ESPN’s Booger McFarland gets an A- calling SF-Seattle game; In his first season in the booth, he’s assertive!

Former LSU and NFL defensive lineman is knowledgeable, passionate and makes good points; But excessive use of jargon is ill-advised

The dreaded Booger-mobile has been retired and Jason Witten is back on the Dallas gridiron.

Instead of chiming in awkwardly from some failed, bizarre looking device, Booger McFarland sits in the analyst’s chair, commenting with aplomb. No Peyton Manning either. He’s too busy raking in the dough doing commercials. Viewers might be saying who needs him?

I listened to the Joe Tessitore-McFarland duo assiduously last night on the Seahawks-49ers game. They were good.

My review and observations:

Hyped as the game of the year, this overtime thriller did not disappoint.

If you like defense and still want to see a good number of points scored, this one was for you. Seattle knocked off previously undefeated San Francisco in overtime, 27-24 on a last-second field goal by Jason Myers.

ESPN’s telecast was pulsating, due in large part to the stimulating work of former LSU and NFL standout, Booger McFarland. No, he’s not Tony Romo who generally projects plays before the snap. Still, once a play is run, McFarland breaks it down clearly. It’s quite evident that he’s intelligent and has a depth of understanding for the game.

I’m not surprised nor am I disappointed that he doesn’t often read plays pre-snap. Unlike Romo, Booger didn’t play quarterback and as such, he isn’t a play-caller. McFarland was on the defensive line and adjusted his play based on cues from his middle-linebacker. Romo has a great knack of reading an entire field to accurately envisioning what’s coming. A defensive lineman only sees the massive man 5-inches from his face.

After almost every snap, McFarland elaborated passionately, how the play unfolded and why. Frankly, I wasn’t the biggest fan of McFarland’s predecessor Jason Witten. Lots of style, not much substance. McFarland, on his own in the booth, is making his mark.

Like Hall of Famer John Smoltz, who focuses his commentary on pitching, McFarland feels most comfortable analyzing the defensive line. And, yes, in the booth, it’s his greatest strength. This said, he’s also well prepared and sufficiently schooled on each position and its responsibility.  If you watched and knew McFarland was a former player but didn’t know the position he played, you’d learn that he earned his keep in the trenches, on the defensive line.

There are many analysts who comfortably portray the inner-working of the activity on the field. What propelled the few commentators to the very top is the ability to develop their own personality and share anecdotal thumbnails. McFarland did share a couple of profiles that might have resonated with most viewers.

One was his personal experience with San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan in Tampa Bay, where Booger played and Kyle was part of the offensive coaching team. Booger reminisced about how he recorded plays dutifully and studied them diligently.  Booger said that it was a harbinger of what was to come of his career. Shanahan’s  irrepressible work ethic makes him a great coach today.

McFarland is still relatively new and he hasn’t yet learned how to bounce ideas and concepts off his partner, Joe Tessitore. But it’s clicking  the other way around which is more the norm. Tessitore raises talking points and the two engage as best as can be expected given the time restraints between plays.

Commentators walk a fine line. They have to serve a blended constituency, the student of the game and the fan who has little more than a passing interest. Coaches’ jargon often overshoots the understanding ability of the unenlightened football fan and shallow analysis might underserve the deeply engaged.

Still, McFarland elaborates on players’ responsibilities, each of their roles and the symbiotic results when carefully concocted.

There are areas where he can improve, such as bringing some laughter and lightheartedness to the booth and using less coaches’ lingo which the average viewer might not understand. Overall, Booger shows strong potential, knowledge and passion. If he can work on the couple mentioned shortcomings, he can be as solid as they come.

For someone only in his second year and working alone for the first time, McFarland gets an A- overall.


A deep-dive into Booger’s comments.

Interesting and instructional points:

  • Describes 49ers defensive line as “4 guys who make you throw the ball before you want to.”
  • He points out the Seahawks are in a 3-deep zone but doesn’t explain the meaning of a 3-deep zone. Booger has to be sensitive. Most viewers have no understanding of the jargon.  (It’s when 3 defensive backs, typically two corners and one safety, split the deep part of the field into thirds and each one covers a third of that deep zone).
  • McFarland explains how the twist action by the two interior defensive linemen led to a strip sack of Jimmy Garoppolo by Jarran Reed and ended in a fumble that was returned for a  touchdown by Jadeveon Clowney. He was able to describe a twist stunt to some degree. But again, it’s another coaching term most viewers wouldn’t comprehend unless there was time set aside to run through the rudimentary. His attempt at a brief explanation fell short. It would require an interested audience, film, diagramming, showing the play in full speed, stopping the video, slowing it down and the like. Given the economies of television time, a live game isn’t the right platform to cogently do so. In other words, don’t go there.
  • McFarland talks of the Seahawks running 2-high, one more coaching term that goes over much of the audience’s head.
  • Booger does a good job at sharing the difference in Garoppolo’s success when he had his top receiver, Emmanuel Sanders, and without him. Easy to absorb.
  • Good stuff. Booger shares the story of undrafted free agent linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair. His college coach Lane Kiffin sent a letter to all 32 NFL head coaches and general managers telling them to give Al-Shaair a chance and he’ll become a star in this league. Now he is starting in the NFL.
  • McFarland talks about how “Nobody is able to extend plays by scrambling around, allowing his receivers to squeeze open like Russell Wilson.”
  • McFarland went out on a limb saying that  Russell Wilson is the “most clutch quarterback in our league.” Many would consider Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes or a few others to be more clutch.

Accurate projections

  • McFarland believes that the Seahawks’ game plan is to make “Garoppolo beat them by putting most of the defenders in the box,” usually with one safety, leaving the receivers with one-on-one coverage. A bit over fans’ heads. Maybe? Still, a good prediction. The 49ers are excelling at the running game and Jimmy Garoppolo hasn’t proven an ability yet to scare NFL defenses. This projection was accurate.  The combination of the Niners’ lackluster running game and little time to sit in the pocket forced the 49ers offense to labor most of the night.
  • McFarland lets us know “number 44” will lead you to the football. He is saying where Kyle Juszczyk goes, the ball carrier will follow. This is usually the case.


Inaccurate projection:

  • McFarland tries to call a play pre-snap on a 49ers 4th down attempt with a little over 10-minutes left in the 3rd quarter. He anticipated one-on-one coverage and that Garoppolo would have time to roll out and find a receiver. He was right. It was a pass play and the corner was in man coverage against the receiver, but there was a safety over the top of him. McFarland was able to diagnose some of the play pre-snap, but not the entire play.








Brian Seitz

Brian Seitz is a student at Arizona State University's Cronkite School of Journalism and hopes to pursue a career as a sportswriter.

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Michael Green
4 years ago

I watched the game last night. Both announcers did well, and so did Mr. Seitz! I noticed that at one point Booger said he would go for a field goal when there was clearly a debate about what to do. And I thought of John Madden. When he was starting out, he wouldn’t say anything at that point and his producer said he should. Madden replied that he didn’t second-guess. The producer pointed out that if he said what he would have done BEFORE the play, it’s a first-guess, and Madden used that play from then on. Booger knows the… Read more »