I found it difficult to watch the football game between the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins: not because it began at 8:30 PM local time on Christmas Day, or because of the terrible weather conditions at the game, or lack of scoring for the first three quarters that resulted from the wet field and ball, but because of the commentary offered by ESPN’s Monday Night Football broadcast team. Actually, it wasn’t the entire crew, but the infallible Joe Theisman, who made watching the game tough to bear by taking shot after unreasonable shot at Jets QB Chad Pennington.
Adding color commentary to an instant replay of a play in which Pennington failed to complete a pass in the rain, to a receiver across the field and about 30 yards down-field, Theisman commented: “He can’t make that throw.” Sounding somewhat astonished, another commentator, Tony Kornheiser, who is not an ex-NFL player but whose comments seemed more relevant and coherent nonetheless, asked Mr. Theisman something to the effect of (and this is a paraphrase): “Are you suggesting that a quarterback with the background and accolades that Pennington has amassed can’t complete a 30-yard pass?” Mr. Theisman responded: “He doesn’t have the arm strength to make that play.” Mr. Kornheiser retorted: “If he can’t complete that pass, then why would they call that play?” I couldn’t make enough sense of Theisman’s response to paraphrase it in context.
In an attempt to add invaluable enlightenment to an ensuing discussion about the Jets’ tendencies toward playing in close-scoring games and trying not to fall too far behind, Mr. Theisman had this to say as the crew broke for commercial: “They don’t have the ability to come from that far behind, more specifically, Chad Pennington.” Upon returning from break, almost in apology to this comment, the first graphic displayed by the technical crew emphasized the number of come-from-behind wins that the Jets had manufactured with Pennington as their quarterback. Ironically, in response to a fourth-quarter touchdown by the Dolphins that put them ahead, Pennington then led an 80-yard touchdown drive, which ended with a 32-yard touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery that even Theisman couldn’t complain about. Suddenly thereafter, Mr. Theisman had nothing but positive things to say about the Jets’ QB’s ability to lead his team and make consistent plays. Unfortunately, juxtaposed against what he had already said, Mr. Theisman’s comments seemed inconsistent and somewhat forced.
Growing up, as a fan of the Washington Redskins, I remember rooting for Theisman. But even then, as a fan and a young kid, I was left puzzled by some of the plays he made, or that he tried to make but couldn’t. Since then, I’ve been even more baffled by comments he has made during his career as a broadcaster about other players, which have much more often been derogatory than complimentary.
So thanks, Mr. Theisman, for all the fond memories. And to think: I felt bad for you when Lawrence Taylor (“LT” the first) snapped your leg and ended your career. I’m beginning to wish that he’d ended up breaking something else.
Incidentally, this post actually started out as a message to ESPN via their online comment form, but they only permit you to type 500 characters there.