Here’s hoping ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” crew paid close attention to Bears-Vikings on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” — and not just because it was an entertaining game.
The much-derided rookie “MNF” team of Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten and Booger McFarland would benefit from studying Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, who do prime-time games as well as anyone.
ESPN too often seems like it’s trying too hard.
It’s not the trying that’s the problem.
It’s letting viewers sense just how hard it is trying that detracts.
NBC lets the game come to it.
If “SNF” is guilty of some silly things, such as its green graphic superimposed on the field to show how far it is to a first down, that’s easily ignored.
Michaels and Collinsworth are authoritative, amiable and experienced enough to keep things in perspective.
Michaels knows it’s not necessary to shout to convey excitement and urgency.
Collinsworth, as he has from the beginning of his TV career, speaks when it improves the silence and doesn’t seem to be working all that hard to come up with something to say.
Mainly, Collinsworth and Michaels keep things conversational.
It never seems as though Michaels is interviewing Collinsworth, or cueing him to comment.
What’s more, they appear to get along naturally.
The closest ESPN’s gang comes to seeming cohesive is in their camp-out commercial for PlayStation Vue TV, and even that’s not very convincing.
Compare that to Collinsworth throwing Michaels a curve after Michaels read a promo for NBC’s coverage of the National Dog Show on Thanksgiving.
“You and I ought to host that one time,” Collinsworth said.
“Yeah, right,” Michaels said dismissively.
“I was thinking this would be perfect,” Collinsworth continued, his chuckle making it clear that it would not be perfect but leaving viewers a lovely image of the two of them amid the purebreds.
Collinsworth and Michaels let things unfold naturally, not forcing or harping on a subject just because they prepared for it.
They’re prepared. (At one point Collinsworth noted Bears quarterback Trubisky played running back — from second grade through sixth.) But that preparation gives them the room to go wherever the action takes them.
Take the Cody Parkey storyline.
The Bears kicker, who a week earlier managed to nail four uprights, had his story told up top by sideline reporter Michele Tafoya.
Tafoya noted both that Jimmy Fallon joked about him and that dueling Chicago TV station news choppers got video of him practicing at Soldier Field, but the Bears didn’t want people to see it.
All of this was touched on by Michaels and Collinsworth when Parkey came into the game.
But they didn’t pound it home unnecessarily. When the Bears made strategic decisions to go for two-point conversions after touchdowns rather than try to kick, they took it on faith the viewer knew of Parkey’s two missed extra-point tries and pair of field goal attempts against the Lions.
While it’s impossible to know for sure what another network would do, it’s easy to imagine ESPN pushing the angle a lot harder than NBC did, complete with animated helicopter graphics set to “Flight of the Valkyries.”
That’s not to say Michaels and Collinsworth would have hesitated if Cody’s misses had been relevant.
About the only time they indicated they had more Parkey material in their arsenal was late in the game, when Michaels reflected on how former partner John Madden had a word for the sound a ball makes when it hits an upright: “doink.”
That’s not really what it sounds like, but imagining Madden saying it was bound to make viewers smile.
That doesn’t happen much when watching “Monday Night Football.”
Ratings game: Sunday’s NBC-5 telecast averaged a 34.4 household rating in the Chicago market, or approximately 1.18 million area TV homes.
That’s slightly lower than the 35.3 household rating NBC’s Bears-Packers “Sunday Night Football” season opener attracted, which was the Bears’ best Chicago TV number since 2013.
But it was the Bears’ second-highest rated game this season, well ahead of the 29.7 their “Monday Night Football” victory against the Seahawks in Week 2 drew on ESPN and ABC-7.
Whatever you want to believe: Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins’ pregame exhortation to teammates, shown by NBC, was kind of amusing.
“They’re not the reason this game moved to prime time,” Cousins said. “We are.”
That’s why Michaels kept talking about how great it was to be back in Chicago for the first Sunday night Bears telecast in six years, even if he also got in a subtle dig at the traffic delays caused by Saturday night’s Michigan Avenue holiday parade.
That’s why Collinsworth couldn’t stop praising Khalil Mack and the Bears defense and hailing the progress Bears coach Matt Nagy, Tarik Cohen, Trubisky and the Bears offense have made.
The Vikings again play on “SNF” this weekend, taking on the Packers, but that’s been on the schedule all along.
There’s no flex required. But if Cousins wants to say the Vikings are the reason the game is still in prime time, he might have a stronger case.
Aaron Rodgers might have something to do with it, too, however.
Speaking of Rodgers: That ad for Bose noise-canceling headphones taking away all the annoying distractions for Packers quarterback Rodgers on the field as he prepped to face the Bears was well done.
The only thing that might have made it better is if the bickering agent and insurance rep from Rodgers’ State Farm ads had been among those to vanish.
Be true to your school: What do the Bears’ James Daniels and Vikings’ Dalvin Cook have against their collegiate alma maters?
Their fellow starters introduced themselves to NBC viewers in the traditional manner, reciting their names and where they played college ball.
Daniels, however, cited Warren G. Harding High School (which is in Warren, Ohio) rather than the University of Iowa.
Cook referred to Miami Central High (of West Little River, Fla.) instead of Florida State.
A couple of guys are going to hear from their university alumni associations.
Yet it was Al who kept mentioning falling temps: Score one for a heated press box. While Tafoya was decked out in ski-hill attire, Michaels and Collinsworth, in quarter-zip sweaters, looked like they were ready for cocktails by the fire back at the lodge.