I’m not an assassin. I’m not in the smear business. I get no kicks out of lurking in the shadows, hunched at the keyboard and cracking away at personalities I’ve never met.
But can someone explain why Fox couldn’t deliver a better tandem than Kevin Burkhart and John Lynch to handle Saints-Seahawks duties yesterday.
This is football’s elimination round – the big drama – and Burkhart-Lynch gave us three strong hours of little league.
My main gripe is with Lynch. Burkhart, the play-by-play man, can be somewhat hollow in his calls, and he gets a little shrieky sometimes after a big moment, but he moves the game along and has a relatively breezy style.
A friend of mine called during the game and said Burkhart belongs on Providence-Holy Cross or something. Yes, I see what he means by that.
But John Lynch is unfit for NFL playoff work. He gives you nothing. As a pro safetyman he knew his way around the field, but as a color analyst, an information processor peering from above, he’s lost.
His main area of expertise is telling us exactly what we all just watched after each play – not why, only what. They used to call John Facenda the voice of God. Lynch is the voice of the instant replay.
That skill would have been highly valued in earlier times, during low-technology eras, like when Morse code was big. Lynch would’ve been terrific in 1898, when your duty was to dot-dot-dash-dash the details of Harvard-Carlisle or Princeton-Army to the rest of the country. But today, in the high-def TV era, his calls are rather sterile.
Even when Lynch tried to deliver hard insight it didn’t work out. During the replay of a key sideline catch by Doug Baldwin late in the fourth quarter that was challenged by New Orleans, Lynch began describing things that weren’t even there.
“Now watch…the ball is still moving, not total control. The ball is still loose….”
So we watched. And replay showed the ball wasn’t moving in Baldwin’s hands. And the result of the challenge was total control, and it felt like Lynch was simply forcing the issue out there, trying to add some contrived drama to the scene while the officials finished their relatively uncomplicated review.
Which leads immediately to the next bit of puzzling commentary from Lynch. The Saints were on their last timeout when they tossed that challenge flag. If they’re wrong, they’re down to zero. But Lynch insisted Sean Payton was right in contesting the play.
“I think that’s a challenge Sean Peyton had to take,” he exclaimed. “You can’t leave ‘em in your pocket, so you take that challenge. It was close.”
Not really. The officials quickly ruled against the Saints and, with 2:48 remaining on the clock and trailing by eight, New Orleans was stripped of its final timeout.
Lesson: You can identify an overwhelmed color analyst by his heavy usage of a crutch word, or filler word. It is his security blanket. It carries him through the stress of the broadcast. This crutch word is invaluable because of its flexibility. It can be used in many situations and applications, such as noun, verb, adjective, conjunction, interjection, etc.
Lynch has two crutch words. The first is physicality. This one he stole directly from ESPN, the birthplace of crutch words. And it’s a goodword for an ex-killer like Lynch because it shows he can describe rough, hard-hitting football and sound scientific at the same time.
Like its sister words lineality and microtonality and osmolality, physicality sounds like serious business, and the term made several key appearances in the first half of Saints-Seahawks.
But Lynch’s major crutch word, his very lifeblood, is a simple one. It is football.
Lynch abuses this poor term. So does Jesse Palmer at ESPN. This is not an exaggeration. They force it into every sentence. They comb their hair with it and sprinkle it on eggs and use it to detail the very movement of the planets. For them, football is to football as carbon is to planet earth. A few examples from Lynch’s playoff effort:
“They fly to the football…”
“He simply dropped the football.”
“He could be the X-factor in this football game.”
“You break on the football and make a solid tackle.”
“We’re going to see him catch the football.”
And here was Lynch’s oddest use of it, during a sudden Brokeback Mountain moment in the fourth quarter. He was gushing over Earl Thomas, Seattle’s punishing safetyman, after he exploded through a Saint receiver and wrecked a key third-down play. And then…
“Erin Andrews on our crew teases me,” Lynch confessed. “She says I have a man-crush on this guy and I do…because I like great football players and [Thomas] is a great football player.”
Thankfully this revelation appeared very late in the telecast, with all of us drained and the end mercifully in sight. Witnesses to a football game in a football stadium where the home team plays “Seahawks football.” As opposed to Laker football or WNBA football.
As I said, I don’t want to be an assassin. I don’t know John Lynch, but I know he once was a very fine player. I also know that he’s highly unsuited for the playoff pulpit.
Tom Danyluk joins Football Nation after nine years as a columnist with Pro Football Weekly. He is an award-winning freelance writer and author of “The Super ‘70s,” which you can purchase on Amazon.com. Questions or comments? Please contact Tom at Danyluk1@yahoo.com.