Booger McFarland had an illuminating quote that ESPN executives should read closely before picking their next “Monday Night Football” booth.
“‘Monday Night Football’ is a game, but it’s also a show,” McFarland told Richard Deitsch of The Athletic. “It’s an entertainment show. So there’s so much more that goes into it than just football.”
He’s right. Not that ESPN should go down the Dennis Miller/Tony Kornheiser road again to replace McFarland as its “MNF” color commentator. That didn’t work. ESPN still needs a respected football voice. One who is immune from the immense criticism all announcers get, and there simply aren’t many of those people around. But ESPN needs someone who can entertain us, first and foremost, along with being able to explain the game to a massive audience.
One ESPN employee checks all the right boxes: Randy Moss.
Randy Moss is a legend
It’s a bit strange to think about Moss’ popularity arc.
Early in his career, he was the “I play when I want to play” guy, the player everyone got way too angry about (thank goodness social media wasn’t a big thing then). Then somewhere along the line, “Straight cash, homey” became a funny line rather than a reason to freak out.
By now, Moss is as loved as any former athlete. Tales of his greatness have reached legendary status. His personality is infectious. Seriously, find someone who doesn’t like Moss. You’ll find some. Not many.
One reason it would have been great for ESPN to land Peyton Manning is his approval rating. Nobody really hates Manning. He’d have stepped into the booth with some goodwill and been able to fight off some of the constant criticism from fans who have no idea how hard the color analyst job is.
Moss has a similar standing. He obviously has a name recognition with fans that someone like Matt Hasselbeck or Brian Griese or any other reasonable candidate does not have. Moss is one of the most recognizable names in football history. He’d be quite a draw, and one who most fans would want to succeed. That’s nearly impossible to find.
Moss could be the next Tony Romo
We don’t know if Moss can instantly analyze a game. But we didn’t know if Tony Romo could do that either. A couple years later, he’s the highest paid sports broadcaster in history. Romo was a risky hire by CBS, and at this moment, it looks like one of the best the network has ever made on the NFL side.
We can learn from Romo’s success story that enthusiasm matters more than actual analysis. Mike Mayock, for one example, was very good at instantly breaking down Xs and Os during a game. And as a game commentator, he never resonated with the audience as a whole. Romo, who is also very good at breaking down Xs and Os, did.
Like Romo, Moss has charisma you can feel through the television. We know that from his work on ESPN’s Monday night pregame show and some of his NFL Films mic’d up clips. He also knows the game as well as anyone.
“One of the smartest players I’ve ever coached. Certainly the smartest receiver,” Bill Belichick said of Moss on NFL Network last year, via Patriots Wire. “He taught me more about receiving and the passing game than by far anybody else.”
We don’t know if Moss would want the job. It’s a hard one under an intense spotlight. That might be a reason ESPN has struggled to figure out its booth after moving on from McFarland and Joe Tessitore. Whoever gets the job will be the fourth lead analyst on “MNF” in four years.
Moss also might not be immediately great at breaking down the game from the booth at warp speed (though he might be, it’s impossible to know). No matter what, he’d be entertaining and fun, and that matters. As McFarland alluded to, entertainment is the key. People would tune in to watch Moss on “Monday Night Football.” That’s not the case for anybody else who has been mentioned as a realistic option.
Moss is smart, charismatic, entertaining, an enormous name and almost universally loved by fans. It’s almost June and ESPN still hasn’t announced its “MNF” booth for 2020. The best answer is pretty easy, and he already works for the network.