Go back and watch any USMNT World Cup game or any Everton match from the last seven years and you'll see goalkeeper Tim Howard yelling. It's what he does. So maybe it should be no surprise that Howard has found a home in the NBC Sports Network commentary booth, calling seven games for the nascent network last year and re-upping his deal for this upcoming EPL season. What is a surprise is that Howard is diving into color commentary while he's still diving for saves.
When's the last time you saw one of America's top athletes sidling up to the mike the day after a game? That's what Howard did last season when he made his commentary debut during a Chelsea, Manchester United game in late October. Twenty-four hours after blanking Aston Villa 2-0, Howard donned a suit and tie to provide a perspective that no other NBC announcer could--that of an active player who's one of the best in the world at his position. And even though the reviews weren't all positive, Howard was invited back, so he must have done something right.
By taking a chance on Howard and now bringing him back, NBC did something right too. Here's hoping the network and its competitors try this with football or basketball or baseball. We're used to seeing recently retired players in the studio for pre-game shows and the occasional player whose team is eliminated from the playoffs sitting in for the halftime show. But we're talking about getting the in-game perspective of an active, involved player with a stake in the game's outcome. That’s new.
Think of Russell Wilson sitting alongside Al Michaels on Monday Night Football and breaking down the Niners defense. Or Clayton Kershaw joining Vin Scully in the booth to tell audiences how to get Buster Posey out. Or Paul George explaining to Marv Albert the best way to play D on Lebron.
As fun as that sounds, it’s unlikely - not because the players wouldn’t want to do it, but because they their teams wouldn’t let them. An active player analyzing another would be tantamount to giving away strategy and that’s a no-no, especially from a coach’s perspective. Think Belichick is going to let Brady talk about defensive lines? Think again. It just happens that Howard plays a sport in which the playbooks are more or less open for public perusal. That’s definitely not true of football or baseball (pitch selection and positioning is everything) but might work in basketball so long as the color commentator kept it a bit vague.
But the key might be simpler than that: Howard is incredibly good. A few weeks after calling the Chelsea, Manchester game, Howard’s Everton played United at Old Trafford. What were Wayne Rooney and crew able to do with the analysis Howard provided? Not a thing. Everton shut the Red Devils out, winning 1 - 0. Analyze that.
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