ESPN unveiled its new “Monday Night Football” announcing team on Thursday, starring yet another former Cowboy in a key analyst role and a second analyst who will come at the job from a new angle, literally.
Joe Tessitore will succeed Sean McDonough on play-by-play and Jason Witten and Booger McFarland will be the game analysts, replacing Jon Gruden, who left to coach the Raiders.
McDonough returned to his previous college football-centric role.
Witten will work from the booth alongside Tessitore while McFarland works from field level, a first for “Monday Night Football.”
The only returning on-air personality is sideline reporter Lisa Salters.
The foursome will make its regular-season debut when the Rams visit the Raiders in the second game of the opening Monday doubleheader on Sept. 10.
Usually the No. 1 team does the early game on that night, but in this case, the featured attraction is Game 2, because the Raiders are coached by Gruden.
ESPN has not yet named its announcers for the early game, featuring the Jets at the Lions.
Tessitore, Witten and McFarland are NFL broadcast novices.
Stephanie Druley, an ESPN senior vice president, said on a conference call with reporters on Thursday that the team was chosen after a three-month process full of big-name auditions and tryouts. The biggest name in the chosen group is Witten, who recently retired after 15 seasons as a Cowboys tight end, largely to get a jump on his post-playing career. He joins CBS’ Tony Romo and Fox’s Troy Aikman among former Cowboys who are lead NFL analysts.
Witten said that for most of the winter, he planned to continue playing, but added, “When you’re 36 in the NFL, I think it’s fair to say you’re always day-to-day.”
Said McFarland: “He got old and needed a new job.”
Witten said he already has spoken to Gruden and Romo, his former teammate, about the job.
Romo received rave reviews as a rookie analyst last season. Witten said he hopes to use his knowledge as a recent player the way Romo did, but do so by using his own personality.
Will he be able to criticize current players, especially former teammates? “I think you have to have the confidence to share thoughts that could be critical,” he said. “That’s a challenge and a role that I accepted.”
Tessitore told a story of a visit Witten made to his home in Connecticut during which he joined an impromptu football workout with Tessitore’s teenage son and his friends.
“This is an authentic, real football dude,” Tessitore said.
The plan is to integrate McFarland, who played eight seasons in the NFL at defensive tackle, into discussions Tessitore and Witten are having, but with a different perspective from field level. Tony Siragusa used to play a somewhat similar role at Fox, and NBC has deployed its version of it with its “inside-the-glass” analysts for NHL games.
“Booger is a seamless part of the booth who has a unique perspective of being at field level,” Druley said.
Tessitore, whose football work to date has focused on the college game, said his connection to the Monday night franchise dates to when he was a boy impersonating Howard Cosell to amuse his immigrant grandfather. He emphasized the new team’s chemistry and also promised to focus on entertainment and not dwell on such matters as poor officiating. McDonough could be sardonic on the air. Tessitore’s default mode is upbeat.
“The fit is just right here,” he said. “It feels right.”