Booger McFarland hears your criticism on Twitter. He just doesn’t care
McFarland, in his second year as an analyst on ESPN’s Monday Night Football alongside play-by-play announcer Joe Tessitore, said he’s aware there are critics on social media who love to call out any mistake the former NFL defender turned broadcaster makes. But McFarland is aware criticism comes with being in the spotlight, and the 41-year-old said he’s doesn’t let it bring him down.
“It doesn’t bother me whatsoever because I don’t serve Twitter. My bosses are ESPN and Disney… I listen to my producer, I listen to my play-by-play guy,” McFarland said in an interview with the Inquirer. “I don’t go into a broadcast and say, ‘Man, tonight I’m going to please Twitter.’ I honestly could care less about social media.”
McFarland, who will call Monday night’s matchup between the Eagles and the Giants, is something of an anomaly among NFL announcers. While most tend to be white former quarterbacks or offensive position players, McFarland is an African American nose tackle from the south who comes at the game from a different perspective.
“If you look at the other guys in my position, they're all offensive guys. So the game is usually told through an offensive prism,” McFarland said. “As a former defensive player, there’s a balance to what I do that’s different. I’m not saying it’s better or worse, it’s just different.”
“You haven’t seen people like me in this position,” McFarland added, describing himself as a “Southern country boy who talks about hog cracklin’ and fried chicken.” In fact, as The Ringer’s Brian Curtis pointed out back in September, McFarland is the first full-time African American analyst in a network’s No. 1 booth since O.J. Simpson left Monday Night Football in 1985.
Two years ago, when Jon Gruden left ESPN to become the head coach of the Oakland (soon to be Las Vegas) Raiders, the network auditioned several potential analysts who seemed more like a traditional fit for the spot — Hall of Famers Kurt Warner and Brett Favre; Panthers tight end Greg Olsen; and former Giants quarterback Jesse Palmer.
Ultimately, ESPN went with two analysts — McFarland and Cowboys tight end Jason Witten. The network placed Witten in the booth alongside Tessitore, while it dropped McFarland 100 yards away on a mobile chair that quickly became derided as the “Booger Mobile.” Not only did it limit McFarland’s ability to develop chemistry with his broadcast partners, it became so unpopular with fans that ESPN scraped it during the 2018 playoffs.
“I give ESPN a lot of credit for being innovative and trying to do that, but in the end, I think even the staunchest supporters of the idea would tell you that it didn’t work,” McFarland said. “I could see the game, but I couldn’t see it to the level that I can now. I mean, it’s almost like I was a blind man that now can see.”
But like Witten last year, McFarland has had to deal with his fare share of criticism over silly flubs or sometimes banal statements you would expect a young broadcaster in his first year in the booth to make from time to time. During last week’s Vikings-Seahawks game, McFarland heard it from Twitter users when he mistakenly said “The Minneapolis Miracle" — a last-second touchdown that lifted the Vikings over the Saints during the 2018 playoffs — somehow went against the Vikings.
McFarland came back after halftime and corrected the mistake, and later apologized for the misstatement on Twitter. But that didn’t stop Vikings fans and pundits from raking McFarland over the coals over the slip-up
“When you’re on live TV for three and a half hours, it’s never going to be perfect,” McFarland said. “[Cris] Collinsworth talked about Dak [Prescott] buying his mom a house, and Dak’s mom has been dead for several years. Things happen, and you own it, you correct it, and you move on.”
A standout at LSU, McFarland was drafted in the first round of the 1999 draft and played eight seasons in the NFL, winning two Super Bowls — one with the Buccaneers, and one with the Colts (after Gruden traded him away from Tampa Bay in 2006). After retiring, McFarland became a sports talk radio host in Tampa when he randomly received a call for ESPN to tryout for the SEC Network. He auditioned with Tessitore and was ultimately hired in 2014. Just five years later, he’s the face of the network’s most popular program, and loving all the attention he’s receiving.
“Fifteen million people are tuning in to hear me, Tess, [rules analyst] John Parry, and [sideline reporter] Lisa Salters,” McFarland said. “So four people get to captivate 15 million people. How the hell could you not be excited about that?”