2022 is coming to a close and Internet law says that if you have a column, at the end of a year you must hand out awards. So Traina Thoughts is handing out some hardware for the past year in sports media.
SPORTS MEDIA STORY OF THE YEAR: The NFL Broadcaster Shuffle
The NFL offseason brought broadcaster movement like we’ve never seen before. Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, after two decades together at Fox, landed at ESPN and Monday Night Football. Al Michaels was moved out of NBC’s Sunday Night Football booth for Mike Tirico. Kirk Herbstreit added a second gig to his football season (third if you count College GameDay) by joining Michaels for Amazon Prime’s Thursday Night Football.
Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen were promoted from Fox’s B team to the network’s A team to replace Buck and Aikman. And then the biggest bombshell of all dropped May 10 when Fox announced it had hired Tom Brady to become its lead NFL analyst whenever he retires. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand would later report that Brady signed a 10-year, $375 million with Fox.
Don’t expect to see upheaval like this for a long time now that all the major players have inked long-term deals with their current networks.
SHOW OF THE YEAR: Inside the NBA
It would be so easy to say, “Listen, everybody knows Inside the NBA is the best sports show on TV and is probably the best sports show of all time, so let’s give the honor to another show that deserves some recognition.”
But I’m not playing that game. Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal deserve their props, and they’re going to get them here.
The bottom line is that Inside the NBA is still the best sports show on TV. There hasn’t been any drop off in quality. It’s as relevant as ever. It’s as powerful as ever. And it doesn’t feel old despite being on the air for a long time.
They tackle serious issues when they have to, but they entertain every night. This moment was one of the best moments on sports television in 2022.
PODCAST OF THE YEAR: New Heights with Jason and Travis Kelce
It shouldn’t be that surprising that when you put together two hilarious people who also happen to be brothers and current NFL players, you’d get a hugely entertaining and informative podcast. But it’s still impressive to see just how well this podcast works. This season, it’s undoubtedly helped that each brother plays for arguably the best team in their respective conferences. But the Kelce brothers don’t even have to lean on week-to-week in-game experiences to hit a perfect mix of football talk, personal anecdotes and fun debates.
INTERVIEWER OF THE YEAR: Taylor Rooks, Turner Sports, Amazon Prime
One day Rooks is getting Raiders tight end Darren Waller to open up in a powerful way about his drug addiction, and another she is getting a UFC fighter to admit he has tried to make weight by pleasuring himself.
Versatility is just one of Rooks’s strengths. She always seems to ask the right questions, keeps her subjects at ease and gets them to open up more than you’d expect.
BEST ADDITION OF THE YEAR (FULL-TIME): Pat McAfee, College GameDay
A lot of people want to see the very popular McAfee call games, but I’d argue that he’s a perfect fit right where he is on College GameDay. The college campus atmosphere, the rah-rah nature of the sport, the picks, the banter with the panel—it’s all tailor made for McAfee’s personality and skill set. It was impressive to see the way the McAfee fit right in with the long-established crew of Rece Davis, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and Lee Corso.
BEST ADDITION OF THE YEAR (PART-TIME): Chris “Mad Dog” Russo on First Take
When Hall of Fame radio host Chris Russo joined First Take in March, nobody knew what to expect. Would Russo and Stephen A. have chemistry? (Yes.) Would Russo tone down his energetic and wacky act that is featured each weekday on SiriusXM? (No!) How would fans unfamiliar with Russo react to his loud voice, flailing arms and constant mispronunciations?
Well, Russo ends up trending on Twitter most Wednesdays, clips from the show are constantly going viral and ratings for First Take, with Russo appearing each Wednesday, are up over last year’s.
BEST REPLACEMENT OF THE YEAR: Jason McCourty, Good Morning Football
Nate Burleson was so good on GMFB that it took the show a full season to find a replacement. Burleson left for CBS Mornings before the 2021 season. GMFB used a rotation of fill-ins until naming McCourty a permanent host this past July. For someone who just started in television, McCourty is extremely smooth. He’s also added an excellent new dimension to the show as a current player. It also didn’t take McCourty any time to develop chemistry with his cohosts, Jamie Erdahl, Kyle Brandt and Peter Schrager
BEST USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA OF THE YEAR: Richard Jefferson, TikTok
If you still think TikTok is just videos of young people dancing, you need to wake up. TikTok is everything. Sports are a huge part of the platform and no one in the sports world makes better use of it than ESPN’s Jefferson, who has more than 1 million followers. He’ll spend a good portion of the time roasting people who make fun of him for being bald, but he also shares some great NBA stories.
VIRAL SPORTS MEDIA MOMENT OF THE YEAR: ESPN’s Brian Windhorst
July 1, 2022. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst appears on First Take to talk about Kevin Durant, but takes a detour. “There was a trade yesterday between the Utah Jazz and the Brooklyn Nets. A very strange trade. Very strange trade. You’d really have to be a Jazz or Nets fan to know what I’m talking about now. They traded Royce O’Neale, who is a role playing, three-point defensive shooter to Brooklyn for a future first-round draft pick. So you’re going, what do you care about Royce O’Neale? Now why is that? Why would the Jazz do that?”
Windhorst kept going, but whatever he was saying was irrelevant. Once he uttered the line, “Why would the Jazz do that?” while pointing both of his index fingers straight up into the air, a meme was born. Social media went bonkers, Windhorst trended for a whole day and the meme still gets used today.
Windhorst’s performance became even more notable a few days later when the Jazz traded Rudy Gobert, thus starting a rebuild.
BEST LINE OF THE YEAR: Al Michaels, Amazon Prime
In Week 5 on Thursday Night Football, the Colts and Broncos played in one of the worst games of the season, with Indy pulling out a 12–9 win in overtime. Al Michaels, who for most of his career always called one of the top games each week, wasn’t used to watching such poor football—and he let viewers know just what they were seeing throughout the game, often mocking the lack of offense. At one point, Michaels summed up the game as only he can: “This is the type of game you’d have as the fifth regional on CBS on Sunday.”
BEST PROMOTION OF THE YEAR: Ian Eagle, CBS/Turner
In October, news broke that Ian Eagle would begin calling the Final Four when Jim Nantz steps away from the role after the 2023 tournament. Nobody is more deserving of the gig than Eagle, who is as good as it gets calling NBA games. In addition, Eagle goes way back with Bill Raftery and their reunion on the tournament will be a huge win for college basketball fans.