Be Grateful For The Versus Crew
After spending Sunday afternoon watching the first full day of NFL coverage of the season, it made me thankful for the quality of broadcasts that we IndyCar fans are getting from Versus. All of the networks that cover the NFL have top-notch talent covering their top games. But when you get some of the smaller market games that are considered about the fourth or fifth game in a network’s pecking order, the coverage is pretty bad. Since the Titans played Thursday night (we won’t talk about that game, nor the Tennessee Vols…ouch!), the Nashville market was subjected to the Jaguars-Colts game on Sunday…both of which are considered small market teams like the Titans.
I realize it is the start of a new season, but there were multiple gaffs with graphics and with the two broadcasters in the booth. We in Nashville are used to announcers like this. No matter how good the Titans are – with Nashville being one of the smallest markets in the league, we almost always get the fifth string of CBS announcers. After you get the best that each network has to offer for their top NFL game, there is a substantial drop-off in talent in the booth. Kevin Harlan and Solomon Wilcots handled the duties for the Colts game. They mispronounced names, misidentified players and gave the impression they really didn’t know much about the game they were covering. The entire production just reeked of being second-rate.
It made me grateful for the broadcast team at Versus that handles most of the IndyCar races. First of all, there is something comforting and familiar with hearing the same voices each week. Second – there is no questioning the knowledge of everyone associated with the broadcast team. We know that Bob Jenkins, Jack Arute and Jon Beekhuis have been covering races for at least a couple of decades. Robbie Buhl is new to the booth, but is a race-winning driver and has been a car owner for several years now. The two newbies, Robbie Floyd and Lindy Thackston, have proven themselves and have earned their credibility.
I find it ironic that one of the best broadcast teams in sports is on a channel that most people don’t even know they have. They also cover a sport that hardly anyone follows anymore. Lindy Thackston was wise in expanding her resume this past weekend. She was the sideline reported for Versus during the Texas-Wyoming game that was close during the early stages before Texas and Wyoming both remembered who they were. Lindy did a great job showing her versatility as well as how much she had prepared and done her homework, which is more than I can say about some of the chumps in the booths at the lesser watched NFL games.
Seriously, the NFL is the big gorilla that even dwarfs NASCAR. It is what all other sports aspire to be. Yet, Brian Baldinger and Mark Jones are the best that the networks can get to cover the games that don’t go out to the entire nation? Please. I’ll take the IndyCar Versus crew and stack them up against any network’s top crews.
It all goes back to passion – passion for the sport they are covering. Some of the NFL announcers are certainly passionate about their sport. John Madden certainly had a true love of the game, but he is retired. NBC’s Al Michaels seems to embrace the game of football, but I can’t say so much for his counterparts on the other networks. Joe Buck at Fox is certainly capable, but I think he is more of a baseball guy. The same goes for Jim Nance at CBS. He is polished but seems to have more passion for basketball and golf. The ESPN Monday Night crew seems more interested in putting on an entertaining show than actually covering a game.
To me, the two voices that are synonymous with IndyCar racing belong to Paul Page and Bob Jenkins. With a few exceptions like Marty Reid, Bob Varsha and the forgettable Todd Harris – the sound of those voices immediately ring of IndyCar racing. There is no questioning the level of passion for either of those two. The only question would be…which one is more passionate. They both attended their first Indy 500 at an early age. Jack Arute attended his first Indy 500 almost twenty years before he ever covered one for ABC. I’ll also put in a plug for an old-timer – Gary Gerould, who did a great job as a pit reporter for ABC. It didn’t take long listening to Gary that he cared deeply for this sport.
All of these racing broadcast journalists I’ve mentioned have been involved with IndyCar racing because of their love of the sport. They have all covered other sports but when you watch those telecasts, you can tell what their true passion is – IndyCar racing. None of them have to handed a three-ring binder and hours of video to cram for the next race. They know everything by heart.
It’s a true shame to watch these talents go unwatched as they toil away on Versus. As the season winds down, it is becoming painfully obvious that the ratings on Versus are worse than what anyone imagined. No matter how Jeff Belskus and Terry Angstadt spin it, the numbers don’t lie. But it’s not the fault of the Versus broadcast team or the production crew. They have been first-rate and have continued to excel while knowing that no one is watching. It’s up to the IRL to ponder what, if anything, can be done about it.