Just mention that CBS’s broadcast team of Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson are calling a game, and, well, how to describe the reaction?
“Every time that CBS does the afternoon SEC game, we hear the groans across the collective football-loving world about what they’re going to hear from Verne and Gary,” said Kindle Page, a Silas native and Alabama graduate who created the “Fire Verne and Gary” page on Facebook.
Well, there’s bad news for Alabama and Auburn fans who haven’t already heard or figured it out. CBS will cover today’s showdown between top-ranked Alabama (11-0) and No. 4 Auburn (10-1). The Iron Bowl to decide the SEC West Division champion and which team remains in the hunt for the Bowl Championship Series national title is CBS’s 2:30 p.m. national game, and that means you-know-who in the booth.
It means Lundquist, who has covered more than 20 sports in 31 years with CBS and has served as the network’s lead play-by-play man since 1998, and Danielson, the former Purdue and NFL quarterback who has served as the network’s lead college football analyst since 2006.
It means that Alabama and Auburn fans who don’t mute the television in favor of their favorite radio broadcast teams will hear Lundquist and Danielson talk about the game and other topics for about four hours on a fall Saturday.
Few fans among fans
Alabama and Auburn fans, by and large, seem to agree on one collective reaction — if we must.
“I don’t like them at all,” said Kaelee Harris, an Auburn pharmacy student, speaking outside Campus Spirit on Friday in the Quintard Mall. She was in town to visit family for the Thanksgiving holiday.
“They don’t like either of the Alabama teams, and I think it’s because of the success that both of Alabama’s teams have had,” she said. “I would just say they always seem to be biased toward whatever team is playing either Alabama or Auburn.”
She took special exception to the pair’s coverage of Auburn’s 43-38 victory over Georgia on Nov. 16. Auburn led 27-7 at halftime and 37-17 early in the fourth quarter but needed Nick Marshall’s 73-yard, tipped-ball bomb to Ricardo Louis to win.
Lundquist and Danielson “always seem to be rooting for that (other) team, especially when Auburn played Georgia,” Harris said. “They just went on and on about how it was a miracle and it was luck for Auburn to catch the ball and Georgia not to win the game.”
Alabama fan Syrketha Hale agrees.
“You can tell that they have a job they have to do, but they hope somewhere, somehow Alabama doesn’t come out on top,” said Hale, a Livingston native who lives in Douglasville, Ga., and shopped at Campus Spirit on Friday.
Alabama and Auburn fans aren’t alone. Negative sentiments about Verne and Gary have inspired at least two Facebook pages.
Page, who has a master’s degree from Alabama, said she created the “Fire Verne and Gary” page around the start of this season, as a joke. Topped by a cover photo showing the faces of cranky Muppet pair Statler and Waldorf, photoshopped against a backdrop of the Georgia Dome during the SEC Championship, her page has 198 likes.
“No More Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson on SEC,” created by Dothan native, Alabama fan and Kansas businessman Brent Thomas, has picked up 535 likes in just more than a week of existence.
Both page creators say they have received feedback from fans around the SEC.
“It’s not just me as an Alabama fan,” said Page, a speech pathologist who works for Bayside Manor nursing home in Pensacola, Fla. “It’s not just my husband, who is a Tennessee fan. It’s not just my friends who are Auburn fans who notice it. It’s everybody.
“Everyone feels like they (Lundquist and Danielson) pick a side, or the commentary is totally unrelated to the game that’s being played.”
She cited an LSU game from this season and commentary about former LSU cornerback and 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu.
“Tyrann Mathieu has been gone for how long now? And they talked Tyrann Mathieu for at least five minutes,” Page said. “It’s just, the commentary is silly and pointless and often unrelated and often very biased, and it’s frustrating.”
Thomas, who owns Hungry Fool Digital, which develops smartphone apps and Web sites for businesses, said his feelings about the Verne-and-Gary team started around what he saw as their fixation on former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. Thomas said he has detected similar fixation with current Texas A&M Johnny Manziel, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.
When Thomas heard more such comments from other fans, he started his Facebook page.
Based on feedback, he said, “It sounds like there’re a lot of people that have the same kind of opinion that it would be nice to get a new pair in the booth for those SEC games.”
Efforts to reach CBS representatives Friday were unsuccessful.
Diversity of opinion
Thomas acknowledges that Lundquist and Danielson must talk to a national audience and not just the fan bases of two teams involved in a particular game. Like any network, CBS wants to connect with as broad an audience as possible.
The trick comes in finding balance between what appeals to the broader audience and to the two fan bases. SEC fan bases, in particular those for rivals Alabama and Auburn, can be highly partisan, and Thomas said broadcasters should err more on that side.
“There’s definitely subjectivity going on in watching the game,” he said. “If I was to sit around and have a cup of coffee with Verne and Gary, I would tell them that, ‘You’re trying to play to a tough fan base. There are some loyal fan bases out here that love their football programs.’”
It’s also worth noting that Lundquist and Danielson are not universally disliked in SEC country, even among Alabama and Auburn fans. Sonde Coleman, Anniston city president for BBVA-Compass and an Alabama fan, said she “may be one of the few” that like Verne and Gary.
“I’m a glass-half-full girl anyway,” she said after attending Tuesday’s Iron Bowl pep rally at Quintard Mall. “So, I like the challenge of a lot of different perspectives.
“They bring a diverse opinion. I don’t always agree with theirs, and so I just kind of take it with a grain of salt, and I kind of form my own opinions of what I see on the games anyway.”
Oxford’s Curtis Simpson, executive director of the United Way of East Central Alabama and an Auburn fan, called Lundquist and Danielson “probably two of the best that are out there with seniority and knowledge of the game.”
He agrees with other fans who say the CBS pair seems to have its perceptions about certain teams, like Auburn as a perpetual underdog, but Simpson doesn’t see that as a problem.
“They’re not always my perceptions or some of the fans’,” he said, “but I guess that’s what makes it interesting.”
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.