Steve Levy is 54 years old, has been at ESPN for 26 years, has called several historically lengthy NHL playoff games and has played himself in four movies.
But even with all of that, he has an assignment on Monday night that might trump them all.
“This is it, really,” he said of calling play-by-play for the second game of ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” Week 1 doubleheader, when the Broncos visit the Raiders.
“I’ve been quite honest with everybody; I’m real. I am not the guy to say, ‘Hey, once they kick off it’s just another football game.’ That’s just not true. That’s not accurate. This is the culmination of a lot of work and a long time in the business.”
Levy believes this will be the most-viewed program he has worked in his career – more than “SportsCenter” after the Super Bowl, more than major college bowl games, more than those NHL playoff marathons.
“That’s all been great, but this could double or maybe triple the audience of anything I’ve ever done,” said Levy, an alumnus of Bellmore JFK High School.
Hence a level of anticipation that has him sounding more like an excited novice than one of the more recognizable sports television hosts of his generation.
“I’m really trying to keep things calm in my own head,” he said on Tuesday. “It’s starting to get a little bit more real as each day passes.”
Levy, who will work with analysts Brian Griese and Louis Riddick and sideline reporter Dianna Russini, said he will be “super prepared,” helped by the fact that the past two years he and Griese have called Broncos preseason games.
The announcers also worked a practice game involving the Raiders and visited Raiders camp. (Broncos-Raiders is the most-played rivalry in “Monday Night Football” history.)
Much of the ESPN team that works with Levy and Griese on college football will do the Monday game, adding to Levy’s comfort level.
ESPN has mixed and matched play-by-play announcers and analysts for the game its lead team does not call since the doubleheader format began in 2006. Beth Mowins did play-by-play honors last year. Now it is Levy’s turn.
“This is something I’ve very much wanted,” he said. “I’ve been sort of pigeonholed as a hockey guy, but you have to look at the inventory ESPN has. When I got there, we had hockey.
“We have one NFL game a week. If my love for the NFL was more than hockey there was no place to show that anyway. I was a huge NFL fan, have always been . . . I hope this is the first of many years to come in this spot.”
Levy plans to have his 9-year-old daughter and two 7-year-old sons awakened to watch the start of the game, scheduled for 10:30 p.m. Eastern, “to see and hear their dad over that iconic [opening] music.”
“Who knows if this is a one-and-done?” he said. “They’ll always be able to say this, that they saw it . . . As I get older, I’m starting to get more emotional and tied to my roots. I want my kids to see the first one.”
He also wants to share the moment with friends. He said he has a list of people to call and talk about it, including his two best friends from Lakeside elementary school in Merrick, Mike Rawson and Steve Braverman.
“Our street was all sports all the time – roller hockey every day, football,” Levy said. “I was the guy calling the game as I’m playing. If I’m in goal I’m screaming, ‘Oh, what a save!’ These guys grew up with that.
“I want them to know they were with me for that whole journey and they should be able to appreciate some of this. The laughs we had on the street as sixth-graders and them listening to my fake calls, they should get some enjoyment out of ‘Hey, look at their buddy from way back.’”
Levy is entering the fourth season of his second stint calling college games for ESPN, an assignment he said takes extra effort as someone who grew up in an area not steeped in college football tradition.
The NFL comes more naturally for Levy, who grew up a Jets fan.
“It’s really cool for my family and my close, longtime friends, who always knew this was a dream of mine,” he said. “When people ask, ‘What was the dream job?,’ it was never to do the NHL. It wasn’t. It was always ‘Monday Night Football.’”