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How old is the color crew?

The color crew are a group of broadcasters who provide commentary during sports games on television and radio. They add insight, analysis, and perspective to the live action for the benefit of viewers and listeners at home. But who exactly makes up the color crew? And how long have they been doing this job?

Origins of the Color Commentator

The concept of a color commentator originated in sports broadcasting in the United States in the 1950s and 60s. Though play-by-play announcers had been a staple of radio broadcasts for decades, TV posed new challenges requiring additional voices. Experts were brought in to provide deeper levels of analysis and conversation during lulls in gameplay. They became known as “color commentators” – distinguishing them from play-by-play who described the live action.

One of the first recognized color commentators was Don Meredith, who began working NFL telecasts for CBS in 1966. Already a star Dallas Cowboys quarterback, his insights into the game helped educate and entertain the growing TV audience. Other early adopters of the color role were Frank Gifford covering NFL games and Johnny “Red” Kerr providing basketball analysis. They demonstrated the value of having an analyst break down key plays and strategy.

The 1970s – Growth of the Role

By the 1970s, color commentating was an established part of sports broadcasting. Living legends like Joe Garagiola brought humor and heart to MLB games. Ex-athletes including Tony Kubek (baseball) and Tom Brookshier (NFL) offered first-hand perspectives. Vin Scully, Curt Gowdy, and Dick Enberg excelled covering multiple sports with help from their color partners.

Some of the most iconic pairings emerged in this era. Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshier pioneered NFL analysis. Keith Jackson and Lee Grosscup made Saturdays special with NCAA football coverage. Marv Albert and Bill Russell broadcast exhilarating NBA action. These tandems demonstrated the chemistry and cooperation required between play-by-play and color personalities.

Rise of the Analyst in the 1980s

The 1980s saw networks expanding their sports programming significantly. To meet growing demand, they cultivated dedicated analysts to cover specific sports year-round. NBC hired Bill Walton to focus solely on the NBA. ABC brought Don Sutton over from the Atlanta Braves’ booth to anchor baseball coverage. John Madden left coaching to burnish his reputation as the preeminent NFL analyst.

This decade also ushered in many former athletes focusing on color commentary. Cris Collinsworth went from the Cincinnati Bengals to NFL broadcasting. Bob Costas made the leap from calling baseball games to NBA Showtime. Mike Fratello transitioned from leading the Atlanta Hawks to covering the entire league. Their fresh perspectives directly from the playing field added bold new dimension to analysis.

Today’s Color Commentators

Fast forward to today, and the color analyst has never been more vital in sports media. Fans crave next-level statistics, insights, and storytelling from former players and coaches. Big personalities like Charles Barkley on TNT’s NBA coverage command massive audiences. Tony Romo’s uncanny football IQ has made him one of CBS’ most coveted announcers.

Here’s a look at some prominent color commentators working today and how long they’ve excelled in sports broadcasting:

Name Primary Sport Years Active
Jon Gruden NFL 20+
Jeff Van Gundy NBA 20+
Kirk Herbstreit NCAA Football 20+
A-Rod MLB 5+
Tony Romo NFL 5+
Jessica Mendoza MLB 5+

Some have been broadcasting for decades, like Jon Gruden and Jeff Van Gundy. Others are relative newcomers, such as Tony Romo and A-Rod. But they all provide value through experience and enthusiasm for their sport.

Qualities of Effective Color Commentators

So what makes for a truly great color analyst? Here are some key qualities:

  • Deep knowledge – Thorough understanding of rules, players, strategy, and trends.
  • Articulate – Ability to clearly explain complex concepts simply.
  • Quick thinker – Capacity to react and analyze situations instantly.
  • Entertaining – Talent for weaving insightful points with humor and personality.
  • Chemistry – Compatibility with their play-by-play partner’s style and role.

Truly special color analysts like John Madden check every box. They teach us to watch sports in a whole new way while keeping us engaged. The greats have perspective from past experience but stay fully immersed in the modern game.

Women Breaking Barriers

For decades, color commentary was an almost exclusively male profession. But pioneering women have made tremendous strides more recently. Reporters like Andrea Kremer brought hard hitting football analysis to HBO’s Inside the NFL. Hannah Storm successfully transitioned from SportsCenter to color work on primetime NBA games.

Doris Burke became the first full-time national female NBA game analyst during the 2017-18 season. Jessica Mendoza has established herself as one of ESPN’s most astute MLB voices. More recently, former soccer star Alexi Lalas has covered the men’s World Cup for Fox while excelling as a studio analyst.

Women offer fresh, diverse viewpoints that enrich sports broadcasts. As audiences demand more inclusive coverage, female color commentators will continue growing in numbers and prominence.

The Future

Looking ahead, what does the future hold for the color analyst role? Several trends point to ongoing evolution:

  • Specialized analysts – Networks using more analysts with specific expertise, like football offensive line play.
  • Prominent non-athletes – Well-versed hosts like Stephen A. Smith landing marquee analyst roles.
  • Younger voices – Retired players getting opportunities soon after ending their careers.
  • Advanced metrics – New ways of quantifying sports performance filtering into analysis.
  • Digital platforms – Live online shows allowing more niche analysis and conversation.

The pattern suggests color commentary getting more nuanced and tailored to audience interests. Social media engagement may also play a bigger role in driving analyst popularity and styles.


Color commentators enrich the sports viewing experience from Little League to the Super Bowl. They’ve evolved from pioneers like Don Meredith to modern analysts like Charles Barkley. Ex-athletes offer insights only players can provide. The best analysts blend humor, passion, and keen observation to reveal details we’d otherwise miss. While once a male-dominated domain, women like Jessica Mendoza are joining the ranks and breaking barriers. With countless games on-air every week, color commentary helps shape the way we watch and understand sports.