Sean McDonough's latest chapter in Philly: Eagles-Packers on Monday Night Football
Sean McDonough has broadcast countless sporting events in Philadelphia, from Villanova basketball on ESPN to Phillies baseball on CBS to Penn football on PBS in his first job out of college. But he has never set foot in Lincoln Financial Field, believe it or not.
Sean McDonough has broadcast countless sporting events in Philadelphia, from Villanova basketball on ESPN to Phillies baseball on CBS to Penn football on PBS in his first job out of college.
But he has never set foot in Lincoln Financial Field, believe it or not.
That will change Monday, when McDonough takes his place in the TV booth to call ESPN's broadcast of the Eagles-Packers game.
What storylines will McDonough be watching at the Linc? A big one is a common thread between Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and the Eagles' Carson Wentz. Both are talented quarterbacks who have been hamstrung at times this season by less-talented teammates.
With Rodgers, it has been a Packers defense that has given up a shocking 37 points per game over the last four weeks. Injuries have certainly been a factor, but the numbers are still eye-popping. With Wentz, it's been an offense that has under-performed at too many key positions.
"To me, [Wentz's] numbers have dropped off over the last six games or so, but I don't think that's just on him," McDonough said. "Given what's going on with the rest of their team, I think it would be kind of unreasonable to expect that he'd continue to perform statistically at a really high level, because it really is a team game."
Overall, McDonough has been just as impressed by Wentz's rookie season as everyone else in the NFL.
"He's got great size. He's very athletic for a guy his size. He's smart. He's obviously got terrific leadership skills. He's an excellent thrower of the ball," McDonough said. "I think by any standard that you'd judge a quarterback, he has it. There have been some peaks and valleys, but I think that's to be expected. He's a rookie, and the cast around him is just kind of OK."
Wentz also hasn't been helped by the NFC East being better this season than just about anyone could have imagined. Last season, Washington won the division at 9-7, the Eagles were second at 7-9, the Giants were third at 6-10, and the Cowboys were a woeful 4-12. This year, Dallas has stormed to a 10-1 record, Washington is 6-4, and the Giants are 8-3.
The Eagles, meanwhile, are 5-5. That record would get them second place in the NFC West and South, and third by just a half-game in the North. But in the East, the Eagles are stuck in last place, a game and a half back of Washington.
"I don't think anyone saw the Cowboys being this good," McDonough said. "Obviously, [Dallas'] Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott have a lot to do with that. ... To me, the surprise about the Cowboys is that the defense has played well."
If most of McDonough's remarks are close to conventional wisdom, here's something that might not, at least to Eagles fans: He's pretty impressed by Doug Pederson so far.
That's not to say the meeting room at that Chicago hotel was devoid of charisma. It's no secret that Jon Gruden, McDonough's partner in the Monday Night Football booth, brings plenty of it on and off air.
If you've followed McDonough's career for long enough, you know that Gruden is the latest member of what's practically a rogues' gallery of witty color analysts McDonough has worked with.
"I would say [Gruden's] volume is not quite as high as the others, but I would say that's because I worked with Bill Raftery for about 20 years, and Jay Bilas for about a dozen, and Chris Spielman for six or seven," McDonough said. "Jon kind of picks his spots. He's a little more of a [chops]-buster off the air than he is on it, and I hope he continues it because I think he's very funny."
Gruden will not, however, be able to beat Raftery's famed night owl lifestyle.
"Oh gosh, no," McDonough said. "Raf is alone in his legendary status in that regard."
Having a good sense of humor is especially necessary amid the frenzied atmosphere of a Monday Night Football broadcast - and that applies to matters well beyond the field.
If you've ever driven around the back side of a stadium or arena on the way into a parking lot, you've probably seen the compound where the TV networks park their big production trucks. For an average baseball, basketball or hockey game, there are one or at most two trucks per network on site. Monday Night Football has eight, and they're all buzzing with people.
"It's such a big operation, the mass of TV trucks and the size of the production and technical crews," McDonough said. "It's way more than anything I've been a part of."
The closest comparison, he added, was the productions he was a part of when he called the World Series on CBS in 1992 and 1993 - and he said Monday Night Football might be bigger.
Between then and now, most of McDonough's trips here have been to call Villanova games. He's had some classics, such as the Wildcats' thrilling win over UConn in 2006 when the teams were ranked Nos. 4 and 1 in the nation, respectively. And he has struck up a close friendship with Wildcats coach Jay Wright.
"He is one of my favorite people that I've ever met, inside or outside of this job," McDonough said.
The two have remained close even though ESPN doesn't have Big East rights anymore. So it meant a little something extra when McDonough headed to Houston in March to call ESPN's international broadcast of the Final Four with Dick Vitale.
McDonough's calls never aired in the United States, because ESPN has to use the CBS/Turner broadcasts on its U.S. TV coverage. But yes, he was there courtside for the shot of all shots:
"I had a lot of friends in Canada who texted me who thought it was a good call," McDonough quipped. "I'm sure it was much appreciated in Africa and Asia and all the other places.
"When they won, I walked up on the court as they were cutting down the nets. I gave [Wright] a hug and I said to him, 'I don't know if I would be happier if this happened to me.' And he said to me, 'You know what's awesome? I know you mean that.' That's the kind of friendship that we have.'"
Wright has even served as a source for some of McDonough's anecdotes during Monday Night Football broadcasts. Wright's father grew up in the same North Philadelphia neighborhood as Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. So when the Bengals played the Giants two weeks ago, McDonough knew whom to call to get some unique background information.
No story on McDonough's Monday Night Football would be complete without touching on the biggest spotlight the role has put him in: his criticism of the huge number of penalty flags in the Oct. 17 Jets-Cardinals game.
"If we're looking for reasons why TV ratings for the NFL are down all over the place, this doesn't help," McDonough said during the third quarter that night. "The way this game has been officiated is not something anybody wants to watch."
Those remarks produced a huge reaction among football fans nationwide who were similarly annoyed with NFL referees. Here, finally, was someone important saying on national television what fans were saying to themselves. And not just in one of the endless number of studio shows out there.
McDonough, as understated as ever, didn't think it was that big a deal.
"I said, basically, one or two sentences about that game in particular, because it had so many penalties, and I think a lot of them, most football fans would classify as ticky-tack penalties," McDonough said. "That sort of thing is not something that people want to watch, and I think that's a pretty obvious statement. I didn't think I should be getting credit. ... I wasn't trying to make a broad statement - I was trying to say it's games like this that fans don't enjoy watching quite as much."
Some of the cynics who enjoyed McDonough's remarks staked their ground on the NFL's perceived (and at times real) influence over its TV partners. He made it clear that he is under no constraints.
"I'm lucky that I've never worked anywhere where they've said, 'Oh, by the way, you can't be critical of the team, or the management, or the ownership, or the front office,' " he said. "I don't think I've ever been afraid to speak my mind. ... I do work for a company that encourages us to have opinions and express them, and I didn't hear anything from anybody in the league."
Expect the same attitude when ESPN's broadcast comes on air at the Linc tonight. After all, it's nothing less than what McDonough expects from himself.