The final straw on ESPN’s lead NFL announcing team – or as analyst Booger McFarland might put it, the last of a series of incidents that convinces you it makes no sense to continue – came during Saturday’s Bills-Texans playoff game in the closing seconds of regulation.
A lot of people ding McFarland for stating the obvious, just as the common criticism of play-by-play partner Joe Tessitore is that he is way too excited way too much of the time, nuance falling prey to bombast.
But in what can only be hoped is their last NFL telecast, each was terrible in uncharacteristic ways on third-and-10 at the Texans’ 29, the Bills with the ball and down by three, their season on the line with 15 seconds to go in the fourth quarter.
“I tell you what,” McFarland said. “If I’m (Bills coach) Sean McDermott at this point, you almost just want a quick draw play, get a few yards, spike it.”
Not even McFarland’s harshest critics would say his suggestion was obvious, mainly because it defied all logic.
A draw for just a few yards on third down followed by spiking the ball on fourth down would give the Texans the ball and the game.
Tessitore, who has a tendency to speak in all caps, meanwhile, responded only with a subdued, “Third-and-10,” the one time football fans across the country watching ESPN and ABC wanted him to crank it up to 11.
You know, maybe Tessitore could have boomed something along the lines of that being one of the dumbest ideas ever, but no.
McDermott’s Bills, fortunate enough to not have to watch the game on TV, sensibly tried another pass, then kicked a 47-yard field goal to tie the Texans 19-19.
The Texans ultimately won the game in overtime with a field goal of their own in sudden death, ending the football year for both the Bills and ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” announcing team.
At the risk of hypocritical obviousness and obnoxiousness, we’ll simply say it would bother few if this were the end of ESPN’s Tessitore-McFarland era.
In their first season on “MNF,” once-and-future Cowboys tight end Jason Witten was so badly miscast as an analyst with them that it took heat off every other aspect of the show.
Clearly, problems remained in Season 2.
In its big pro football and baseball showcase programs, ESPN has a knack for obscuring the games it’s supposed to cover by larding its telecasts with fancy graphics, special camera angles, hype and other tinsel.
The Booger Mobile rolling up and down sidelines – and in front of ticket-buyers – in 2018? Really? Did that really seem like a good idea or just expensive?
ESPN often seems more interested in trying to impress the NFL with all the resources it devotes to “Monday Night Football” than in serving viewers, who typically prefer depth to volume.
Louder and flashier has never trumped cogent competence, which brings us back to Tessitore and McFarland.
As it turned out, without Witten around, it became abundantly clear they weren’t all that great, either.
ESPN has a veritable army of football play-by-play announcers from which to choose. Why not go with someone who dials up (or down) the enthusiasm as events warrant to better convey what’s actually going on?
Tessitore burned hot and stayed there, wearing the audience out over 3 1/2 hours, especially when the action couldn’t match his call.
As for McFarland, how about he switch with rock-solid, razor-sharp pregame/halftime show contributor Louis Riddick, and everyone calls it a day?
Live game coverage isn’t for everyone. McFarland fell into a habit of speaking more to fill the silence than improve it. The result was insights such as “Your playmakers have to make plays” and explaining that a two-point conversion with a one-point lead would make it a three-point game.
McFarland nevertheless had his moments. He unhesitatingly called out NFL officials for blown calls during a Monday night Packers-Lions game he and Tessitore worked in October.
Those miscalls, too, may have seemed obvious to many, but not everyone with a microphone will take such a firm stand on something that makes the league look bad. The default is to give the refs wiggle room.
Not everyone with a say will take a stand on something that makes a network look bad either.
A new “MNF” graphic that confused viewers was ditched after just two quarters this season, but correcting more significant mistakes can take longer. Bailing on an announcing team can be as hard as giving up on a young quarterback who hasn’t panned out.
Still, the need for offseason changes in the “Monday Night Football” booth seems obvious, or as Booger would say … oh, never mind.