Steve Levy was talking about his upcoming debut as ESPN’s lead play-by-play voice for “Monday Night Football” when he was reminded of his television-watching youth in Merrick.
“I saw on Twitter this morning that today is the 45th anniversary of [the debut of] ‘Welcome Back Kotter,’ and that certainly brought me back to my childhood,” he said Wednesday on a video conference to promote the Monday night opener between the Titans and Broncos.
“I was 10 years old at that time, and it was a family favorite for us. I wanted to be John Travolta at that point, and that was around the same time that I began really falling in love with NFL football and started the negotiation process with my parents about staying up as late as possible to watch [‘Monday Night Football’].”
By then, ABC’s Monday night franchise was five years old, and was in the middle of its early heyday as both a sports and cultural phenomenon.
“Those games of course started at 9 Eastern,” he said, “so it was a year of first quarter and then the next year maybe can we make it to halftime and then it was through halftime and the great highlights and Howard Cosell and the music and so on.”
All of which was a way of explaining how much the new assignment means to a guy who has been at ESPN for 27 years and been a fixture both in the studio and at events.
For much of his career, Levy was known as a hockey maven. But as much as he knows and likes that sport, his greatest aspiration always was football.
“It's been quite the journey,” Levy said. “I'm obviously ecstatic. ‘Dream job’ feels so cliche now, but I can't come up with anything that summarizes it better for me personally.
“People who know me know I have said for many years that I'm the most fortunate guy in the business, and I felt that when I was anchoring the 11 o’clock ‘SportsCenter,’ so you can imagine how I feel now being put in the ‘Monday Night Football’ play-by-play chair.”
Levy called one game of the Week 1 Monday night doubleheader last year, but now he is in it for the duration, joining a new announcing team that features analysts Louis Riddick and Brian Griese.
Sideline reporter Lisa Salters is back from the crew that last year had Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland in the booth.
“I am very enthusiastic about this group; there are not a lot of unknowns here,” said Stephanie Druley, an ESPN executive vice president.
Levy’s name has come up in the past as a potential “Monday Night Football” announcer, but he believes this is the right time and circumstance for him to get the gig.
“I know my name has been mentioned a few times prior, and while I would have never turned it down, I probably wasn't ready the first time around,” he said. “So I have used that experience, really getting back to calling football is only five years ago, and that was getting back into college football.
“I think I needed that time, and it was college football, it was doing the preseason package with the Broncos, it was the XFL, which I absolutely adored doing the XFL. Those were all great reps . . . I think that really helped me get to where I want to be in terms of play-calling.
“I think the timing is right. I wish I could have been at this point at the age of 35. That would have been nicer to have a longer runway, or exit strategy, if you will. But I'm thrilled at this point now, and I am ready for the job based on the circumstances and those I am surrounded by.”
Levy, who attended Bellmore JFK High School, is a close friend of Griese and worked with him on college football telecasts.
“In the end the time is right, the time is now,” Levy said, “and really ready for some ‘Monday Night Football,’ for sure.”