Behind the Mic: Industry Loses a Legend in John Saunders; Tom Jackson Retires From ESPN After 29 Years

John Saunders, an on-air staple at ESPN for nearly 30 years and one of the most respected broadcasters in the industry, died on Wednesday at 61. Saunders, who hosted and handled play-by-play for a variety of sports, joined ESPN in 1986 and was one of the company’s most tenured commentators.

espn-john-saundersSaunders was host of ABC’s Saturday studio coverage of college football and select editions of ESPN’s College Football Live and ESPN’s college basketball studio coverage. He hosted The Sports Reporters, the Sunday morning roundtable of sports journalists, since December 2001. In recent years, he also co-hosted NFL highlight segments on Sunday night editions of SportsCenter during the football season. As part of his role in ESPN’s college football, Saunders anchored studio coverage from the College Football Playoff National Championship and hosted the postgame trophy presentation.

At ESPN, Saunders also called play-by-play for college basketball since 1990, WNBA from 1999-2001 and NBDL games in 2001. He hosted the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs (1993-2004), Baseball Tonight (1990-93), SportsCenter’s coverage of the Final Four (1991-93), the World Series (1990-92) and Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game (1990-92). He also hosted Rendez-Vous ’87, the two-game series between the NHL All-Stars and the Soviets, and occasionally hosted ESPN’s NHL telecasts in 1987-88. Saunders joined ESPN in December 1986 as a SportsCenter anchor after serving at WMAR-TV in Baltimore.

Saunders’ work on ABC started in 1990, hosting NCAA basketball telecasts beginning that first year, college football telecasts since 1992 and NHL action (1993, 1999-2004). He served as a contributor to Wide World of Sports, beginning in 1990, and also provided play-by-play of NCAA basketball games (since 1992).

A former colleague and close friend of the late Jim Valvano, Saunders was a founding member and served on the board of directors for The V Foundation for Cancer Research. He is survived by his wife, Wanda, and two daughters, Aleah and Jenna…

…NFL analyst Tom Jackson has retired from broadcasting, concluding a 29-year career at ESPN. A Hall of Fame broadcaster, Jackson joined the company in 1987 as one of ESPN’s first NFL analysts following an outstanding 14-year playing career with the Denver Broncos. His final assignment was last week at Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement weekend in Canton, Ohio. Jackson has been a mainstay on ESPN’s NFL programs alongside Chris Berman for nearly three decades. Together, they became one of sports television’s longest-running and most-beloved duos.

Jackson joined ESPN’s newly formed Sunday NFL Countdown pregame show (then NFL GameDay) in 1987. That same year, he and Berman also became partners on NFL PrimeTime. Spanning 19 years (1987-2005) on Sunday nights,PrimeTime was the preeminent NFL highlights show and the highest-rated studio program on cable television. In addition to Sundays, Jackson has been part of ESPN’s Monday Night Countdown pregame show, as well as the company’s year-round NFL coverage of major events, including the Super Bowl, Pro Bowl, NFL Draft and Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement weekend. He was also part of ABC’s Super Bowl XL pre-game show in 2006. One of the industry’s most respected analysts, Jackson has been a strong voice on football topics and on broader social issues that often intersect with sports. In 2015, Jackson was honored by the Pro Football Hall of Fame with the distinguished Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award for longtime exceptional contributions to radio and television in professional football…

…Three-time Super Bowl Champion and Pro Football Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe has joined FOX Sports and will pair with Skip Bayless on an in-development opinion and debate show premiering Tuesday, Sept. 6 (10:00 AM ET) on FS1. Additional details on the new show will be announced in the coming weeks. Sharpe joined Bayless as a guest host on First Take numerous times over the last year. He first transitioned from the field to a broadcast career in 2004, as a commentator for CBS Sports’ “The NFL Today,” appearing on pregame, halftime and postgame shows, where he served for close to 10 years. In addition to his television work, Sharpe worked as a radio host for Sirius NFL Radio’s “Opening Drive” morning program, alongside Bob Papa. In 2013, he also took to writing, becoming a columnist and spokesperson for FitnessRX For Men magazine and appeared on their September 2013 cover. Sharpe enjoyed a 14-year career with the Denver Broncos (1990-99, 2002-03) and Baltimore Ravens (2000-01). During his first tenure in Denver (1990-99), Sharpe was voted to seven consecutive Pro Bowls from 1992-98, earned the prestigious first-team All-Pro honors an impressive four times and was voted the first-team tight end on the 1990’s All-Decade Team…

…Fantasy sports personality Matthew Berry has reached a new contract extension with ESPN to continue as the company’s Senior Fantasy Analyst through 2021. Berry will continue to write for ESPN.com, host ESPN’s “Fantasy Focus Football” podcast, serve as lead fantasy analyst for Fantasy Football Kickoff and Fantasy Football Now on ESPN2, as well as make regular appearances on NFL Monday Night Countdown, Sunday NFL Countdown, NFL Live, and SportsCenter on ESPN, and more.  Since Berry joined ESPN full time nearly a decade ago, ESPN fantasy football has grown steadily every year and has been recognized as the No. 1 fantasy football game in the industry for the last several years. He also was the first fantasy football analyst to join ESPN’s NFL Draft Day coverage last year…

Saturday Night Live cast member and Olympics super fan Leslie Jones is coming to Rio, where she will join NBC Olympics as a contributor for its coverage of the 2016 Olympics. Starting tonight, Jones will attend live Olympic events, meet athletes, and spread her enthusiasm for the Olympics on-air and online during NBC Olympics’ coverage of Rio 2016. Since the Games began, Jones has been live-tweeting her Olympic viewing experience, along with witty commentary and words of support for Team USA…

…Outspoken Washington Redskins All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman has joined FOX Sports as an on-air contributor for the 2016 season. In his recurring role, Norman splits appearances between FOX NFL KICKOFF (11:00 AM ET) and FOX NFL SUNDAY (12:00 PM ET) pregame shows, participating in talkbacks via satellite, pre-packaged features shot during the practice week and also serves as an analyst in the Los Angeles studio on Sunday, Nov. 6, during Washington’s Week 9 bye. With the Redskins opening their season on Monday night, Sept. 12 vs. Pittsburgh, Norman makes his FOX NFL debut on Sunday, Sept. 11 on FOX NFL KICKOFF at 11:00 AM ET on the FOX broadcast network….

In addition to the Norman announcement, Fox has also unveiled its broadcast teams for the network’s 23rd season of NFL coverage, as seven-time Emmy Award-winning play-by-play announcer Joe Buck and Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman call their 15th regular season and fifth Super Bowl together. Erin Andrews returns to FOX’s lead NFL broadcast team and reports from the sidelines for her second Super Bowl.

Play-by-play announcer Kevin Burkhardt pairs with nine-time Pro Bowl safety John Lynch for the fourth straight season alsong with veteran sideline reporter Pam Oliver (in her 22nd FOX NFL season and her third with Burkhardt and Lynch).  Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston and Laura Okmin return as Fox’s B-team in the booth. FOX NFL insider Peter Schrager receives his first season of full-time sideline duties, joining play-by-play announcer Thom Brennaman and analyst Charles Davis in a full-time capacity. Former Ohio State All-American and NFL All-Pro linebacker Chris Spielman returns to FOX Sports as an NFL and college football analyst in 2016, serving as a game analyst alongside veteran play-by-play announcer Dick Stockton and sideline reporter Kristina Pink. Fox will also deploy Chris Myers, Ronde Barber and Jennifer Hale to games, as well as Sam Rosen, David Diehl and (rotating reporters) Shannon Spake/Holly Sonders. Former NFL quarterback Brady Quinn and former four-time Super Bowl champion linebacker and team executive Matt Millen will also contribute as game analysts.

Each Sunday, FOX NFL KICKOFF, a one-hour pregame show hosted by Charissa Thompson with analysts Colin Cowherd, Dave Wannstedt and Charles Tillman, welcomes football fans at 11:00 AM ET. FOX NFL SUNDAY immediately follows at 12:00 PM ET featuring co-hosts Terry Bradshaw and Curt Menefee, analysts Howie Long, Jimmy Johnson and Michael Strahan, NFL insider Jay Glazer, comeian Rob Riggle and NFL rules analyst Mike Pereira, and occasionally Norman…

… ESPN has announced commentators for its seven marquee matchups over Labor Day Weekend (Sept. 3- Sept. 5) which feature six top 10 teams and 11 top 20 teams.

ESPN’s lead commentating team of Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit and Samantha Ponder will call two games in three days, beginning with ABC’s Saturday Night Football from Arlington, Texas, when the Trojans take on the Crimson Tide. The trio, which Ponder has joined this year, will then call the 2016 Camping World Kickoff in Orlando, Fla., featuring the Rebels vs. Seminoles.

Joe Tessitore makes his return calling prime-time games and will be with Todd Blackledge and Holly Rowe in Austin, Texas, when the Fighting Irish and the Longhorns meet for the 12th time in the last 103 years. The game is believed to be ABC’s first-ever live, Sunday, prime-time, regular-season college football game.

Dave Pasch, Greg McElroy, in his new role as a game analyst, and Tom Luginbill will be in Houston for the 2016 AdvoCare Texas Kickoff featuring the Sooners vs. the Cougars, from NRG Stadium. Steve Levy makes his return to calling regular-season college football and will be paired with Brian Griese and Todd McShay in Green Bay, Wis., when the LSU Tigers play the Badgers from Lambeau Field. Bob Wischusen, Brock Huard and their new sideline reporter Allison Williams will be in Atlanta for the 2016 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game featuring the Bulldogs and Tar Heels from the Georgia Dome. Brent Musburger, Jesse Palmer and Kaylee Hartung, SEC Network’s lead commentating team throughout the entire season, will be in Auburn, Ala., for the Clemson Tigers at the Auburn Tigers. It will be trio’s second game in three days, with their SEC Network assignment announced later this week.

…ESPN.com’s World Cup of Hockey 2016 coverage will be led by four veteran NHL journalists focusing on a team or teams – Scott Burnside (Team USA), Craig Custance (Team North America), Pierre LeBrun (team Canada) and Joe McDonald (Team Sweden and Team Finland). Each will provide daily updates across ESPN digital and social media platforms, beginning with #LevyAndMelrose (Steve Levy, Barry Melrose) video segments during traing camps, which highlighting workouts, pre-tournament games and the tournament will be featured regularly…

…Online sports-video outlet 120 Sports has added Abby Hornacek to contribute on the latest trends across the sports world, including breaking news, as well as serve as a co-host on 120 Sports’ new exclusive, live-streamed, nightly multi-sport highlights show, ‘The Rally,’ on Twitter. Daughter of longtime NBA star and current New York Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek, she is a graduate of the University of Southern California with a degree in Public Relations and minor in sports media. Hornacek served as a sports anchor and features reporter for Fox Sports Arizona and at the 2015 and 2016 NBA Summer League. Hornacek also served as the San Diego Prep Insider co-host for Fox Sports San Diego and as a freelance reporter for ESPN. In addition, she was a member of the sand volleyball team at USC, trained with the USA Volleyball Beach program, won the USA Junior National Beach Championship 18s, and, as a member of the USA National Beach Team, placed fifth at the USA High Performance Beach Championships.