ESPN will have to go back to the drawing board to figure out who will call Monday Night Football games. Although the New York Post reported in early March that the network was pursuing Al Michaels and Peyton Manning, both have reportedly turned ESPN down. Meanwhile, Tony Romo will remain with CBS, thanks to a huge raise.
It’s possible ESPN has other candidates in mind, but for now, NFL’s venerable primetime showcase will likely continue with Joe Tessitore, Booger McFarland, and Lisa Salters.
If that doesn’t excite you, then let’s have some fun instead. We’re giving you the opportunity to build your dream Monday Night Football broadcast team. Below, we listed five candidates for each of the five categories: play-by-play announcer, color commentator, sideline reporter, rules expert, and the “wild card.”
Who are your picks?
Category No. 1: Play-by-play
The play-by-play announcer is tasked with relaying the action on the field to the audience at home — what happened, who did it, and what the situation is.
Bob Costas: He’s left the NFL behind for baseball, but Costas is one of the most versatile play-by-play announcers in the country. He’s covered a vast landscape of sports and hosted his own studio show.
Greg Gumbel: Gumbel’s voice has been a part of NFL broadcasts since 1988. His voice is aural butter, but his biggest accomplishment may be making former partner Phil Simms sound tolerable in the booth.
Andrea Kremer: Kremer has been covering the NFL for over 30 years, starting as a producer for NFL Films in the 1980s. Throughout her broadcasting career, she’s worked for ESPN, NBC Sports, CBS, and most recently, NFL Network. She and Hannah Storm made history in the fall of 2018 as the first all-woman broadcast booth to cover an NFL game. The two have called Thursday Night Football games together on Amazon Prime for the past two seasons.
Sean McDonough: McDonough’s tone is a low, crisp pronunciation, occasionally tinged with the Boston accent he tries very hard to keep shuttered deep in his diaphragm. McDonough rarely raises his voice past bemused, making him the perfect anchor for a broadcast and the ideal straight man for a boisterous color commentator.
Al Michaels: He’s the GOAT. Also he (and Costas) call one hell of a Baseketball game.
Category No. 2: Color commentator
The color commentator takes that play-by-play analysis and gives greater insight into what it means — for the players, for their teams, for the game. They’ve also probably got an anecdote they’d love to share ... right after this commercial break.
Jay Cutler: Cutler was originally supposed to join CBS before Romo, but he was called back into quarterbacking duty for one final, disinterested season with the Dolphins in 2017. He’s now the undisputed star of his wife’s reality show, and that could just be the start of his TV career.
Peyton Manning: The guy from all those insurance commercials was high on ESPN’s wish list before spurning the Worldwide Leader™. Manning is a mostly beloved figure and great talker, so he’ll wind up in the booth someday.
Louis Riddick: Riddick’s playing career spanned the NFL, World League, and original XFL. He was a scout in the Washington organization. Few people understand bad football so intimately. He’s been a rising talent at ESPN since 2013 and hasn’t been afraid to bat back stupid criticisms of current players — even when they come from coworkers.
Tony Romo: Romo stepped off the field and into the booth in 2017 and immediately became a broadcasting star with his impeccable ability to break down action for casual audiences. No one in the game is better at analyzing a defense and then predicting what a quarterback will do next than the former Cowboy.
“Oh, they’re killing it. Usually means a motion and a run out wide to the right.” - Tony Romo before Patriots' play— NFLonCBS (@NFLonCBS) January 21, 2019
Brady motions; Sony Michel runs ball to right, scores touchdown. pic.twitter.com/PzxyrV2JoO
Steve Young: Young is currently on the Monday Night Football pregame show and was floated as a potential replacement for Jon Gruden in 2018. But at the time, Young said that the time requirements and travel schedule for the play-by-play booth were much tougher to deal with than his spot on NFL Countdown. Only Young knows if his circumstances have changed. All we know is his commentary is often smart, thoughtful, and engaging.
Category No. 3: Sideline reporter
This is the correspondent with a direct line to players and coaches. He or she is responsible for relaying insider information to the audience at home. They’re also the ones tasked with staring Bill Belichick in his dead eyes just before halftime so he can give a one-word answer about how the Patriots look.
Rob Gronkowski: Gronk belongs on television. He showed that throughout his bro-tastic NFL career and he’s shined whenever he’s on TV in retirement. A whole game with Gronk in the booth, though? That’d be a little much. But Gronk on the sideline interviewing annoyed coaches at halftime and victorious players postgame would be gold.
Pam Oliver: She’s a legend in her field after about three decades of sports journalism. When the Cowboys’ Leon Lett had one of the most boneheaded moments in NFL history back in 1993, it was Oliver who convinced the reclusive offensive lineman to go on camera for an interview. She’s one of the best to ever do the job and there’s not a chance Belichick or any other coach can intimidate her out of asking the tough questions.
Lisa Salters: Salters has been with the MNF crew since 2012, and quite frankly she’s the best member of the current team. Despite all the changes in the booth over the years, Salters has remained a constant because she’s so good.
Maria Taylor: Taylor’s run as a college football reporter at ESPN has painted her as one of the most insightful sideline presences on television. Making the leap from the NCAA to the NFL’s flagship broadcast would be a well-earned next step.
Tracy Wolfson: Wolfson has been at CBS since 2004. She’s a seasoned veteran with a ton of big-game experience, so she’s without a doubt ready for primetime on MNF. One of her best segments she had was from 2019, when she donned Sam Darnold’s spleen-protecting pads before a Jets game:
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CBS sideline report from @tracywolfson on #custompads we did for @samdarnold prior to kickoff b/w the @nyjets & @dallascowboys - Congrats to Sam on his return, glad we could help. #protectionmeetsperformance #football #footballshoulderpads #footballequipment #highschoolfootball #nfl #ncaafootball #xrdtechnology #madeinusa
Category No. 4: Rules expert
This relatively new addition to the booth — or at least, called up from the booth from a comfortable location in front of a TV screen somewhere — handles all questions related to officials’ calls and no-calls.
Alexa: Amazon’s already a sponsor. Just ask the robot whether it was a catch or not.
Dean Blandino: Blandino is an authority on the game despite a beard that makes him look like Ryan Howard from season three of The Office.
He’s served in leadership roles with the NFL, AAF, and XFL, proving his capacity for both innovation and the memorization of several dense rule books.
Ed Hochuli: An expert in both officiating and bicep curls.
Terry McAulay: NBC’s rules expert currently covers both Sunday Night Football and Notre Dame broadcasts. His in-game segments are mostly uneventful and unmemorable, which suggests he’s probably doing a pretty good job.
Mike Pereira: The NFL’s former officiating czar has been a regular on Fox broadcasts. Over the past decade, he’s gone from relatively stiff to incredibly loose on the air, often tweeting about how he’s watching games with a vodka-and-soda in hand. He also once called Jon Gruden a “blowhard” for his Monday Night Football commentary.
Category No. 5: The wild card
A three-person booth is probably too crowded, but there’s nothing wrong with a regular visitor (human or not) who can liven up those Jets-Broncos games on Monday night.
The Booger Mobile: Ideally not with Booger in it.
Ric Flair: We’ve only got so many years of Flair left. The man remains one of the greatest talkers out there, even into his 70s. Flair’s already a regular guest in locker rooms across the country, either as a guest speaker or channeled through players. He is both an icon and a cautionary tale, a distinguished voice who could add immediate punch alongside a serious play-by-play guy.
1990s John Madden: We’d need either old video clips, a time machine, or a hologram to capture prime Madden, THE voice of football for anyone growing up in the 90s. His sporadic onomatopoeias were the soundtrack to Cowboys/Broncos dynasties, still-lame halftime shows, and that one video game that made you feel like you should be calling plays every Sunday.
Pat McAfee: The former Colts punter joined ESPN in 2019. He was a color commentator for the network’s Thursday night college football games, and he was with the College GameDay crew last season, too. Let’s just say McAfee isn’t exactly a traditional announcer. During a UNC-Wake Forest game last season, he referred to himself as a former NFL quarterback, and booth partner/former teammate Matt Hasselbeck corrected him:
Pat McAfee in the booth is GOLD— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) September 13, 2019
The Monday Night Football cat: The No. 1 highlight of the 2019 MNF season came during an otherwise lifeless Cowboys-Giants matchup in Week 9. Just days after Halloween, this black cat stole the show when it ran out on the field:
THE CAT IS ON THE FIELD pic.twitter.com/goLoWU9oV7— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) November 5, 2019
And probably cursed a bunch of teams. Bring the cat back every week!
What’s your perfect Monday Night Football team? Let us know in the comments.