Networks approach players for insight

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:49 PM ET

Love them or hate them, at least they played the game.

When it comes to broadcasting one of the biggest sports on the planet, networks have increasingly gone to former players for insight.

Kicking off its 2010 regular-season schedule Thursday night with the New Orleans Saints playing host to the Minnesota Vikings on NBC, the National Football League will be analyzed more than ever by some of its former greats.

Former Monday Night Football analyst Joe Theismann is back in the booth for the first time since 2006, joining Bob Papa and Matt Millen as part of the NFL Network's Thursday night telecasts -- they start an eight-game run at mid-season.

Another ex-quarterback, Kurt Warner, has turned his attention to Fox, offering his opinion on its broadcasts.

Troy Aikman has been one of the best and most objective broadcasters ever to transition from turf to talk. His former favourite target with the Dallas Cowboys, Michael Irvin, has carved a nice gig for himself with the NFL Network.

Deion Sanders (NFL Network), Rich Gannon (CBS), and Boomer Esiason (CBS) all are considered comfortable in front of a camera.

Bringing Rodney Harrison aboard last season after the hard-hitting safety retired from on-field action was one of the smartest moves NBC has made.

He'll never shy away from calling out players or coaches on their mistakes. He stirred things up when he took on former coach Bill Belichick over his ill-fated fourth-down call against the Indianapolis Colts last season.

Adding to the idea of insightful offerings from someone with experience is Mike Pereira at Fox.

Who better to fill the minutes during a video review than the NFL's former senior director of officiating?

For the last decade he has been a source of information for Fox broadcasters and behind-the-scenes personnel. Now he's on the payroll.

"The rule book is so complex that at times I struggle with it," Pereira told the Dallas Morning News. "For the NFL, the best thing to happen is for the announcers to get it right when they are explaining something to viewers. Our fans deserve to know exactly what the rules are."

Rules hawk

So do the refs. But they don't always get the calls right, as Pereira knows from almost a decade of monitoring every Sunday game for the league before retiring and getting scooped up by the always inventive minds at Fox.

Their new voice -- who could be used in front of the camera or simply as sound bytes -- won't be afraid to rip into his former peers should he see them make a mistake.

"Officials are big boys," Pereira said. "They know when they are wrong. Viewers should know that, too. The idea is to make the games more viewer-friendly."

That's the goal of every network broadcasting NFL games.

As usual, though, Fox seems to be on the cutting edge.


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