“It is the dawn of a new era.”
With those words from co-host Brian Webber, it was game on for “NFL AM,” NFL Network’s new morning franchise.
A program that was months in the making and perhaps years overdue – the network launched in late 2003, back when ESPN was the only major national sports-oriented cable network and what is now NBC Sports Network was known as Outdoor Life Network – “NFL AM” finally bowed on the first Monday after all 32 NFL teams’ training camps had opened for the 2012 season.
“We are live and looking forward to becoming a part of your morning routine,” co-host Nicole Zaloumis pled to viewers.
Based on the program’s very first hour – or “quarter,” as the program would like to refer to that measurement of time – I’m sure many folks, especially looking for an alternative to offerings from ESPN’s networks in the morning, will not be hesitant in heeding that call.
The first news item on “NFL AM” under the umbrella of “The Latest”: Andrew Luck being booed in his first practice at Indianapolis Colts training camp. Scott Hanson, who had been stationed at the Colts’ camp in Anderson, IN, contributed a pre-recorded piece. The next news item involved the Dolphins’ quarterback controversy, which included a live call from Jeff Darlington from the Dolphins’ training camp in Davie, FL.
The final news headline in the segment led to what would be the program’s first “Opening Drive”: the Dallas Cowboys’ training camp opened up Sunday in Oxnard, CA, as Webber pointed out, “about 50 miles north of our studios here in Los Angeles.” The first selection off the “Opening Drive” menu was this question: “Is this a make or break season for Tony Romo?” The next course: “Should teams be allowed to ban players from using Twitter?”; this after Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis restricted his team from using the social media app. Great quote from Mark Kriegel: “Football coaches will never be proponents of the First Amendment.” Webber then led into an “Opening Drive” debate on whether or not a Super Bowl title or a gold medal is a “bigger accomplishment” with this barb aimed at NBC: “You don’t have to worry about tape delay; we’re live, it’s twelve past the hour, as I glance at the clock.”
In the show’s first moments, Webber had alluded to the “NFL AM” crew being up bright and early – but ready. “We’re the first national morning show to be coming to you from the West Coast,” noted Steve Wyche, “so why not be fired up?”
Wyche and Kriegel led off the show’s second segment with the first edition of “Double Coverage” by arguing, “Have the Saints been treated unfairly?” And Kriegel’s first-ever utterance in this segment was a memorable one. Alluding to the huge “Do your job” poster displaying a photo of the team’s head coach, suspended for the season as a result of Bountygate: “What is Sean Payton, a political prisoner?” The next “Double Coverage” question, which the duo had a minute to debate: “Can Reggie Bush lead the league in rushing?” Wyche led off with an emphatic, “No!”, followed by an explanation. Kriegel countered with his thoughts, which included this gem: “This is the loftiest goal he has stated since going out with a Kardashian.”
Zaloumis anchored various football headlines leading off the show’s third segment. Next, Webber and Davis brought in Kimberly Jones, live from Jets training camp in Cortland, NY. “You knew it wouldn’t be long before we had to ask what’s happening between Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow,” David asked Jones. “What type of day did each one of them have on Sunday?” In a word, Jones said, “Bad!” That before she mentioned each quarterback went 1-for-7. Following Jones’ contribution, Zaloumis instructed Wyche and Kriegel, “Let’s continue to talk the Jets,” debating whether or not the team would make the playoffs in 2012. After that was a feature “NFL AM” dubbed, “Our Daily Tebow.” It focused on Jets linebacker Bart Scott’s thoughts on Tebow’s run in the rain at practice the other day. It also showed the New York Daily News’ back-page headline depicting the shirtless, overweight Tebow as the “Not So Incredible Hunk.” It gave an opportunity for Kriegel to give a “shout out to my boys on the desk at the Daily News” (he had been a sportswriter for the newspaper for eight years) for a “Bo Derek-esque” back page. Wyche, however, begged to differ: “I think they Photoshopped [Tebow's] head on Kriegel’s body.” (Late in the second hour, NFLN’s lightning-quick graphics department actually showed a doctored photo of a shirtless Tebow on Saturday, but with Kriegel’s head replacing Tim’s. ESPN would call that sacrilege.)
Snoop Dogg greeted viewers with a program ID: “Wake up with the NFL. “NFL AM.” NFL Network.” This preceded the show’s fourth segment, which started with Davis breaking down the top ten “training camp storylines” to Zaloumis. These would actually be dispersed throughout the show, with the number one training camp storyline served up in the final hour. And in case you’re wondering, “Does Mark Sanchez start 16 games for the Jets?” was only eighth on the list. This, combined with the fact that the show didn’t actually address the Jets until the third segment of the program (and they would be talking to Jets head coach Rex Ryan in the show’s second hour) tells you that the network is not as dependent on the Jets as other sports networks are. And even if you throw in a daily segment devoted to Tebow (and it sounds like it’s going to be a serious bit, at least during football season – ESPN should be on notice), when you consider the program has to create four hours of content each morning, as opposed to going back to the same well during “SportsCenter,” we should really give NFLN the benefit of the doubt in this case.
In the fifth segment of the hour, er, quarter, Zaloumis presented “Figure Of Speech,” in which Davis and Kriegel role-played football players and figures making headlines. For example, the gentlemen had to make a case as to what running back Maurice Jones-Drew should say to Jaguars ownership. Davis really got into character, even going so far as to crutch down to impersonate Jones-Drew’s short stature. In the segment’s next item of “speech,” “What should Peyton Manning say to inspire” the Broncos at training camp, Davis game, in my view, a less-than-command performance, sounding more like Forrest Gump than Peyton Manning, but still somewhat humorous.
The sixth and final segment of the first hour (quarter, whatever) led off with an instant replay of Davis’ impersonation of Jones-Drew, which led to Zaloumis reading the first-ever tweet to be read in the history of the program, “Eric Davis is killin’ MJD on “NFL AM.” Classic.” The hour closed with “Extra Point,” a debate from all five program members on the studio’s vast couch over whether or not Colts wideout Reggie Wayne (assisted by National Guard soldiers) or Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel (riding a tractor) made a better arrival to his respective team’s training camp. The show’s first hour would officially close with viewer feedback from a “Caption This” photo of Peyton Manning that was presented going into the show’s very first commercial break – and somehow a tweet intended for Steve Wyche got in there. Like most programs, there will be first-day jitters here and there.
Overall, “NFL AM” is a sharp, balanced, enlightening breakfast smorgasbord of football: headlines, interviews, interaction with viewers, and comic relief from a Super Bowl champion. This show has it all – and this is only based on observing the program’s first hour.
Other items of note: the graphics are easy on the eyes, yet some of them, as you would expect, are synonymous with the morning theme (e.g. you may see a giant coffee mug with the Dallas Cowboys lgoo preceding an item for a Cowboys story). And it appears that the charter advertiser for “NFL AM” is Burger King, with the restaurant’s logo conspicuously adorned on the front of the studio’s table.
The program’s Twitter account had surpassed the 2,000-follower plateau during the show’s first hour, and had exceeded 2,500 followers by show’s end; as of 12 Noon ET on July 30, there are close to 3,000 followers – that total should only be exponential as the “NFL AM” brand is just beginning to thrive. Also, in addition to soliciting tweets and Facebook comments from viewers, the program is even asking for texts – you remember text messaging, right, kids? – as a way to interact with the program. As a matter of fact, a text from a viewer in Salem, OR wondering if the San Francisco 49ers can “improve on last year’s success” was read by Wyche in the second hour of the show, and then debated by him and his “Double Coverage” partner-in-crime for sixty seconds.
By the way, during the aforementioned Rex Ryan interview, when Tim Tebow came up in discussion, NFL Network ran normal training camp footage of Tebow – as opposed to the “running shirtless in the rain” footage that ESPN has jammed down viewers’ eyeballs all weekend long. (And has even continued to do so on Monday morning, apparently.)
And in the final “Opening Drive” debate in the “fourth quarter,” when discussing the “most intriguing QB competition this preseason,” while Mark Kriegel assured that “it will be” a competition between Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow, Eric Davis stressed that the starting quarterback “is Mark Sanchez’s job… That’s not a competition.” Meanwhile, on ESPN, you guessed it – they were instructing viewers that there is indeed a “Jets QB competition.”
As you can see, the different between Tebow coverage on the two networks: NFL Network can have fun with it – and they also know that there are thirty-one teams other than the Jets to report about.
A tip of the coffee cup to the “NFL AM” crew. I like what I’m seeing so far, and “Daily Tebow” segment or not, I hope others do, as well.