When the Pittsburgh Steelers and Washington Redskins kick off Monday Night Football’s 47th season on Sept. 12, ESPN will have a new man calling the action: Sean McDonough, who becomes just the fifth play-by-play announcer in MNF’s storied history.
Known for his work on ESPN’s college football and basketball telecasts, McDonough replaces Mike Tirico, now on NBC’s Thursday Night Football team. He is also part of the turnover of NFL talent at ESPN—excluding vets like McDonough’s new booth partner, Jon Gruden—that rivals the roster churn of the teams the network covers.
McDonough spoke with B&C ahead of his first season behind the mic. An edited transcript follows:
Since you got the gig, what have you done to prepare?
Basically, instead of reading as much as I can and keeping up with college football, it’s just been immersing myself in the NFL. I’ve always been a big NFL fan, I’ve followed it closely anyway. When you have this job, you need to fully immerse yourself in it. I’ve really benefited already from the resources at ESPN. We have so many people that help with the preparation part. It’s really just been trying to immerse myself in the NFL as much as I can, obviously with a particular emphasis on the teams that we’re going to have at the beginning of the year.
Do you approach your job any differently now that it’s on Monday Night Football?
I hope not. I heard a long time ago, somebody said that every game is the Super Bowl; I try to live by that. No matter how relatively big or small the game is, you owe it to the people you work for and to the viewers to give it your best. I’m certainly aware of the increased scrutiny. I’ve been getting more attention than I have in the past, but once the season starts that will probably drift away. I’m getting tired of talking about myself [laughs]. I know the scrutiny part comes with the pageantry [of MNF].
What is the key to establishing chemistry with Gruden?
A lot of it is spending as much time as you can together off the air. Getting to know each other, personalities and senses of humor, what you think is interesting and not interesting. We’ve actually spent a decent amount of time together since I got the job. We’ve had these two exhibition games—well, we had one. We were supposed to have two; the first one got cancelled. It will take some time, but we’re getting to know each other. You’re traveling around with a celebrity when you’re with him.
What are some of your favorite MNF moments?
The biggest thing for me was watching MNF with my dad (Boston Globe sportswriter Will McDonough). It was the one night of the week where we could stay up later; my dad let us stay up and watch the first half of the game. It was just great time spent with my dad…those father-and-son moments that you cherish and look back on your life. A big part of my interest in doing this came from those experiences with my dad.
You guys will be calling a game Nov. 21 in Mexico City, which goes along with NFL’s four games in London this season. How much is too much international action?
I think that’s a fine line. I think they’ve done an excellent job of spreading it around, so it’s not the same teams that are losing home games for their fans. You want to do something that is interesting and fun and helps grow the game, but you also want to be respectful to your loyal fans that support you significantly. I don’t think they’ve overdone it. I’m looking forward to it.
What are some of the story lines that you’re looking forward to see playing out this year?
There are so many. The first couple weeks of it will be the end, hopefully at long last, of Deflategate, and how that impacts the Patriots. How the quarterback situation plays out in Denver—they won the Super Bowl last year without spectacular quarterback play. You’re always looking at teams who may be ready to take that next step forward; a lot of people are pointing at Jacksonville and Oakland. People are always interested in the Dallas Cowboys; they always move the needle. I think the Baltimore Ravens can have a nice bounce-back year if they stay healthy.
Speaking of the Patriots, now that his rival Peyton Manning is retired, how many more years does Tom Brady have left?
I haven’t seen any sign of slippage in his game. [Barring injury,] I think he can play a few more years for sure, and I think he will.
You don’t have a Twitter account. Do you ever plan to get one?
No [laughs]. If ESPN wanted me to do it, it’s something I’d look into. It’s never been of that much interest to me. I will occasionally read it, if there’s some way it can help in information-gathering. Maybe I just don’t think that people would be that interested in what I think or feel.