Tessitore, Witten, McFarland, Salters on ESPN ‘MNF’ crew
NEW YORK — Joe Tessitore calls his new gig at ESPN a “legacy job.”
Jason Witten notes he’s joining “another iconic franchise.”
Booger McFarland says it’s “the pinnacle of what we do.”
They are the three new voices who will work ESPN’s Monday night games this season.
Tessitore has been one of the network’s top announcers for 16 years on boxing, college football and basketball, including calling the College Football Playoff semifinals the past two years. It will be his first NFL assignment.
“I am very conscious of that lineage,” says Tessitore, who at 46 is the oldest member of what he calls “a young, vibrant crew.”
“When I got the call that I would be doing this, my first reaction was remembering when I was a kid watching Frank Gifford, Dandy Don (Meredith) and Howard Cosell. Everybody back then watched ‘Monday Night Football’ and ‘Wide World of Sports’ and Howard Cosell doing boxing. I did a Cosell imitation that had my grandfather, who didn’t speak English, laughing his tail off.”
Witten, one of the sport’s finest tight ends for 15 seasons and a likely Hall of Famer, retired from the Dallas Cowboys earlier this month to move into the booth.
Tessitore believes Witten will be a natural as he and McFarland replace Jon Gruden as analysts. Gruden, of course, is back coaching in the league with Oakland.
“We had a lot of candidates, and at the end of the audition process we all were saying, ‘This is very obvious,’” Tessitore says of Witten.
“He has such an upside that this is a guy who could be the next generation’s face and voice of the NFL. He’s smart, respected, even beloved by coaches, and has a tremendously high football IQ. Jason has a little of all the traits and characteristics of the great ones. Most importantly, he is wholly authentic.”
Witten will be in the broadcast booth with Tessitore. McFarland, who won two Super Bowls as a player and has been an analyst for ESPN and SEC Network for four years, will be the first field-level analyst for “Monday Night Football.’”
The idea is for the effervescent McFarland to give a viewpoint from near the trenches — exactly where he spent nine pro seasons as a defensive lineman.
McFarland’s wit and enthusiasm will be apparent from the outset of the broadcasts; ESPN’s first telecast will be Thursday night, Aug. 16 with the Jets at the Redskins in the preseason.
“I am going to use a strange word to describe Booger as an announcer: nimble,” Tessitore says. “He’s dynamic, a huge personality and presence. You can’t have a cookie-cutter type of analyst and Booger is far from that — he’s a guy who you can turn on the red light for the broadcast and he’s ready to go.”
Tessitore replaces Sean McDonough, who returns to doing college football.
Lisa Salters is the only holdover, returning for her seventh season as the sideline reporter.
Tessitore recognizes the platform he and his new sidekicks will have. Their first regular-season game will be the nightcap of the opening Monday night doubleheader, the Rams at the Raiders (and Gruden).
“The college game lends itself to every game being its own story, the pageantry and the storytelling attached to it,” Tessitore says. “In the NFL, each game is a continuation of a well-told narrative that everyone is following.
“It’s like this is our weekly story, part of a book we’ve all been continuously reading, and each week we’re on to the next chapter.”
He also realizes that simply calling a game for three hours or longer isn’t what his new job should be about. There’s much more to it.
“There’s a vision of when we land in town we begin to create content for fans who can go to the app and hear what we have to say about the upcoming games or what’s happening in the league,” he says. “We also want to have more content made available pre-game and postgame.
“I’ve become so football-obsessed, it has become ridiculous.”
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