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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Phil Simms’ War on Football Clichés Will Continue After CBS Exit

  • Simms and son Matt Simms cohost a YouTube show, ‘Simms Complete.’
  • At least one prominent commentator wonders whether CBS dropped Simms due to his age.
Mary Kouw/CBS ©2021 CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

Phil Simms is gone from CBS Sports—but he’s not finished talking football in sports media.

CBS’s Monday announcement that it’s dropping both Simms and Boomer Esiason from The NFL Today in favor of newcomer Matt Ryan went over like a lead balloon in many quarters. The duo had legions of fans inside and outside the business. The 68-year-old Simms and 63-year-old Esiason had worked 26 and 22 years, respectively, for CBS. 

Now that Simms doesn’t have to prepare for his weekly NFL Today appearances, he will lean into his Simms Complete podcast on Bleav with son Matt Simms, the former Jets quarterback. And yes, Esiason will be a guest soon, he tells me.

“I’m in,” he says about his podcast/YouTube show with his son. “I love it. I don’t like it; I love it.”

Meanwhile, Simms is interested in another TV gig if, say, Amazon Prime Video or former employers NBC Sports and ESPN come calling. But given his age, and the state of the business, he wonders whether that’s realistic. “Of course, I would love that. But that’s not going to happen. You know that—and I know that.”

Meanwhile, the Super Bowl XXI MVP with the Giants will also continue his guest radio appearances with Esiason, Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, and Adam Schein, who called him a Hall of Famer on X. “I’ll say it again… when you combine Phil Simms’ career as player, game analyst, studio analyst he should be in Canton,” tweeted Schein

Michael Kay openly wondered on his ESPN radio show whether CBS dumped Simms and Esiason because of their ages. “I hope CBS buttoned everything up. Because if you’re getting rid of guys just because of their age, you’re going to get yourself in trouble.”

At least Simms wasn’t caught by surprise. He’d heard management might shake up the NFL Today cast once the season was over and longtime boss Sean McManus retired. Simms and Esiason went out on top, covering Super Bowl LVIII from Las Vegas in February.

“Like people say, they’re always looking for the next person,” says Simms. “I’ve heard they like young people, too. O.K. … Whatever the bosses want, that’s what they do. And I understand that.”

No knock on Ryan, but to me, NFL Today will be worse without Simms and Esiason. To me, their friendly banter and mutual chop-busting were the best parts of the iconic pregame show. They have chemistry that can’t be faked. Their decades of experience both on the field and behind the mics gave the show gravitas. 

An entire generation of football viewers grew up watching Simms and Esiason on national TV. Simms is one of the great NFL analysts in TV history. Before shifting to the studio pregame show in 2017, Simms served as CBS’s No. 1 game analyst for 19 seasons, with Jim Nantz and Greg Gumbel from 1998 to 2017. Between CBS and NBC, he called eight Super Bowls. Esiason, who joined NFL Today in ’02, was the pregame show’s longest-serving cast member. He frequently promoted the weekly pregame show on his top-rated Boomer & Gio morning radio show in New York City. During NFL Today’s last major cast shakeup in ’14, CBS dumped Shannon Sharpe and Dan Marino. Sharpe’s now one of the biggest stars in sports media.

ESPN insider Adam Schefter, himself a survivor of multiple layoffs in Bristol, seemed shocked CBS did not renew the contracts of the two former quarterbacks during an appearance on The Pat McAfee Show.

“Honestly, those two guys are legends. They had an unbelievable run. I have great respect for both those guys. … Mad respect for the careers in TV they’ve had. Truly,” said Schefter. McAfee agreed it was the “end of an era.” 

Despite the bad news, Simms was loose, relaxed, and funny when I talked to him Tuesday. He jokingly asked whether McAfee would pay him to appear à la Aaron Rodgers. “I’ll come in there and light it up for you every week,” he joked. “Shoot, put the earmuffs on, because I’ll let it go.”

He looked back fondly at his time with NFL Today colleagues Esiason, James Brown, Bill Cowher, Nate Burleson, J.J. Watt, and Jonathan Jones. “It was a great group at CBS; it really was. The meetings were hilarious. We were all crushing each other. Maybe talking a little too truthfully. We were like, ‘Why don’t we just film the meeting and go home?’”

Simms has no hard feelings toward Ryan, the 2016 NFL MVP with the Falcons, who appeared in-studio with him several times last season. His son Matt played with Ryan for a few years in Atlanta. “Matt loves [Ryan]. So good for him.”

Meanwhile, Simms told war stories about the challenge of playing for Bill Belichick with the Giants, then covering him at CBS. Belichick’s scowling countenance is no put-on, he noted. Lawrence Taylor’s nickname for Belichick with the Giants was “Doom,” he recalled. Even after covering dozens of Pats games with Nantz, it was hard to get the gruff coach to open up.

“I was like, ‘What the hell can I ask him?’ But we might talk about the Wing-T [offense] for 30 minutes. That was the other thing. Like it or not, you were going to get educated when you talked to Bill Belichick. That was for sure.” 

Over the years, Simms was one of the few analysts to mock the hackneyed clichés that often pass for NFL game commentary. Don’t get him started on players “running downhill,” or the need to get skill players “out in space.” He keeps a list of clichés in his desk at home in New Jersey. As usual, he had a new TV pet peeve this season. “The one I love is ‘spatial awareness.’ What the hell does that mean?” he asked. “Or how about, ‘The quarterback did a great job keeping his head up and looking downfield while he was rolling out.’ Well, where the hell was he going to look?”

Even as a former quarterback, Simms is surprised by how much of today’s coverage revolves around coaches and QBs. You can explore other points in football coverage. But you’ve always got to return to those two topics, he warns. “Look, this is what the fans want. It’s easy for them to give opinions on the coach and quarterback—because they’re so visible. You’ve got stats, and the score of the game, and you didn’t like this call, etc. I can’t go out there and do 20 minutes on the offensive line. Everybody will fall asleep or leave.”

During his time at CBS, Simms especially enjoyed his friendly back-and-forth jibes with Esiason. The two blond former NFL stars are almost joined at the hip, with fans frequently mistaking them for each other in airports and on the street. Whenever he finds himself down, Simms reaches for the phone and rags on his old buddy. It’s an instant pick-me-up, he says. 

“Boomer loves to talk about himself. After he’s finally done talking about himself, he would say to me, ‘Hey, enough about me, let’s talk about you. What do you think of me?’” Simms says. “But he’s a great sport. Neither one of us can ever be offended by anything that’s ever said.”

Make no mistake: With his YouTube show, and other projects in the works, Simms is not retiring. “There’s always tons of things to talk about in the NFL, and I love talking about it. So I’m not going to stop. O.K.? When I hit 80, I’ll make a decision.”

NFL Draft Averages 5.9 Million Viewers

The 2024 NFL draft averaged 5.9 million TV/digital viewers across ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, and NFL Network platforms. Viewership for the three-day event from Detroit was off slightly from last year’s event in Kansas City. With a record six QBs snapped up during the first 12 picks, Thursday’s opening round drew 12.1 million viewers; QB-heavy drafts typically draw well.

Mike Drops

CBS suffered another major loss Tuesday when NFL insider Josina Anderson tweeted she was “amicably” moving on to new ventures. Anderson’s a TV pioneer, becoming the first national female insider at ESPN. I bet she won’t be available long. … NBC’s “Roundball Rock” is often hailed as the greatest sports theme of all time. Composer John Tesh told CNBC that NBC, which held NBA TV rights from 1990 to 2002, could license the rights to the theme again if it regains media rights. NBC parent company Comcast is prepared to pay $2.5 billion a year to snatch a major package of NBA games from incumbent Turner Sports, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Michael McCarthy’s “Tuned In” column is at your fingertips every week with the latest insights and ongoings around sports media. If he hears it, you will, too.

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