ESPN debuts their entirely new Monday Night Football booth this season, with Joe Tessitore on play-by-play, Jason Witten as the color analyst, and Booger McFarland as a roving third man in (or more accurately out of) the booth.
McFarland was called a field analyst from the moment he was hired, so we knew it wouldn’t be a traditional three-man booth. We didn’t know that McFarland wouldn’t be on the field directly; instead, ESPN is putting him in a moving crane on the sideline in a bid to literally offer fans a different perspective on the game.
McFarland will have the best seat at Fedex Field on Thursday when the Washington Redskins host the New York Jets in an exhibition game. He’ll be riding in an elevated chair that will be positioned over the line of scrimmage for each snap, giving him a God’s-eye view of the action. He’ll be transported up and down the sideline by a cart equipped with two outreached arms, one for McFarland’s seat and the other for a camera operator.
“I’ll be able to see and hear up close the footwork, motion, things that are being said, the audibles, things you can’t see from the booth,” said McFarland, a former NFL defensive tackle who played on Super Bowl-winning teams with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts.
It’s certainly an interesting idea. Broadcasts are always looking for ways to further immerse fans in the game, and McFarland will theoretically be close enough and have a good enough perspective to offer insights we wouldn’t get on a monitor or even from the booth. McFarland will be constantly plugged in to the broadcast, as well:
He’ll have a Facetime-type connection with play-by-play man Joe Tessitore and analyst Jason Witten, so it’s in essence a three-man booth even though one is 100 yards away. Lisa Salters will continue her role as sideline reporter.
Jay Rothman, executive producer of “Monday Night Football,” came up with the idea of putting McFarland on the cart but treating him as an extension of the booth, so it’s a conversation among the three as opposed to designated times when Tessitore and Witten throw it to McFarland.
Obviously it sounds like it’s an evolution of the concept, so this isn’t a slight to Rothman, but it is certainly reminiscient of Fox’s setup for the booth of Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, and Tony Siragusa, where Siragusa would be standing on the sidelines but able to break in at any time. ESPN is clearly offering more technological support for McFarland in hopes of a smoother and more interesting presentation.
There is, however, one small potential hurdle:
“I do have a fear of heights,” he said. “That’s why it’s going to be a good thing that I’m watching and analyzing football. Because if I was just sitting there and had the opportunity to look down, I’d probably be freaking out. My family can tell you I’m not really a guy that likes roller coasters. I don’t like going on Ferris wheels. I’ve got a six-feet rule; I like my feet no more than five, six feet from the ground at all times.”
He’ll probably be fine.
The whole article is worth a read, of course, and it does sound like ESPN is shaking up the Monday Night Football formula a bit, which is a good thing. There might be some growing pains, especially given the moving parts involved in this setup (including McFarland, who will actually be moving.) But Joe Tess is fun, Jason Witten was just playing in the league, Lisa Salters is a great sideline reporter, and McFarland is knowledgeable and will be on a crane.
There are worse places to start from.