Saturday, January 10, 2009

Al Derogatis (TV)

Al Derogatis He didn't have the voice for it.  He looked less like an athlete than any athlete that ever lived. He didn't have a quick wit or clever way of expressing himself.  Yet Al Derogatis was probably the best color commentator in the history of football broadcasting, setting a standard for both that has rarely been topped.

Derogatis came along too early to really benefit from playing pro football. He joined the New York Giants in 1949 after an all-America career at Duke, and was their regular offensive tackle as a rookie, and became a defensive tackle the next year, leading to a Pro Bowl appearance in 1951.  Alas, after the 1952 season, a recurrence of a knee injury suffered in college recurred, forcing his retirement and he left football to go into the insurance business.

But Derogatis kept his contacts in football.  He worked for the Giants as a scout and in 1963 was broadcasting their  games on radio.  Eventually his work was noted and he joined the NBC TV team in 1968, and was paired with the great Curt Gowdy in 1971 as their number 1 broadcast team, broadcasting three Super Bowls (most notably, Super Bowl III, when the Jets upset the Colts) and many other pro and college events.   Derogatis was replaced as Gowdy's partner by Don Meredith in 1974, and eventually retired from the job, his last year in the booth being 1977.

This bare history tells you very little about what made Dero great. His strength was in explaining what was going on -- what made the play work or fail.  His insight into the subject was unmatched, often pointing out things before the instant replay came up.  If you were new to the game, he made it more understandable.  If you were familiar with it, he'd routinely point out things you never noticed before.

And he always remembered the game came first.  No anecdotes about his playing career.  No tangential discussions (even when the game was a blowout).  Just a calm, professional demeanor that was designed to enlighten, not entertain (the game was the entertainment; Dero just made it more entertaining).

Of course, few people pat attention to football commentators, and those that do remember the self-promoters, the ego-driven, and the terrible.  Derogatis was none of these things.  He also had a reedy voice, a bit high-pitched for a modern announcer.

Football broadcasting has changed so that the color commentator is supposed to be part of the show, so Derogatis was something of an anachronism by the time he retired.  But those who remember him agree:  he was one of the best.  And it's sobering to think he probably wouldn't be given much of an opportunity today.

11 comments:

Tom Paine said...

As a Giants fan since 1946, I will second your nomination.

Johnny Potatoe said...

Curt and Al got things done--bring back the AFL!

Anonymous said...

Great piece. I enjoyed what Al brought to a telecast and miss his style.
Auggie

nick nork said...

where was he from

Mr. Know-it-all said...

Google is your friend.

thebigfish said...

As a lifetime Miami Dolphin fan, it was Derogatis who picked up early - very early - just how good the Dolphins would turn out to be. As you point out, his ability to show you what was going on was unmatched. My dad was a starting lineman in the day of the leather helmet who played both ways, and he loved Derogatis. Partly because he was a lineman like Al, but partly because he also knew how good Al was at analysis.

The only guy that comes close today is JAWS, and they canned him this season for MNF.

Anonymous said...

I'll never forget Al boldly proclaiming to Curt as the Chiefs were getting ready to play the Raiders in the AFL championship game to see which would go on to play the NFL's Viking's in the 4th and final REAL superbowl:
"Curt---it doesn't which one of these teams wins today. Either one will go on to beat the Vikings in the superbowl" It was amazing the firestrom he set in motion with that comment.
After the Chiefs beat the Raiders, he broke in depth why the Chiefs would win. It was amazing how spot on his analysis was. It was clairvoyant.

Anonymous said...

De Ro was the best ever. Nobody, and I mean nobody today even comes close to his ability at breaking down games. It's a sign of our twisted culture that he probably wouldn't be given much of a chance today.

Brent B. said...

DeRo was undoubtedly the best football analyst of all time. He was also a great guy personally. I remember listening to him with my brother on WNEW in the '60's. I swear you didn't need a TV to see what was happening - or going to happen for that matter. Back in those days, the Giant home games were never on TV, so listening to DeRo was just as good if not better. I did know DeRo personally and professionally as well. He was a great and motivational leader who never asked for respect, because he didn't have to. He was one heck of a guy!

Brent B. said...

DeRo was undoubtedly the best football analyst. He was also a great guy personally. I remember listening to him with my brother on WNEW in the '60's. I swear you didn't need a TV to see what was happening - or going to happen for that matter. Back in those days, the Giant home games were never on TV, so listening to DeRo was just as good if not better. I did know DeRo personally and professionally as well. He was a great and motivational leader who never asked for respect, because he didn't have to. He was one heck of a guy!

Anonymous said...

Derogatis isn't forgotten with me... his pairing with Gowdy is an all-time classic. He's still the voice of TV color commentary I'll always remember most. Derogatis brought a rare class and dignity to the booth. I'll always remember him.