Monday Night Football is getting another makeover.
The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch reported on Saturday that the ESPN commentary duo of Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland is mercifully going away. They’ll both remain at the network in other roles — Tessitore is ESPN’s lead boxing commentator and McFarland was part of their college football coverage — but no replacement has been confirmed.
When Jon Gruden returned to coaching and Sean McDonough was rescued from his own misery, ESPN went with a trio of Tessitore/McFarland/Jason Witten, with that stupid “Booger-mobile” proving to be one of the more pointless broadcast innovations in recent memory. Witten only averaged six complete, coherent sentences per game, so he went back to the NFL and is now with the Las Vegas Raiders.
As enthusiastic as Booger can be, contradictory and downright confusing analysis made for a rough broadcast.
Tessitore’s play-by-play ranged from making drama up where there was none to being bizarrely calm for some actual big moments. Oh yeah, and while people misspeak all the time, this was nevertheless very funny.
Once upon a time, Monday Night Football used to be the premier night for nationally televised NFL games. Now it’s legitimately behind Thursday Night Football in terms of priority, something the league pushed itself when FOX and Amazon won the rights in 2018. Last year’s MNF schedule blessed us with the Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals each getting a game despite obvious signs that they were both going to be terrible.
When MNF moved from ABC to ESPN, Al Michaels and John Madden moved to NBC and they have tried reinventing the wheel several times over. The Tony Kornheiser experience was panned, then they jettisoned Ron Jaworski from the trio of Mike Tirico, Jaws, and Jon Gruden. The Tirico/Gruden tandem stayed together for four seasons, but Tirico also left for NBC and is poised to replace Al Michaels on Sunday Night Football.
In just four seasons since Tirico left, ESPN is searching for its third new MNF play-by-play voice and a second new lead analyst. They keep calling Peyton Manning’s number but he’s presumably blocked them, while Tony Romo re-signed with CBS despite ESPN’s hot pursuit of him.
One of the quietly bigger stories concerning the NFL is the fact that current TV contracts are up in 2022, so the future of Monday Night Football and ESPN’s relationship with the league is hardly set in stone.
As for who could replace Tessitore and McFarland... honestly any two people could probably suffice. From the analyst side, former Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck auditioned for the job but didn’t get it, so he may give it another shot. Louis Riddick did a Week 1 MNF game last year and was well-received, so he’s another option.
The Seattle Seahawks have just one Monday Night Football appearance this season, as they’ll take on the Philadelphia Eagles on November 30th. Hopefully we’ll have a listenable broadcast, because watching games on mute is no fun and it’s not always easy to sync Steve Raible to the TV feed.