Sports media and the larger society have come a long way since 1987, when Gayle Sierens became the first and so far only woman to call a regular-season NFL game — even if it was a mere Seahawks-Chiefs game in late December.
So much so that for many people, the head-scratcher of ESPN’s opening night “Monday Night Football” doubleheader was not play-by-play announcer Beth Mowins but rather analyst Rex Ryan, given his lack of experience.
But even in 2017, with female announcers increasingly commonplace, Mowins’ assignment for Chargers vs. Broncos on Sept. 11 is a significant milestone — the first nationally televised NFL game called by a woman.
Mowins, 50, who has been calling college games for more than a decade and has been the Raiders’ preseason play-by-play voice since 2015, appreciates the significance but mostly sees it as just another step in an ongoing process.
“I think we have come a long way,” she said in a phone interview in June. “I think it’s gotten to be much more prevalent. I think it’s great that women have earned the opportunities to do what Jessica [Mendoza] is doing and what Suzyn [Waldman] is doing and what Doris Burke has been able to do with the NBA, and I think it’s reflective of our fan base.
“I think the NFL estimates that about 45 percent of NFL fans are women. And we continue to grow those young guys whose mom was a sports fan, sister was a sports fan, now girlfriend and wife is a sports fan.
“Just look around your tailgate. You look around your section in the stadium. I mean, there’s women there. We’re just as passionate about the games as the guys are. So I think the next natural progression is well, sure, of course, there should be women who can talk about the game as well.”
Mowins said from what she has read and heard, the reaction from fans has been supportive.
“I think everybody is excited to see how it goes,” she said. “I’m certainly looking forward to working with Rex. We’ve put together a really good team and so we’re raring to get going as well.”
Mowins worked with Ryan, the former Jets and Bills coach, at Florida State’s spring game and was to work two practice games — at the stadium but not on the air — with him in preseason, including Giants at Browns on Aug. 21.
“I also believe that one of my strengths over the years, whether it’s soccer or softball or basketball or football or volleyball, I think I’ve developed a really good track record of working with new people,” she said. “I like to say my parents raised a point guard.
“I played basketball growing up and in college [at Lafayette], so that’s kind of always been my mentality as a play-by-play announcer: What do we need to do to make everybody around us better, to build a lot of that team chemistry even before we step in the booth?
“That’s always been really important to me and I like to think that’s one of the reasons they thought I would be a good pairing with Rex . . . He seems really eager to learn the TV side of things. Obviously he’s got the football part of the equation.”
Mowins has spoken to Sierens, who like others advised her to be herself.
“Don’t run and hide from the things that make you unique, make you a good announcer,” Mowins said. “Certainly the adrenaline will be pumping and it is ‘Monday Night Football’ and you have to try and just do your best to stay focused on the fact that you’re preparing for a game just like you would any other and calling a game just like you would any other. Don’t try to do too much.”
While Mowins will be blazing a new trail for her gender, in one regard she is more of the same. She grew up in Syracuse and attended grad school at Syracuse University, alma mater of the past two lead “Monday Night Football” play-by-play men, Mike Tirico and Sean McDonough.
“I’m a double whammy, because I grew up there,” she said, laughing. “For me it’s a little bit more important and more special to be part the city as well as the school.”