Dan Dierdorf has long been a target of that peculiar backlash that comes with familiarity. The more a broadcaster is heard, the more aware the audience becomes of his verbal tics and habits, and the riper for criticism and parody he or she becomes.
Sometimes it is fair. Chris Berman, for an obvious example, is so far back-back-back-and-gone that he went from being caricatured to becoming the caricature. But other times that familiarity with the flaws leads to the audience losing sight of what the broadcaster did — and perhaps still does — do well.
Dierdorf belongs in that latter category. The Hall of Fame offensive tackle, who has spent 43 consecutive seasons playing or broadcasting NFL games, is beyond familiar as the longest-tenured current NFL analyst at 29 years.
That run comes to an end Saturday night. He will retire following the Patriots-Colts AFC divisional playoff game, which he’ll call with play-by-play voice Greg Gumbel, his partner in the booth since 2006 and CBS’s current No. 2 NFL tandem.
“I’m a little melancholy. It’s a little hard to believe that this is my last game Saturday night,’’ said Dierdorf, 64, who acknowledged he nearly retired before the season because physical problems, including two replaced hips, have made travel a challenge. “But wow, what a way to go . . . All I ever wanted to do was work at CBS Sports. As a player, I’d look up at that banner and Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshier would be up there in that booth and I’d think to myself, I’d love for an opportunity to try to do that.
“And what a way to go out with Indianapolis and New England, there are more story lines than we could ever get into with this football game. Playoff football is something special. Very much looking forward to it.”
Dierdorf is no stranger around Foxborough. Along with Gumbel, he already has called four Patriots games this season. Dierdorf has been to Foxborough dozens of times since his broadcasting career began in 1985 as, for that year, a play-by-play voice on CBS. He left CBS in 1987 for ABC and “Monday Night Football,” then returned in 1999.
We’ve known his voice for a long time, and so we know his flaws. He talks even when the moment may not call for it. He’ll occasionally stick to a point that replay suggests is false. He is fond of the double negative.
The perception of Dierdorf is not unlike that of another accomplished broadcaster who recently retired, Tim McCarver. Once perceived rightfully as great, it was with increased exposure to those flaws — and yes, some slippage with age — that he began to grate.
Which is disappointing in one respect — it leads to their strengths being overlooked. For instance, Dierdorf was quick to identify what occurred in overtime of the Patriots’ 30-27 loss to the Jets this season. While the vast majority of us were puzzled at referee Jerome Bogar’s call on Nick Folk’s missed 56-yard field goal, Dierdorf instantly recognized that the Patriots were called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty because defensive lineman Chris Jones had violated an obscure rule — he had pushed a teammate into the pile at the line of scrimmage.
Dierdorf’s quick identification of that play was essentially the opposite of how McCarver handled the obstruction call on Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks that ended Game 3 of the World Series. McCarver was momentarily baffled like the rest of us.
There is one more difference between Dierdorf and McCarver. While McCarver was saluted on-air, gracefully if with slightly maudlin undertones, as the World Series neared its conclusion, Dierdorf says he has no interest in an on-air sendoff.
“I don’t think we’re doing anything because this is about playoff football, the Colts and the Patriots, not about me,’’ said Dierdorf. “That would make me uncomfortable. This is a playoff football game. That’s where our focus should be. The NFL is going to go on without me being in a booth every Sunday. I would not want to clutter the end of a game by making it about me.”
Injury also hurts NBC
With the Sochi Winter Olympics set to begin in less than a month, NBC Sports finds itself without one of the expected stars of the Games, not to mention one who has headlined its promotions thus far.
Lindsey Vonn, the United States’ charismatic downhill skiing champion, will miss the Olympics as she recovers from a knee injury.
While there’s a possibility that she contributes to NBC’s coverage from New York — her recovery from surgery prevents her from traveling to Sochi — NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus acknowledged it’s far from the role the network expected her to play as one of the presumed stars of its coverage.
“How do we adjust? We change a little bit of our promotion, we look for another story,” Lazarus said. “We will miss her. We wish we still had Lindsey there, but we don’t.”
Needed to be done
The Baseball Writers Association of America banned Dan Le Batard of the Miami Herald (and a mediocre-rated ESPN program) from future Hall of Fame voting, and suspended him for a year, for giving his vote this year to the website Deadspin. While Deadspin revels in its highly effective rabble-rousing — it turned over the ballot to its readers, who in turn put together a very smart ballot — the BBWAA is stuck in a no-win situation. It had to do something to punish Le Batard to prevent further anarchy in the voting process. But given the various issues the BBWAA is dealing with — most notably look-at-me ballots from a few out-of-touch voters — this statement from president LaVelle E. Neal III rings fairly hollow: “The BBWAA regards Hall of Fame voting as the ultimate privilege, and any abuse of that privilege is unacceptable.” This from the same guy who left Pedro Martinez off his MVP ballot in 1999.