NSSA: Jaworski has made transition from field to booth
By David Shaw
SALISBURY — Ever wonder what it takes for a one-time Super Bowl quarterback to reinvent himself as a high-profile TV sportscaster?
Ron Jaworski can answer your question. Best known as a longtime signal-caller for the Philadelphia Eagles, he’s transformed into a well-versed, well-studied and highly entertaining member of ESPN’s Monday Night Football crew. And to hear him tell it, he owes royalties to collegue and close friend Mike Tirico.
“I was a football player trained to play football,” Jaworski said Monday evening outside Goodman Gym, moments before he joined Tirico — the national sportscaster of the year — at the NSSA’s annual banquet. “Then one day I was retired and had to go on and do something else. Mike was my guiding light.”
Jaworski has chummed around with Tirico since joining ESPN in 1990, just weeks after throwing the last of of his 179 career touchdown passes. Since 2007 he’s worked as a color analyst on MNF, teaming with Tirico and former Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden. Once a rugged, 6-foot-2 gunslinger nicknamed “Jaws” and “The Polish Rifle,” Jaworski welcomed the challenge.
“As a player, getting interviewed on television or at a press conference was easy,” he said. “You’re talking specifically about the game. People ask you questions and you give them concise, honest answers. I could do that in my sleep.”
Playing the broadcast game — particularly for a franchise like MNF — offered an eye-opening contrast.
“This is completely different,” he said. “When you get on TV you have to convey a message. You have to go into more depth. You have to have a theme. You have to speak eloquently. You have to look appropriately. All those things come into play. It really is another career.”
And though ESPN televises only 20 NFL games per season, Jaworski has made his job a year-round commitment.
“I work out of my office at NFL Films in New Jersey,” he said. “I study the games. I study our telecasts from last year. I talk to coaches, players, agents, general managers, owners — just trying to keep a pulse on what’s going on around the league.”
Tirico, for one, is honored to share a booth with his energetic, 60-year old sidekick.
“Ron is one of the greatest teammates anyone’s ever had,” he said. “What you see on TV, that’s not an act. That’s Jaws. He attacks life with enthusiasm. There are no airs about Ron. He is as genuine as they come.”
Jaworski’s first visit to Salisbury wouldn’t have been complete without inquiring about the current NFL owners’ lockout, Panthers’ draft pick Cam Newton and, of course, Super Bowl XV, which Philadelphia lost 27-10 to Jim Plunkett’s wild-card Raiders.
“I still haven’t watched the tape of that game,” Jaworski said. “A fond memory? The kickoff. When you lose the Super Bowl it haunts you forever. In January of ‘81 we were a young football team that totally expected to win that game. When we left our hotel that morning Coach (Dick) Vermeil told us, ‘When we come back here tonight we’ll be champions,’ — and hey, we believed him. We were that confident. And later, we were that devastated.”
Never mind that the Eagles had beaten Oakland in the regular season and were 14-4 on game day.
“They just outplayed us on Super Sunday,” Jaworski said. “To me, it’s case closed. That day, they were better.”
Despite passing for 291 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown, the loss remains his biggest regret as a professional.
“I thought we’d have multiple opportunities to win a Super Bowl,” he said. “Looking back, we had one and didn’t get it done. I believe the role of the quarterback is to win rings, to win championships. And that day I let myself down, our team down and the city of Philadelphia down.”
Jaworski believes the 6-5, 248-pound Newton — first selection in last month’s draft — is a potential star who can restore the Panthers in due time.
“Cam Newton has a tremendous upside,” he said. “I studied Cam in preparation for the draft. I looked at all 280 throws that he made at Auburn and I saw a guy with incredible upside.”
After pausing, Jaworski continued, “Now, he’s still a very raw product. People have to be very careful. Do not expect him to come out and be a superstar early in his career. He has mechanical flaws. But his reputation is that he’s someone who will work hard to make himself and his teammates better.”
There’s no way to put a positive spin on the current NFL lockout. Jaworski, who endured work stoppages in 1982 and 1987 is pessimistic.
“It’s everybody’s money to lose,” he said. “I’ve been through this as a player and an executive (owner of an Arena Football League team), so I kind of see both sides of it right now. With the money that’s in the game — $9.3 billion, and its expected to escalate to $14 billion in a few short years — there’s a lot of money at stake. What happens is greed takes over. With that kind of money involved, you’d think there would be a reasonable way for intelligent people to sit down and solve the issues. Once you miss that paycheck, you never get it back.”
That’s keen insight. For a guy from the blue-collar, steel-mill town of Lackawanna, NY, Jaworski has a pretty glamorous game — one Tirico can’t wait to share this fall.
“Ron truly created a template for how former athletes can become successful in the media,” he said. “He had to learn a different language, from pro football player to sportscaster. He took it to the next level and has done a great job.”
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