ESPN’s Tessitore should tone it down; McFarland is getting better and Witten could improve in time

Dan Mason: ESPN's production of MNF needs work; Former NY Times columnist Richard Sandomir posted his view on Facebook

While we’ve had some time to catch our breath after Monday Night’s epic scoring fest between the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams, the game has remained a subject of conversation long into the day and will continue so for a while. ESPN’s coverage has also drawn quite a bit of attention.

With her typical ease, Suzy Kolber deftly hosted pre-game activities at a high level. The trio of Steve Young, Louis Riddick and Kolber cogently guided viewers on what to expect once the game begins.

What was odd and uneasily so was the way the game was set to kick off.  Both teams were on the field in helmets, awaiting the start of the match-up at 8:15 eastern. The beleaguered ESPN play-by-play announcer Joe Tessitore then introduced Sam Lagana, the Los Angeles Coliseum public address announcer, before the network cut to a scene where victims of the recent Thousand Oaks shooting were honored with a Flame of Hope ceremony. Acknowledging a dark and tragic moment while players were on the field, engaged in anything other than paying their respects, was extraneous at best and bad-mannered at worst. There should have been better coordination between ESPN and the NFL. This was a solemn occasion and should have been treated accordingly.

As far as the game goes, at least one of ESPN’s on-air talent showed some improvement since I expressed my frustration in detail several weeks ago. 

Columnist Dan Mason: ESPN Monday Night Football must refocus – The game and field should be first!

Let’s start positively, Booger McFarland has improved. I almost get the feeling that ESPN is giving him more latitude as the season progresses. He’s been getting a more prominent role recently.  Last night, Booger instantly gave viewers his insight on the new NFL and why the defenses were struggling.  In one instance, he shared his astute knowledge and keen observations, demonstrating the difficulties the Chiefs were having with Aaron Donald and why he needed to be double-teamed.  In the end, McFarland needs to be in the booth.  I still don’t care for the gizmo he resides in on the sidelines.

Play-by-player Joe Tessitore is a flat-out shout machine. There are times to just let a great game breathe. Apparently, he can’t. It’s as if every game is an epic and unforgettable. Each and every play becomes a Miracle on Ice moment.  We often remember great games by the simplicity of great broadcasters making wonderful calls.  Al Michaels, Verne Lundquist, Joe Buck and others have captioned moments effortlessly; in understated and straightforward terms. Viewers will repeat many of these masterful lines over and over, Do you believe in miracles? or Yes, Sir.  Ask yourself which of Tessitore’s lines are memorable. Are there any?

You kind of wonder why Tessitore chose to separate himself, even before the season, from the well respected trio of NFL voices, representing NBC, CBS and Fox; Al Michaels, Jim Nantz and Joe Buck. He calls them, “classically trained violinists;” a euphemism perhaps for showing no heart. He equates himself more with the Brent Musburger and Gus Johnson set; referencing them as, “that’s a total jazz rif, bro.” Joe feels the approach of the latter connects them more passionately with the audience.

I would think you might want to develop your own credentials, before attacking an established and respected trio.

Although it needed no hype, Tessitore kept overselling the game. If viewers couldn’t enjoy last night’s slugfest without Joe’s embellishment, they weren’t football fans. I would bet that an Al Michaels or Jim Nantz would almost take a step back because the game was so gripping. Two young protagonist quarterbacks underscored the appeal of football for three wonderful hours.

As for Jason Witten, let’s be fair and give him some time to hone his craft. Too much of his cadence is trying to emulate his former quarterback pal Tony Romo who’s excelling at CBS. The difference though is that Romo can string together multiple thoughts very intelligently, in short spurts, while keeping viewers intrigued. Witten just doesn’t have it yet. When he gets there we will be able to identify it.

Also, why go to Scott Van Pelt after the game and then go back to the stadium with the Kolber, Riddick and Young crew?  It’s strange to me that ESPN doesn’t stay at the stadium. Leaving for the studio can chase viewers to other programming. By the time ESPN heads back to the field, fans are either asleep or in another mindset.  


Editor’s addition:

If you’re wondering how Richard Sandomir feels, the former New York Times sports media columnist for over two decades  posted his view this afternoon on Facebook:

Even if you’re in the first year as a team, as Tessitore, Witten and Booger, you have to call the the game as if you’ve called one before. A great play and a great game cannot be called as if everything is a surprise. How do you act as if you’ve been there before? Easy. Tone it down and get out of the way. It’s television. We can see what you see. Listening to Tessitore, in particular, makes me feel he’s listened to too many . You don’t have to be a terse and spare as Pat Summerall or Ray Scott, but Tessitore’s ridiculous volume makes every other too-loud announcer sound like they’ve got polyps on their vocal cords.



Dan Mason

Dan Mason has been in sports broadcasting since the 1980s, doing play by play, color and covering the ACC. He previously hosted programming for ESPN Radio in Raleigh. He can be reached at twitter: @mason87dan

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