fans figure to overwhelm the Cats’ faithful in Indianapolis, even though NU sold out its allotment of 10,000-plus tickets. Lucas Oil Stadium seats 70,000.
The source of Northwestern fans’ irritation won’t have as much to do with Ohio State as it will with Fox play-by-play voice Gus Johnson.
Johnson gained fame for his animated play-by-play of college basketball for CBS, particularly in the NCAA Tournament. He parlayed that fan favor into the lead role on Fox’s college football broadcasts in 2011. With the Big Ten under the network’s purview since last season, Johnson has become more a part of our lives. It’s debatable whether that’s for the better.
There was a time when we couldn’t get enough of Johnson. His basketball calls were epic. He was at his best in the big moments. Viewers would replay highlights not just for the play, but for Johnson’s call. He screamed, his voice might crack, but you were screaming and cracking along with him.
Now you’re wondering why he’s yelling at you.
Johnson has become a caricature of himself. Viewers are giving “Monday Night Football” play-by-play voice Joe Tessitore a hard time because of his incessant overdramatic calls. Tess has nothing on Johnson, who personifies the Doppler effect. His voice will crescendo, then drop off a cliff, only to rise again, sometimes with a shrill for effect, intentional or not.
But that’s not the only reason NU fans will reach for earplugs. If you took in the Michigan-Ohio State game last Saturday on Fox, you know what you’re going to hear this Saturday: undying love for Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer.
“That man is one of the greatest coaches in the history of this college game,” Johnson said near the end of the Buckeyes’ blowout victory. “Men like him don’t come around very often.”
And that was just part of it.
It’s hard to argue with the first statement. Meyer has won three national championships, and he’s one of three coaches to win a national title at two schools. But that second statement — Johnson needs to put down the chisel and stay away from Mount Rushmore.
Meyer has flaws, and they include his poor and insensitive handling of domestic-abuse allegations against former OSU assistant Zach Smith, which resulted in Meyer’s three-game suspension.
But Johnson painted Meyer as the victim, not Smith’s ex-wife, Courtney Smith. Johnson described the season as “challenging” for Meyer, carelessly listing the suspension with other obstacles he overcame, such as losing star defensive end Nick Bosa to injury and starting a new quarterback in Dwayne Haskins.
Johnson’s partner, analyst Joel Klatt, wasn’t immune to being tone-deaf, either.
“You think about this season that they’ve had,” Klatt said of the Buckeyes, “the suspension of their head coach, the injuries to some of their best players, you’ve got the offensive line developing all season, very criticized, trying to find the identity, the defense struggling, all of that.”
How Klatt and Johnson could lump Meyer’s suspension with anything football-related is unconscionable.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Johnson appeared to get wrapped up in the home-team atmosphere, which would seem difficult for a guy from Detroit. If Indianapolis turns into Columbus, will he turn into Brutus again?
Any rational Wildcats fan knows the odds are stacked against them. But the game might be more bearable if it didn’t feel like the announcing crew was stacked against them, too.
Even though the White Sox are off for the winter, play-by-play voice Jason Benetti isn’t. It seemed like he was calling every game I turned on in the last two weeks.
Before Thanksgiving, he called games at the Maui Invitational for ESPN. On Sunday, he called the Steelers-Broncos game in Denver for ESPN Radio. On Tuesday, he called the Michigan State-Louisville game in Louisville for ESPN. Up next for Benetti is the Sun Belt Conference championship game between Louisiana and Appalachian State on Saturday in Boone, North Carolina, for ESPN.
Northwestern play-by-play voice Dave Eanet also had a busy itinerary. After calling a basketball game last Friday afternoon in the Wooden Legacy in Fullerton, California, Eanet flew home to call the Illinois-Northwestern football game Saturday in Evanston. That night, he flew back to Los Angeles to call a basketball game Sunday afternoon.
The No. 2 Fox crew of Kevin Burkhardt, Charles Davis and Pam Oliver will call the Bears-Giants game, which will be broadcast to 46 percent of the country in the noon window. This is the first Bears game this season for the crew, which is a popular one. This week, the website Awful Announcing released its annual rankings of every NFL broadcast team based on readers’ voting. This group ranked fifth overall and first among Fox crews.