This blog was going to be about last week. The Hall of Fame induction ceremony and accompanying events, my wife and my trips to Boston, Chatham, Hyannis Port or Burlington, VT, or something related to our week in New England. Then, along with millions of other fans, I watched Alabama and Texas A&M play an epic football game yesterday.
Johnny Manziel has been constantly in the news - for better or worse - and from the get-go, he showed why. At least why for the “better” part. He was sensational, doing things other football players - even the great ones - just don’t duplicate. Not in such a pressure filled game, against the defending two-time national champions, with so many eyes (and opinions) glued on him.
Yet, as I’ve posted previously (11/8/09), when it comes to enjoying a game, a color commentator can make the experience so much more enjoyable by explaining what’s going on - and why. If I had a vote for Most Valuable Person in the game, I’d give it to color man Gary Danielson. He continues to amaze me, not only with his over-the-top preparation but with his ability to predict what’s about to happen. Naturally, the preparation helps him, in that he knows both teams so well - undoubtedly because of extensive film study and interviews - but there’s more to his presentation than film study and one-on-ones. Sure, he played the game (very good college QB at Purdue, followed by 14 professional seasons) but it’s more than just having been on the field.
Some guys simply have a “feel” for the game, they understand the flow and what would work at a particular time. Danielson has incredible insight which he displays without ego, e.g. he never reminds the viewer that he just called the play that took place before the coach or quarterback did. He’s also right on the money when it comes to referees’ calls - prior to seeing the replays. Here are some examples:
1) After A&M went up 14-0 after two possessions, he said Alabama needed to look at their next offensive series as it’s “the final drive of the game,” i.e. the game was getting out of hand and it was mandatory they get a score right now. Of course, the fact the Tide did just that made ol’ Gary look prescient but it was the way he said it that made people understand how coaches look at how a game is unfolding. Or unraveling.
2) He made a “flow chart” of what Alabama needed to do to win the game - from clips of what Nick Saban had said in interviews throughout this and last season, as well as what the coach had told Danielson and his partner, Verne Lundquist, prior to the contest. It would have been more interesting had the pace of the game not been so quick and the TV truck been able to give viewers a chance to dissect it, as Danielson did.
3) On a pass play in which a ‘Bama player was called for “targeting,” meaning a 15 yard penalty and ejection from the game, Danielson immediately said the defender was simply going for the pass and inadvertently hit the A&M receiver. He correctly predicted the call would be reversed, i.e. the yards would still be marked off (by rule) but there would be no ejection, then proceeded to let the audience in on something the refs would have rather he’d have kept to himself - that technically the officials were saying the call was incorrect.
4) When the score was 14-14 (immediately following an Alabama TD), Danielson made the observation the Aggies might want to slow down. A&M had gone three-and-out on their previous possession and, although the Aggies love the new style of quick football (”basketball on grass”), they might not want to put their defense back on the field too soon. Sure enough, the play calling slowed to give the D needed rest and to sustain a drive.
5) Alabama had success passing on the A&M defense, yet as the Tide came out for an offensive possession, Danielson commented the A&M defense looked susceptible to the run. Naturally, Alabama started running and the holes that opened up were the kind that anyone could run through and gain substantial yardage (possibly why Alabama has such success recruiting running backs).
Danielson’s delivery is such that someone with only an elementary knowledge of football understands what he’s trying to get across, yet the avid fan can also appreciate his brilliance. He tells you what’s probably going to happen and when he doesn’t, he explains why what happened, did. No one watches (or listens to) a game for the color commentator but a great one makes the adventure so much more pleasurable.
It is evident how much Gary Danielson enjoys what he does. He’s found something in which he absolutely excels and as the saying goes:
“If you can make a career out of something you love to do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”