Commentator Gus Johnson (Photo: Getty Images)
I'd like to preface this story by saying I love listening to Gus Johnson's dramatic play calling of N.F.L. games. In fact, his downright exuberance is a welcome relief to the droning way Joe Buck sleepwalks an audience through a game.
With that being said, keep Johnson on the gridiron and away from the football pitch. As excitable a Johnson is in his play-by-play, his lack of experience with the game will undoubtedly lead to the kind of broadcasting that cost ABC dearly with their selection of Dennis Miller or even Tony Kornheiser as Monday Night Football commentators.
This is not to detract from Johnson's quality as a sports journalist. I mention it simply from the perspective of a soccer fan who doesn't want to be bombarded with awkward terminology and over-embellishment at the wrong point in a match; the same way American football fans grew tired of Miller's drawing parallels between Brett Favre and some an unknown Elizabethan poet whose name could stump Ken Jennings.
American soccer fans have matured beyond the point where Fox needs to "amp" up the commentary with overly boisterous calls and gimmicky catchphrases. The game itself has steadily won over the American audience. Just give them what they want to see in the smooth, eloquent and most importantly accurate manner in which they are accustomed.
As you can hear from the following MLS game, Johnson, while ever emphatic, sounds unsure and far from smooth:
Johnson's stop-and-go style is perfectly suited for a game like American football that's played out in short bursts. But it simply doesn't work for a sport that flows nonstop for 45 minutes at a time.
World football is a different game to American football and college basketball (which Johnson also calls) and therefore requires a different approach to describing. If Fox wants to bring more Americans to the game, they should utilize an experienced commentator who not only describes the game in the subtle, near-poetic dialect perfected through years of experience, but can also explain the intricate nuances of the game to the soccer newbie.
Perhaps I'm wrong and Gus Johnson will be fantastic in his transition from football to football. I would happily feast on a large plate of crow. As I said, I'm a big Johnson fan.
But commentators have historically struggled to make the switch. And lest George Santayana's epic quote be ironically forgotten, Fox could be doomed to repeat the failures of broadcasting's past by not paying credence to history.
Johnson's first assignment is the Manchester United - Real Madrid Champion's League match on Feb. 13.