Monday Night Football makes a stop in Tampa this week as the Bucs play host to the Dolphins in a game that might feature more conversation about what's going on off the field with the Bucs and Dolphins than what's going on on the field between the winless Bucs and the .500 Dolphins. The Bucs have been a soap opera all season with the Josh Freeman mess, a problem with MRSA and the future of coach Greg Schiano. Meantime, the Dolphins' situation involving the alleged bullying of offensive lineman Jonathan Martin by several teammates, most notably fellow lineman Richie Incognito, has become the off-field story of the year in the NFL.
Look for those topics to be discussed by play-by-play announcer Mike Tirico and analyst Jon Gruden.
Tirico said the Dolphins bullying case certainly will be a major topic Monday night, but first and foremost, he and Gruden have a game to call.
Meantime, as far as Gruden goes, he's in his fourth year calling MNF. Most thought the former Bucs coach would work in television for a year or so then head back to coaching. Yet, he's still in the booth.
"I'm surprised I haven't run him back to coaching,'' Tirico joked.
But seriously, does Tirico see a day when Gruden leaves the broadcast booth for the coaching sideline?
"Jon's a big boy and can speak for himself,'' said Tirico, who points out that Gruden enjoys broadcasting and is good at it. "Do I think he'll go back at some point? I know he's got coaching in his DNA. It's in the family bloodlines. I know he is very passionate about watching what his brother Jay (an assistant with the Bengals) is doing in Cincinnati. One day, I assume Jon will go back, but I hope it's not anytime soon because I'm enjoying and I know a lot of folks in America enjoy Jon's spin and presentation of what's going on on the football field.''
With Jon Gruden in town for Monday Night Football, here's one opinion of the best broadcasters who were former coaches in NFL history.
1. John Madden. An easy pick. Not only is Madden the best coach-turned-broadcaster, he's the best NFL analyst in the history of the game. He changed the way analysts call games, bringing an Everyman quality, as well as humor, while still offering in-depth analysis of what is occasionally a complicated game.
2. Tony Dungy. Just about perfect as a studio analyst with his mix of analysis, criticism and unexpected humor. Originally I thought Dungy wouldn't succeed on TV because he seemed too quiet and, mostly, too nice to be critical. Yet, Dungy has no problem with it and, you know, he still does it in a nice way.
3. Bill Walsh. The former 49ers coach was in the booth a mere three years from 1989-91 before returning to coach at Stanford. Yet all that time, he was on NBC's lead announcing team with Dick Enberg, and you can understand why. He was a brilliant tactician and passed his intelligence along in a very digestible way for the viewer.
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4. Mike Ditka. The ESPN studio analyst talks 100 mph, and he's most definitely old school in his opinions. Yet, watch how much respect he gets from the other analysts, including recent-day players Keyshawn Johnson and Cris Carter. That gives validity to his opinions about the modern-day game. Plus, he was not only a great coach but a great player, too. He can be crotchety, stubborn and loud. But he's also funny and consistently entertaining.
5. Jimmy Johnson. I was going to put Gruden in my top five, and he's a fine broadcaster getting better all the time as he becomes more critical. But Johnson has really taken a big step this season with his analysis on Fox's pregame show. Too bad he has to share the panel with three other analysts because his strong opinions are getting better and better each week. He has really found his voice this season.
Three things that popped into my head
1. If the Rays' Wil Myers is not named American League rookie of the year on Monday, there should be an investigation.
2. Speaking of rookies, isn't it interesting that the National League players voted for Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, the Alonso High product, as the NL's top rookie? Fernandez had a sensational year and certainly is deserving, but you wonder if it was a purposeful slight of flashy Dodgers rookie Yasiel Puig.
3. With this bullying/hazing/whatever you want to call it mess with the Dolphins, I just don't see how general manager Jeff Ireland keeps his job, especially if his advice was to tell Jonathan Martin to punch his alleged bully, Richie Incognito. And, oh, head coach Joe Philbin can pack his stuff, too.
• The NFL is king. Thursday night, ESPN showed one of the most anticipated college football games of the year with a top-five matchup between Oregon and Stanford, while NFL Network was showing a game between two teams with losing records — the Redskins and Vikings. Still, the NFL game drew a higher overnight rating than the college game.
• Bright House Sports Network has resurrected the panel-news show The Press Box. A new show, covering local and national college and professional sports, is produced weekly and typically debuts on Monday nights at 11 with several re-airs throughout the week. The old half-hour Press Box was on for more than two years before BHSN went to an all-preps format back at the start of 2012. The new show is an hour and includes news, interviews and a panel format featuring local media types. The always-enthusiastic Rock Riley is host.
• Last Sunday's Patriots-Steelers game drew a remarkable 40.3 rating in Boston, meaning 40.3 percent of all Boston households with televisions were tuned in. That's the highest-rated game in any market this NFL season.
• Bet this will surprise you: the NFL Network celebrated its 10th anniversary last week. The network is now in 72 million homes and has become a go-to place for news, analysis and features if you are an NFL fan.
tom jones' two cents