Last month, we told you that NFL Network was breaking up the all-time awful analyst duo of Matt Millen and Joe Theismann. Furthermore, NFL Network was considering a change at the play by play position, where Bob Papa had done fairly well, especially considering his broadcast partners. Papa probably deserved a chance with a competent analyst instead of playing traffic cop with Harry and Lloyd, but it was not guaranteed. The initial reports had Papa competing with fan favorite Gus Johnson to do play by play while NBC's Notre Dame analyst Mike Mayock was a lock to become the new analyst. NFL Network has finalized their Thursday Night Football booth for 2011 and in a huge surprise, neither Papa nor Johnson will join Mayock in the booth. Instead, ESPN's Brad Nessler will get the call. Here's an excerpt from Richard Deitsch's report...
SI.com has learned that Brad Nessler and Mike Mayock will call the network's eight-game Thursday Night Football package. SI.com reported last month that Mayock had been tapped to replace analysts Matt Millen and Joe Theismann on the broadcast. Nessler, the longtime ESPN announcer, will be the play-by-play voice of the new two-person team.
Nessler has worked for ESPN since 1992, most notably calling college football and college basketball games for ABC and ESPN. He and partner Todd Blackledge were assigned the ESPN Saturday prime time college football telecast last season and called Ohio State's win over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl this January. It is expected Nessler will continue to have a role on ESPN's college football coverage.
As for his NFL experience, Nessler served as the lead announcer on the back end of Monday Night Football doubleheaders in 2006 and 2010. He served as the radio play-by-play man for the Falcons from 1982-88 and called Vikings games on the radio the following season.
That came from out of nowhere. Gus Johnson would have been a much more glamorous choice, but I really, really like the Nessler pick. In fact, he may actually be a better pick than Gus. Nessler isn't a huge star in broadcasting and likely won't send fans to the phones asking for NFL Network, but he is among the top two or three underrated announcers in sports, especially doing football. (His time announcing the NBA Finals in the early 2000s was decent, but he was replaced by Al Michaels quickly.) His work on college football for ESPN the last few years has been very good and his partnership with Todd Blackledge was enjoyable. Nessler's transition from college to the NFL should not be a problem, and it appears he will keep his college broadcasting duties for ESPN. Furthermore, Nessler will allow Mayock the chance to do what he does best and give him ample time to analyze the game. Mayock isn't necessarily the second coming of NFL analysts, but he is still well above average. I can see the Nessler/Mayock team developing some very good chemistry over time and becoming one of the NFL's best announcing teams. All in all, through disasters like Bryant Gumbel and Theismann & Millen, it looks like NFL Network may have finally gotten their broadcast booth right.