It’s been a long, long season for Jason Witten.
The former Dallas Cowboys tight end turned ESPN broadcaster struggled mightily at times during his first year in the booth on Monday Night Football (drawing the ire of Eagles fans in the process). But Witten seemed to end on a high note the last few weeks of the season, and hasn’t been afraid to speak his mind, from criticizing Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell’s decision to sit out to calling out the Washington Redskins leadership for signing Reuben Foster just three days after Foster was arrested on domestic violence charges.
Unfortunately, luck wasn’t on Witten’s side Sunday. During a post-game ceremony following the AFC’s 26-7 win over the NFC, Witten inadvertently broke the most valuable player trophy as he handed it to Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and New York Jets safety Jamal Adams.
The cringeworthy incident quickly went viral following the game, just the latest reminder of Witten’s gaffe-filled season, which included claiming the NFL had become too “left wing” and stating Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers “pulled a rabbit out of his head.” He was also mocked for comparing New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley to O.J. Simpson, and struggled to pronounce Los Angeles Rams linebacker Samson Ebukam’s name.
On Sunday, Witten added a new moment to his blooper reel after Mahomes threw a touchdown to Indianapolis Colts tight end Eric Ebron. Despite the two playing on different teams, Witten told viewers, “Ebron was his guy all year.” He corrected his mistake later in the broadcast, noting for the record that Ebron was “Andrew Luck’s guy.”
Some NFL fans will get one final chance to hear Witten and his Monday Night Football colleagues Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland call a game. The trio will handle the English-language feed of ESPN International’s broadcast of the Super Bowl on Sunday, Feb. 3, which will be broadcast live to more than 68 million households in 75 countries.
If New Orleans Saints fans weren’t already upset enough over the blown pass interference call during the team’s NFC championship loss to the Los Angeles Rams, a new ESPN report will have their blood boiling.
According to NFL insider Adam Schefter, there is some concern around the league over its decision to allow four officials who happen to live in Southern California to work the Rams game. Schefter pointed out that in past years, the NFL prevented referees from calling games of teams in their hometowns — most notably Ed Hochuli calling Arizona Cardinals game — so this appears to be an issue that slipped through the cracks.
“Officiating assignments are based on performance and not geographic location,” a league spokesman told ESPN.
It’s worth pointing out this is mostly an optics issue, and not many serious pundits are claiming the referees were biased toward the Rams, especially considering they also missed an obvious face-mask penalty against Saints linebacker A.J. Klein. As NBC Sports’ Mike Florio wrote Sunday, “In virtually all cases like this, incompetence trumps intent.”
Still, reports like this won’t help upset fans come to terms with the fact that mistakes were made. On Thursday, Bill Vinovich — the head official during the controversial Saints-Rams championship game — was confronted about the missed penalty while he was calling a college basketball match-up between Brigham Young University and St. Mary’s.
“I don’t want to talk about that stuff,” Vinovich responded.
• Want to dress like CBS broadcaster Jim Nantz? Well, now you can, thanks to a new collection of “sophisticated pieces” introduced last week by Vineyard Vines. Among the items for sale are several 1/4 zip sweaters for $248 that look nearly identical to the fleece he snuck under his CBS blazer during the AFC Championship game.
• We won’t know the Pro Bowl’s television ratings until later Monday. But the NFL Pro Bowl Skills Challenge — which aired on ESPN Thursday night — drew just 761,000 viewers, according to Sports Media Watch. That’s a 35-percent drop from the 1.17 million viewers who tuned in last year.