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The Globe and Mail

Moving from player to pundit isn't always an easy trip

There's a Groundhog Day quality about turning on the TV to see the FOX-TV pregame panel for another year. The bogus bonhomie, the crass product placement, the anticipation of another Terry Bradshaw meltdown ("That's the same right knee he hurt last year." - as opposed to his other right knee). It's all rather comforting, actually. Well, we could have done without Michael Douglas's Journey into piece - replete with Dad Kirk. But you know what we mean.

The FOX panels - and their colleagues at CBS, NBC, ESPN and the NFL Network - are thick with former players trying to navigate the transition from player to pundit, a journey many of them fail. The accepted wisdom in all sports TV seems to be that unless you played the game, you can't be in a booth or on a game day panel. This is comparable to the venerable, "Do you have to play a Stradivarius to critique the music?"

Why? Many have spent their Sundays playing games, not watching TV. Thus they come late to the format. Also, the ties that bind frequently prevent them from being honest about old pals in the playing ranks. Finally, articulation is simply not their thing. As we've seen in books such as Outliers and Talent Is Overrated, elite performance takes years of dedicated practice - even at talking football, not playing it.

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However, there are a few ex-jocks who've crossed the Rubicon. To celebrate the start-of-the-NFL season this weekend, here are Five Who Fit In the Booth:

Cris Collinsworth: Articulate, funny, critical when needs be. Plus he almost became a Montreal Alouette a very long time ago.

Daryl Johnston: The ex-Cowboy has blossomed since escaping Troy Aikman's shadow; doesn't oversell the product.

Keyshawn Johnson: Never thought we'd say the ex-diva would cut it but he's honest and unafraid to buck conventional wisdom.

Howie Long: Lost in the FOX follies, he's old-school but in a good way. Rolls his eyes at the product placement.

Marshall Faulk: Skilled in the studio, doesn't revert to the Michael Irvin school of Turn Up The Volume.

For every Top Five, there's a Bottom Five:

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Michael Irvin: Turn down the noise and raise the content!.

Matt Millen: Ruined a franchise, still gets work, Mr. Malapropos makes no more sense behind a mike than he did behind a desk in Detroit.

Dan Marino: To quote Neil Young, Helpless, helpless, helpless.

Shannon Sharpe: Sorry, what's that you said? We're not supposed to criticize people's challenges, but in broadcasting, a speech impediment matters.

Joe Theismann: Inexplicably revived by the NFL Network, the meister of the grand pronouncement signifying nothing.

Zebra Time

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We got a chance to see former referee-in-chief Mike Pereira in action on FOX-TV Sunday. When Calvin Johnson of the hapless Detroit Lions looked to have scored a winning TD with 24 seconds left, Pereira was summoned by the on-air crew to throw cold water on any excitement in the No Fun League. Sounding like a tax lawyer rather than a referee, Pereira made it clear that the apparent TD would be squelched, because Johnson ... we're not sure what he did. But he did it. And voila, Pereira was right. Which is nice for FOX but a sack of slop for fans of excitement. It's going to be a long season.

Fehr And Loathing

Call it the summer of the lingering NHL storyline. Ilya Kovalchuk, Tomas Kaberle and now Don Fehr . Endless. Media stories that had more hang time than a Ray Guy punt. The Fehr-to-the-NHLPA saga seems to have been resolved, or has it? With the vote on accepting Fehr apparently going to the membership, most of the media coverage centred on Fehr's fearsome reputation as at the Major League Baseball Players Association.

But key Fehr elements have been missed so far by the media. First, the supposedly implacable Fehr settled a collective bargaining agreement with MLB in 2002 without any work stoppage - and well before the eleventh hour. Second, we have yet to see the report commissioned by the NHLPA about Paul Kelly's dismissal released to the press. Is Fehr's role in the midnight massacre discussed? Before players vote, should they not see the contents of the report that was delayed at Fehr's suggestion?

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