Gus Johnson hollered his way back into our hearts this weekend. Gus has been working soccer for Fox Sports, and on Saturday he was in the booth for the FA Cup final between Wigan and Manchester City. The FA Cup is fantastic -- it's basically an all-comers tournament for English soccer. Imagine March Madness with every college team, plus the NBA, D-League, and pickup teams from every city in America. There were 758 clubs in the FA Cup this year. It took 10 months to play. Wigan made the final despite being 9-19-8 and headed for relegation in the English Premier League. The final went into added time tied 0-0. And then this happened.
Dear reader, I'll be honest: Before this weekend, I didn't know there was such a thing as Wigan. The only Ben Watson I'd heard of played tight end at Georgia. I had only a vague notion that the FA Cup existed. But I could watch this clip a thousand times. And that, I think, gets to the genius of Gus Johnson: He is the greatest announcer alive when you're not sure exactly what's going on.
My friend and colleague Will Leitch ripped Gus a pretty good one last year. Everything he said makes sense. If you're a big fan of a certain team, or if you know a lot about the game you're watching, Gus is aggravating. He misses key points in the action. He gets names wrong. As Will says, he's often "just waiting for the next moment to scream."
But those flaws matter a lot less if you're not personally invested in the game. This is why Gus was so great during March Madness, and why the tournament is a lesser thing without him. Most of the time, in the tournament, you couldn't name either starting five at gunpoint. You're watching because a 14 is beating a 3, or Duke is about to go down again, or this game is crucial to your brackets. You don't need (well, I don't need) thoughtful analysis. When it's a HOLY S*** moment, you need an announcer who can say HOLY S*** in network-approved language. That's what Gus Johnson does.
It's a shtick, yes. But it's no less a shtick than Pat Summerall's Aikman … Irvin … touchdown. Summerall was Miles Davis, letting the silence speak between the notes. Gus is more like Coltrane, reaching for peak after peak.
(Jim Nantz is Zamfir.)
Soccer fans have not reacted well to The Gus Experiment, and that's understandable. He doesn't have the bone-deep knowledge of the game that the average British announcer (or the average Brit) does. Gus would be fine if he were doing a Latin American league; Spanish-speaking soccer fans were raised on Andres Cantor. English fans are used to someone more, well, proper.
The strange thing is, soccer is a perfect fit for Gus Johnson's skills. It's the ultimate delayed-gratification sport. Sometimes the best a team gets in an entire 90-minute match is a near-miss. When a team finally does score, there's an explosion of joy from the team, the coaches, the fans - everyone. It feels natural to have an announcer who channels that emotion and fires it out through the microphone.
I'm not for one minute arguing that Gus Johnson is a Hall of Fame broadcaster. His lasting contribution to the craft might end up being the Gus Johnson Soundboard. But go back and watch that clip from the FA Cup again. Look at that dogpile of players in the corner. Listen to those fans in the stands. Who could've called that moment better?
I didn't care a whit about the FA Cup before this weekend. But next year, when some plucky club faces an EPL titan, I'll be watching. And I hope Gus Johnson is making the call.
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Questions? Comments? Challenges? Taunts? You can reach me at email@example.com or on Twitter @tommytomlinson. Soccer fans, I'd really like to hear from you on this one - pro-Gus, anti-Gus, whatever. And: What are some of the great calls in soccer history?