A powerful phobia is forcing a man to quit a job that he loves, and while I don't want to be the kind of person that celebrates another guy's misery, I will celebrate the fact that the miserable guy can no longer make me miserable.
Tony Kornheiser is leaving Monday Night Football, citing his fear of air travel, and the great amount of it that the 2009 season would require. His replacement will be Super Bowl-winning (and recently fired) head coach Jon Gruden.
I apologize if I'm not able to contain my excitement. I have loathed the Tony Kornheiser era at Monday Night Football, so much so that I purchased a Sirius satellite radio hook-up so I could listen to the Westwood One broadcast instead of ESPN's. It wasn't cheap, but it was worth it.
When Kornheiser started three years ago, his presence made the entire broadcast awkward, because no one -- Kornheiser included -- knew exactly where he fit in. His jokes usually missed and his timing often interfered with important things that were happening on the field or relevant points that other commentators were trying to make. Every now and then, he'd land a solid joke, but they were few and far between, and not worth the hours of awkwardness between them.
That's how it was when Kornheiser started. Everyone kind of assumed that the people in the booth would get used to each other, and eventually, Kornheiser would find a groove that would let him show off his quick wit and sense of humor, while seamlessly blending into the broadcast. It never happened. In fact, he never made much progress at all from the first few awkward broadcasts.
But after three long seasons, it's over now. There'll be no more stepping on the toes of the guys who actually do want to talk about football. There'll be no more quips about fantasy football teams that aren't really fantasy football teams. Brett Favre(notes) will no longer be mentioned 298 times in a broadcast, whether he's playing or not. There'll be no, "Hey, look at me, I'm bald, and isn't that hilarious?!" jokes.
It's all come to a merciful end. Tony Kornheiser is quitting, and here's the press release (via The Big Lead):
Former Super Bowl-winning head coach Jon Gruden is joining ESPN’s Monday Night Football. The dynamic, outspoken and often fiery Gruden will join commentators Mike Tirico and Ron Jaworski in the booth when sports television’s signature series kicks off its 40th season this fall. Gruden will also contribute analysis throughout the year on ESPN Radio and other platforms, in addition to being a part of ESPN’s 2010 Pro Bowl telecast and Super Bowl and NFL Draft coverage.
Gruden replaces Tony Kornheiser, who has decided to step down after three years in the Monday Night Football booth.
Kornheiser added: “I am totally grateful for the MNF opportunity that I truly enjoyed the last three seasons. I feel we got better each year. My fear of planes is legendary and sadly true. When I looked at the upcoming schedule it was the perfect storm that would’ve frequently moved me from the bus to the air. I kept looking at the schedule the past month and wanted to find a way to quietly extricate myself. If I could handpick a replacement of a football guy, I would cast a net and drag in Jon Gruden. He is the two things you most want — smart and funny — and has the two things I don’t — good hair and a tan. I love PTI and am looking forward to continuing to yammer and yodel with Wilbon until the end of time.”
So he goes out as he came in, with jokes about his hair and complexion. Something feels right about that.
Before piling on too much, though, I do want to note that I'm glad that Kornheiser will be staying with "Pardon The Interrupton", because that is a great show, and he's fantastic in that format. I'd go so far as to say that he's as good on that show as he is brutal in the booth during a live football game. That's a very big compliment. Probably way bigger than Tony Kornheiser would like it to be.
Gruden should be an outstanding replacement, too (though, to be honest, I'd have settled for any homeless guy ESPN wanted to pull off the street, or just an empty chair). Gruden's got a lot of energy, is comfortable with the camera, has a good sense of humor, and will hopefully be willing to share some of his insight about the game.
Sixteen Mondays out of the year -- make that 17, including this one -- just got brighter. Thank you, air travel, for being so frightening to some people.