One of the more unusual elements with ESPN’s new Monday Night Football team is their plan to use Anthony “Booger” McFarland as a field analyst, the first-ever use of that role on MNF. McFarland will join play-by-play commentator Joe Tessitore, in-booth analyst Jason Witten and sideline reporter Lisa Salters (the only returning member from last year’s MNF team) in a role that ESPN has often used in college football, but hasn’t previously brought to the NFL.
On a media conference call Thursday, ESPN senior vice president (event and studio production) Stephanie Druley said the company had the idea of adding a field analyst throughout their process of determining the new booth:
“We like the perspective. We’ve had success with that on college football, we’ve found that it’s a unique perspective for someone to have. And when we started the process, we had that idea in mind throughout the process, and we felt like if we found the right person who could pull that off, we would go in that direction. It just feels like a unique opportunity for us.”
Druley said that from ESPN’s perspective, the goal will be having McFarland as a “seamless part of the booth” rather than someone who occasionally chimes in, and that this will look and sound different from what Fox used to do with Tony Siragusa.
“I’ve heard a lot of comparisons to ‘Oh, this is the old Siragusa role.’ To us, it’s not. To us, Booger is a seamless part of the booth who has a unique perspective of being at field level, seeing what’s going on in the trenches, seeing what’s happening on the sidelines. I think the perspective will be different and will be really interesting. But at the same time, the goal for Joe, and for Jason, and for Booger, is to have it feel seamless.”
As for McFarland himself, he said he’s thrilled to be working with his new teammates and eager to get going.
“I can’t wait to get started. I’ve known Jason from afar, I’ve worked closely with Joe, I’ve admired Lisa for a long time, so for me, this opportunity to be a part of this team with these people, I’m fired up and can’t wait.”
McFarland played defensive tackle in the NFL for nine seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts, and said MNF always stood out as a game to watch. He said having the chance to work on those broadcasts is incredible.
“As a player, we always remember the games that stand out, we always remember the signature games, and Monday night happens to be the signature game. For me, I never thought about being part of a Monday night broadcast. I got into broadcasting four years ago as an opportunity to smile and be myself and talk about football, not knowing if it would work. And through a lot of hard work and a lot of opportunities by a lot of good people, I’ve been put in position in college football to do a lot of good things talking about the game. And when the opportunity came about to do Monday Night Football…I never dreamed I’d be here.”
At various times over the years, MNF has tried to focus on entertaining viewers as well as just calling the game, with greater (Howard Cosell, Don Meredith) and lesser (Dennis Miller, Tony Kornheiser) successes from broadcasters on that front. McFarland said he thinks entertaining the audience as well as informing them will be an important part of his role.
“Now that I’m here, I look forward to making Monday Night Football fun again. We get a chance to talk about the game of football, it’s entertainment, the ability to enlighten people about what we see. I’ve told everyone on this call from the ESPN side that people watch football for entertainment. We want to learn a little something, we want to laugh, we want to enjoy the two or three hours that we’re going to spend watching our favorite team or a team we don’t know.”
“That’s the intriguing part, the exciting part for me, one, the ability to be a part of something so historic and so great that I never even dreamed or thought about doing, and two, the ability to do it the way I think a lot of people want to see it and want to enjoy it. That’s fun, and that’s entertaining, and that’s the ability to learn something. And we’re going to get a chance to have those great moments that Monday Night Football brings, and you never know when they’re coming, and to me that’s the exciting part.”
Tessitore said he’s developed a great relationship with McFarland over the years, and looks forward to calling games with him.
“Boog is like part of my family at this point. Truly, when he comes to Connecticut, it’s just understood he’s coming over for dinner. He’s just part of the Tessitore family at this point when he comes up north. And we’re always together on the road having a good time as well.”
Tessitore also added that he feels McFarland has the ability to offer strong criticism when needed, a crucial part of the analyst role.
“He was one of the premier voices on the SEC Network and it was the time when Les Miles was really starting to get a little warmer on the hot seat, and the coaching change was coming down and you could see it on the horizon. The way Booger handled that, being one of the greatest players in LSU history and having a big platform on the SEC Network, which, obviously you know the relationship with the league there…I thought those four weeks where Booger didn’t shy away, where he shared a very strong opinion that often could be difficult for someone who wore purple and gold, he really showed us, everybody here at ESPN, what he was all about and how strong of a broadcaster he could be. That was an impressive run.”
McFarland has been working for SEC Network and ESPN since 2014, and said that experience has taught him the value of “the ability to be direct and straight to the point.” He said he’s looking forward to doing that in the new role, and thinks his sideline perspective and his past defensive line experience as a player will give him unique material to pass on to viewers.
“When you watch football, especially when you watch it down close on the sidelines, there’s an ability to feel the speed of the game and see the little nuances that happen on the sidelines, between players, between coaches, the ability to watch people through plays. We talked earlier about the ability to entertain and educate, and I think the ability to do that from the field is going to be greatly appreciated. From the college experiences, I’ve done a couple of things on the field, but nowhere near the magnitude of what we’ll be doing. But those experiences will definitely help me with this new role.”