Fox’s Gus Johnson Experiment Starts Tomorrow with Real Madrid vs Man U

GusJYou may have heard that former CBS and ESPN sportscaster Gus Johnson, who made a name for himself with his exciting calls of NCAA basketball tournament games, has been tasked by Fox to become their lead announcer for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

It’s a bold move because Johnson had never broadcast soccer before October 2011, when the plan was hatched and the March Madness maven started announcing San Jose Earthquakes games on the radio as the first steps toward getting ready for Russia 2018 and Qatar—cough cough bulls***—2022.

If you’ve never heard Johnson, here’s a best-of clip from his NCAA tournament work:

Some fans think he’s over the top, but when he’s doing a sport he knows and clearly loves, we say he works well, adding a layer of excitement and enthusiasm to the games.

To bring that buzz to soccer, well, he’s got a lot of work to do. He not only has to learn the game and all its subtleties (no mean feat) he also, we contend, has to genuinely acquire a taste for the sport. As Bootsy Collins once said, you can’t fake the funk.

Here’s Johnson doing a San Jose game this past year:

He’s not on top of it yet, but he does have five years to get up to speed. And Fox is not hesitating to throw him into the deep end. Johnson is doing Wednesday’s Champions League Round of 16 tilt between no less a pairing than Real Madrid and Manchester United (Fox Soccer 2:45 pm ET). Yikes.

The growing pains start tomorrow, but if the gamble pays off, well, maybe we’ll get calls at the 2018 and 2022 Cups that go a little something like this:

Champions League Final on Fox: Tracking Back

The fact that this past weekend’s Champions League final was televised on Fox—not Fox Soccer Channel, but regular network-TV Fox, home of Bart Simpson—at 2:30 on a Saturday afternoon, is something of a landmark moment for soccer in the U.S.

We may have missed it (we’re out of it like that), but we haven’t seen this much noted anywhere. At the opening of the telecast, the game was touted at the lead of a promo heralding Fox’s upcoming broadcasts of the MLB All-Star Game, the World Series, Super Bowl XLV (that’s 45, right?) and the Daytona 500. That’s elite company, on the U.S. sports-broadcasting landscape.

It was not so long ago that you had to find a pub with a satellite hookup to watch the Champions League final in the U.S. Now here it was on network TV, in weekend-afternoon prime time, and we were in the studio with Curt (I will mispronounce “Bayern” and half the player names I mention this afternoon) Menefee, Eric Wynalda and Bruce Arena (who has a voice made for print journalism, btw). This was unprecedented stuff.

Then there was Wynalda’s pregame commentary about the all-English refereeing corps for the final. Let’s break it down, Fire Joe Morgan–style (click here and scroll down for FJM goodness):

Menefee asks Wynalda if the fact that the refereeing crew is made up of Englishmen will make a difference.

Wynalda (heartily): I think so.

Easy Eric, you’re plunging headlong into questioning the refs’ ethics here.

Wynalda: I talked Arjen Robben and he said he was happy because he knows them all.

Now you’ve dragged Robben into the potential accusation. Where are you going with this?

Wynalda: I don’t know what that means.

Way to pump the brakes. But you’re still dangling something out there. What’s your next move?

Wynalda: They’ll do a great job.

Ah, just reverse field altogether and cut your losses. Wise move. But you may have set a record for wading into and out of controversy in the space of four sentences.

Anyway, the game itself was a good one. Two well-taken goals by Diego Milito and yet another trophy for the Special One, who’s now poised to go to Real Madrid—and the BBC, starting June 11:

But we have to give it up to Mourinho—his track record is solid gold. Still, the UN Security Council is drafting that policy, as we speak.