This year, ESPN completely overhauled its Monday Night Football announcing team, as the network handed duties over to play-by-play announcer Joe Tessitore and analysts Jason Witten and Anthony “Booger” McFarland. We did not have to wade too deep into the 2018 season for NFL fans across the United States to begin ripping this announcing trio. It seems that football fans have decided that this announcing team is not ready for prime time. Well, I have come across one person who actually likes this crew of announcers, and that person is yours truly. Yes, I admit it – I enjoy Tessitore, Witten, and Booger. Before you have me committed to a mental institution, please allow me to explain myself.
When I analyze an announcing team, I ask myself the following questions:
- Does the play-by-play announcer do a good job describing the play?
- Does the play-by-play announcer have a good voice for TV?
- Do the analysts have serviceable voices for TV?
- Are the analysts are able to dissect a play that has just happened in a way that educates me but does not feel “over my head”?
- Do the announcers discuss the most important storylines of the game at the appropriate times?
- Do the announcers converse comfortably with each other?
- Do the announcers avoid embellishment, exaggeration, and self-fabricated storylines?
Very simply, the more “Yes” responses I can give to the questions above, the better the announcing team. In terms of the MNF team, I am actually able to answer “Yes” to all seven questions above. Allow me to explain, question by question.
- I believe that Tessitore notes everything that is happening in a comfortable way. He does not embellish anything to try to put himself above the moment. His voice rises and falls appropriately, based upon the moments he experiences.
- Tess has a great, deep announcing voice.
- This is where most people will start to disagree with me. I think that Witten and McFarland have serviceable TV voices. Their voices are not James Earl Jones-level great, but, for analysts, all I need is “serviceable”. In other words, their voices need to avoid being Jerry Glanville-level annoying. (Yes, I realize that most of you college students will have to Google “Jerry Glanville”, and some of you will even have to Google “James Earl Jones”.) Anyway, it has become very easy to mock Jason Witten for the long pauses he tends to take mid-sentence. I do not deny that these pauses exist, but I do not find that they hurt Witten’s ability to make points. His pauses are his thing. The guy played an entire NFL career and never missed games due to injury. If the sole repercussion of Witten’s 15 years of NFL collisions is that he pauses mid-sentence, I can live with it.
- The “Booger”-mobile is something that I initially thought would not work, but I have actually enjoyed it. I feel that the combination of Witten in the press box and Booger at field level do a great job of analyzing plays immediately after they happen. I am not going to compare these guys to Cris Collinsworth nor Tony Romo, as those are the best two analysts in the business. However, just because there are people better does not make the MNF trio bad. In fact, it is weird to me that people’s bar for judging these announcers seems to be at the elite level. Have you ever watched any announcing team below the networks’ top teams? I covered some of this a few weeks ago, but there is plenty not to like about those announcing teams. Furthermore, even if you use a higher bar for national announcing teams than for other teams; I ask you to remember Troy Aikman, Jon Gruden, and Tony Kornheiser. It is fun to mock Aikman, but I would say he is on a par with the Witten/Booger duo (which is a compliment only when it comes from me). As of the other two guys, I put Witten and Booger well above them. I will return to this discussion in a bit.
- As I also discussed a few weeks ago, it is very annoying when all of the viewers at home are discussing a different aspect of a game or play than the announcers are. For example, an announcer might be analyzing whether or not a receiver has kept his two feet inbounds, while everyone at home can see that the ball came loose to render the “feet” discussion irrelevant. The MNF team successfully avoids this awkward scenario.
- My favorite thing about the MNF team is that Witten and Booger often disagree with each other but do so in a respectful manner. The classic example came during Week 3’s Pittsburgh/Tampa Bay contest; as Witten argued that Le’Veon Bell was wrong for holding out while Booger argued that Bell was correct. Both analysts provided compelling cases for their sides, and the two announcers were civil the whole time. We are used to seeing forced laughter between broadcast partners (which does sometimes happen with the MNF team too) and especially between studio hosts on FOX and CBS. We are used to announcers mindlessly agreeing with each other about everything. (Aikman says “You’re exactly right, Joe.” in his sleep.) Therefore, it is refreshing to hear differing opinions within the same broadcast.
- For those who forget this question read, “Do the announcers avoid embellishment, exaggeration, and self-fabricated storylines?” In other words, do the announcers avoid doing the main thing that ESPN always does??? Ironically this announcing team does. For years, we were saddled with Jon Gruden singing the praises of guys like Preston Parker and Blake Bortles. We heard him say that Jarvis Landry is as good as OBJ. We heard Gruden say, “I like this guy” about at least 75 players per team per game. Prior to that, we had Tony Kornheiser try to do three hours of PTI during every MNF game. That meant that Kornheiser would awkwardly try to weave 3 or 4 storylines like “Are the Cowboys the most popular team in America?” into every minute of every game. That stuff worked on PTI. It did not work during games. You are announcing a football game; you do not need to fabricate storylines. The game presents its own storylines. Kornheiser did not get it.
Who does get it though? Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten, and Booger McFarland. Therefore, I would like to congratulate ESPN. Even a blind squirrel catches a nut once in a while, and that is the case with ESPN and this announcing team.