Sunday, November 26, 2017

A (Proverbial) NFL Quarter-Century Of Kevin Harlan, And Other Stories

(Standard disclaimer: These announcer totals come from the lists maintained at The 506 Forums (free registration required to view); in this post, we're working with data posted by John Moynihan and Tim Brulia. And as always, you can see the top 16 in each category on our TV databases page.)

(CBS file photo)
Barring the unexpected, Kevin Harlan will become the seventh man to handle play-by-play duties for 400 NFL telecasts—the equivalent of 25 full seasons for an NFL team since 1978—when the Broncos and Raiders kick off in Oakland at 4:25 p.m. EST this afternoon.

The son of Bob Harlan, who spent 19 years as chief operating officer of the Green Bay Packers, Kevin made his NFL debut alongside Joe Namath on an NBC telecast of a Patriots-Colts game in week 1 of the 1991 season while Tom Hammond worked the track and field world championships in Japan.

Harlan took on his first regular NFL national gig in 1994, moving to Fox as that network took on NFC rights. His first NFC game brought the Milwaukee native back to Wisconsin for a Vikings-Packers season opener on Labor Day weekend. After working 65 games at Fox (63 of those with Jerry Glanville) in a four-year span, he jumped ship to CBS in 1998.

In almost 20 seasons with CBS, Harlan has worked with 11 different partners: his most common sidekick, Rich Gannon, will join him for the 112th time this afternoon. Solomon Wilcots (84 games), Randy Cross (71), Glanville and Sam Wyche (35) round out his most common partners.

Harlan's work has taken him to each of the 32 NFL markets that have hosted a team since 2015, including visits to both the Rams and Chargers since their westerly moves of the past two years. While he made two visits to Anaheim Stadium for the Rams' final season there in 1994, he did not catch the Raiders at the L.A. Coliseum; despite working for the network that broadcast the opposite conference, he did get a trip to Memphis for a Washington-Tennessee game in 1997.

In addition to the 33 aforementioned U.S. markets, Harlan has gone abroad three times, once to Toronto (Dolphins-Bills in 2008) and twice to London (Bills-Jaguars in 2015 and Giants-Rams last season). He also handled play-by-play for the most recent successful drop-kick in NFL history, a Doug Flutie extra-point try on New Year's Day 2006 that I remember way too well for it to have been almost 12 years ago.

Harlan started his broadcasting career in Kansas City, spending two years as the voice of the NBA's Kings at the tail end of their run in that city. His resume also includes nine years with the Kansas City Chiefs and nine with the Minnesota Timberwolves in addition to work with the universities of Kansas (his alma mater) and Missouri.

Given that background, it seems apropos that Harlan has covered more Chiefs games (58) than any other franchise in his first 399 appearances. His 29 visits to KC are seven more than his second-most-frequent destination, Cleveland; spanning both home and road games, he's handled the Raiders and Oilers/Titans 46 times each.

Harlan also serves as the number-two voice of the NBA on TNT, a network he's worked with since 1997: his 676 NBA broadcasts are probably the sixth-most in history until he catches Doug Collins later this season. Only Marv Albert and Mike Breen have done more network NBA play-by-play.

Since 2010, Harlan has handled the radio broadcast of Monday Night Football on Westwood One, usually working alongside Boomer Esiason. Last season, that capacity enabled him to deliver the blow-by-blow account of a field intruder in a Rams-49ers game. It's also put him on the radio call of the last seven Super Bowls.

Harlan is the first play-by-play announcer to reach 400 NFL broadcasts without working a playoff game; Ian Eagle, whose divisional-round assignment for CBS two years ago was his 302nd NFL game, is the only other announcer to get as far as 300 reps without appearing in the postseason. With Eagle off that list, the runner-up in that category is now Sam Rosen with 270 games.

If you can name the other six play-by-play men to work 400 games, you win nothing: the list is available anytime on our TV databases page. But for the sake of completeness, here are the six previous quadricentennials:
  • Charlie Jones: Sept. 22, 1991 -- Browns-Giants for NBC with Todd Christensen
  • Don Criqui: Sept. 15, 1996 -- Chiefs-Seahawks for NBC with Beasley Reece
  • Pat Summerall: Dec. 29, 1996 -- Eagles-49ers (wild-card game) for Fox with John Madden
  • Dick Stockton: Oct. 3, 2004 -- Eagles-Bears for Fox with Daryl Johnston and Tony Siragusa
  • Dick Enberg: Oct. 31, 2004 -- Ravens-Eagles for CBS with Dan Dierdorf and sideline reporter Armen Keteyian
  • Al Michaels: Sept. 17, 2006 -- Washington-Dallas for NBC with John Madden and sideline reporter Andrea Kremer.
Additionally, four color commentators (Madden, Dierdorf, Phil Simms and Paul Maguire) have gotten to 400 games and Pam Oliver reached that plateau on the sidelines on October 29. Finally, Frank Gifford got to 400 games with a decade to spare, but did so by splitting time between color and play-by-play.

We'll likely get to do this again next November for Kenny Albert: everyone else is at least two years away from 400, although Dan Fouts should get to 300 early in 2018.

Some other milestones of note so far in the 2017 NFL season, listed chronologically...
  • In the season opener, Cris Collinsworth notched his 315th color-commentary appearance, sliding past Gifford for sixth on that list.
  • Three days later, Greg Gumbel's 334th game on play-by-play matched him with Curt Gowdy for the ninth-most ever; Gumbel would pass Gowdy on Sept. 17. Jim Nantz caught Gowdy with Bengals-Packers on Sept. 24 and passed him with the Bears-Packers Thursday night game the following week.
  • Daryl Johnston has risen from 10th to eighth on the color-commentary list, passing Bob Trumpy with Falcons-Lions on Sept. 24 and Joe Theismann with Panthers-Buccaneers on Oct. 29. With six weeks left in the season, Johnston looks to be on pace to catch Gifford as well in 2017.
  • Laura Okmin passed Bonnie Bernstein for fifth on the sideline-reporter list with her 142nd game, the Rams-Cowboys tilt at JerryWorld on the opening day of the fiscal fourth quarter. Okmin is slated for her 150th sideline appearance on Sunday as she joins Johnston and Chris Myers in Indianapolis. She's within a year's work of passing Suzy Kolber and Armen Keteyian for third in that category.
  • With Nantz pulling double duty by calling Thursday Night Football on some CBS doubleheader weeks, he also caught Gumbel on Oct. 5. The Tiffany network's top two game-callers traded the spot for several weeks before Nantz pulled ahead for good on Oct. 22.
  • Gannon worked his 200th game as a color analyst on Oct. 15 in Oakland. While 200 games isn't anything to sneeze at, having been achieved about once a year since the merger, the fact that Gannon is sixth among active analysts highlights the drop-off in experience after Collinsworth, Fouts, Johnston and Troy Aikman
  • As mentioned above, Oliver worked her 400th sideline on the last Sunday in October. The undisputed queen of NFL sideline reports, Oliver has a lead of almost 10 years' worth of games (depending on how one counts the playoffs) over second-place Michele Tafoya.
  • Speaking of the sideline, Tracy Wolfson and Jennifer Hale each reached their 100-game plateau in Week 9. Wolfson got there with Bills-Jets on Thursday, Nov. 2; while Hale matched the total three days later, Wolfson would pull ahead again thanks to the same Thursday-Saturday double duty that helped Nantz above.

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