For all the talk about who could replace Jason Witten on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” broadcast, the ultimate answer ended up being ... nobody.
There has been little talk about ESPN’s thought process on replacing Witten, who left the “MNF” booth to return to the Dallas Cowboys. Apparently ESPN is fine shifting Booger McFarland’s role and keeping everything else the same.
ESPN officially announced that Joe Tessitore will handle play-by-play again, Lisa Salters will handle sideline duties like last year, and McFarland will round out the team as the lone analyst. The network apparently won’t be adding anyone else to the broadcast.
Booger McFarland was a revelation for ESPN
A funny thing happened during the 2018 “Monday Night Football” season. Witten was brought in as the big name, ESPN’s attempt to replicate what CBS found with Witten’s old Cowboys teammate Tony Romo. But as the “MNF” season went on, McFarland was stealing the show.
McFarland, a former defensive tackle who spent eight NFL seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts, had been a part of ESPN’s college football coverage for years. He started at SEC Network and moved up to national coverage, mainly doing studio work. Then ESPN had the idea to have him provide sideline analysis during NFL games, from the so-called ‘Booger mobile” that rode alongside the field (and often got in fans’ way).
McFarland was engaging, funny and had strong, instant opinions. He stood out, especially compared to Witten, who often blended in with the broadcast as he learned his way in a new field. McFarland was a great surprise, despite being in an odd role detached from the Tessitore-Witten booth.
McFarland will have a more traditional spot on Monday nights in 2019. He earned it.
“Booger’s insight, personality and passion for the game make him the right person for the job. He and Joe have been close friends since they helped ESPN launch the SEC Network five years ago. Their chemistry together in the booth – and with Lisa – will give us a team that fans want to spend Monday nights with this fall,” ESPN executive vice president of event and studio production Stephanie Druley said in a statement.
‘Monday Night Football’ won’t have any bold change
ESPN could have tried to make a bigger splash. They talked to Peyton Manning about joining Monday night broadcasts, but that reportedly was never a real possibility. There wasn’t much talk of anyone else after that. Perhaps it’s because ESPN felt comfortable with McFarland.
McFarland walks into one of the biggest jobs in sports broadcasting. ESPN struggled for a bit to figure out what to do with the main “MNF” analyst spot, then Jon Gruden settled in for a long time before leaving to coach the Oakland Raiders. Witten was a bold move, and it didn’t work out.
ESPN could have cast a wide net, and landed a big name that would have drawn headlines. “Monday Night Football” is still a big deal, and that job would have appealed to plenty of people, outside of ESPN or those within the company looking for a promotion. But McFarland gets the first crack at becoming a star himself.
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