The recent passing of John Madden inspired me to rank my favorite NFL color guys of the BOTNS era. Hey, the former coach thrived on competition, right?
This ranking is a very personal list of what I felt back then combined with a wee bit of adjustment for the decades of sports watching I have enjoyed since. Note that I didn't watch the NFL on TV on a regular basis until the early 1980s, and I also cheated to include a couple guys who started early Nineties-ish.
Also keep in mind that there was no Sunday Ticket, I was too young to roam the sports bars, and bonus coverage wasn't as much a thing. I just remember there were less games, period. So regular folks didn't necessarily get a lot of exposure to the full network announcer rosters beyond the top teams and the guys who happened to be calling the local game.
1) Merlin Olsen: I was an NBC guy growing up. I liked the Steelers and the AFC anyway, but I also just liked NBC. So my team of choice was not Summerall and Madden, but Enberg and Olsen. Merlin seemed like a decent guy, and I didn't even watch Father Murphy.
2) John Madden: It's impossible to miss his importance and his impact, but back then I didn't appreciate him as I would later. Even now, I think this rating is as much because of his great commercials as much as his work on CBS.
3) Paul Maguire: I liked him a lot on NBC, and for a while, I thought he even made the ESPN broadcasts tolerable. He was a funny guy and a likable presence. Is there an alternate universe in which HE is the star of Father Murphy?
4) Dan Dierdorf: I thought he got a little full of himself on Monday Night Football, but in retrospect, it couldn't have been easy dealing with everyone else on that show. I liked his work on CBS teaming with Verne Lundquist, but that was wayyyy outside the time period. However, he did do work before MNF on CBS, so I am including him!
5) Todd Christensen: Boy, whatever happened to him? He went from a rising star in the NFL booth lauded for his use of big words to something like the 12th team on ESPN college football coverage. I mean, Roy Firestone loved him. ROY FIRESTONE, people! I really dug him and his pairing with the venerable Charlie Jones.
6) Don Meredith: But I admit it's more the idea of Dandy Don since I was well aware of the myths of the glory days of Monday Night Football in the 1980s but didn't always watch much of it.
7) Terry Bradshaw: It's easy to forget his color commentary run on CBS after he's been on the FOX pregame show so long. It wasn't easy at the time to forget his playing career as a Steeler fan watching the likes of Cliff Stoudt and Mark Malone (who himself became a play-by-play guy).
8) Dan Fouts: He had a heck of a career in both pro and college football broadcasting.
9) Hank Stram: Another one where it's more the idea of Hank Stram and the fun of imitating him because I don't think I actually got to watch too many Jack Buck/Hank Stram games.
10) Beasley Reece: Nothing against the guy, but he kind of became a punchline for us when we saw the announce teams in USA Today the weekend of the games or when he actually turned up on an NBC game: "Who the heck is Beasley Reece?" Pretty sure I somehow had at least 4 or 5 football cards of him, though.