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Earlier this month, ESPN announced that Joe Tessitore and Jason Witten would be taking over the coveted broadcasting spots for Monday Night Football.
Tessitore will be the sixth personality to occupy the MNF play-by-play position, and is known for his versatility as a broadcaster. He joined ESPN in 2002 and has worked in several important roles including the lead broadcaster for college basketball’s Super Tuesday, the play-by-play broadcaster for Thursday Night Football, and he also hosted ESPN’s College Football Final, College Football Live, and many others.
Witten, the former University of Tennessee and Dallas Cowboys star, is one of the top tight ends in NFL history and retired just recently to accept this role as MNF’s color analyst.
This week on Adam Schefter’s podcast, Tessitore and Witten sat down to discuss what their tryout was like and why they are the right ones to usher in a new era of MNF.
The play-by-play position for MNF is one of the most sought-after broadcasting positions in the industry, and Tessitore gave us some insight on what he had to do to land this new gig.
“Everybody who is on the list to host Monday Night Football is very talented and has an incredibly high football IQ,” said Tessitore. “This process will be something I have to write a book about.”
According to Tessitore, applicants traveled to ESPN headquarters in Bristol, CT, and called the Titans-Chiefs playoff game over and over again. But that’s not really where the process started.
“Really the audition and the process began on the phone three weeks before then, talking ball, getting to know each other, coming to my house the night before, hanging out in the afternoon, drinking good wine, having good Italian appetizers, having a long dinner and talking ball and talking life and laughing and busting chops and having fun and telling great stories. And then going out and calling an entire game, and then going and doing a podcast and then going and realizing what the chemistry is like on air. We wanted this to be a close proximity to what it’s like to work together; and then and only then do you get the best representation of said candidate to get the end result that you want.”
Chemistry between broadcasters is paramount, but usually we think that it’s established from working together. It’s not. Tessitore and Witten spent a lot of time together not talking about work, but about life in general. In fact, the moment apparently where Tessitore became sold on Witten happened outside of the booth.
As for Witten's abilities as a broadcaster, Tessitore described him as, “authentic, hard-working and able to go in any direction at any time.”
He went on to say that the ability to think like a head coach with game strategy and the ability to understand every position on the field was important, and that’s why we see so many ex-coaches and quarterbacks fill these broadcasting roles. Tessitore commended Witten as a former position player that has that kind of special perspective.
“Very quickly in our relationship there was a trust that was built up where it’s like, ‘you’re my guy' and vice versa. And when you have that it’s a comfortable broadcast, very comfortable,” said Tessitore.
As this is Witten’s first broadcasting gig, he told Schefter what was important to him as he entered this new career field.
“(Tessitore) made me feel like we were at Arrowhead (stadium) during the audition,” he said. “I was going through this with some other networks as well but there was something different with him. It was very natural for me. It’s a new lane for me and there’s a lot you got to learn and when you go through that, you want to make sure you have the right team around you.”
Witten also opened up about the internal debate he had whether to keep on playing or to trade in his cleats for a microphone.
“I was very open with (Cowboys owner) Jerry Jones about it because I was going through the process near the end of the NFL season. Jerry is like a father figure to me and he told me that this was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”
Schefter brought up Jay Cutler during the podcast, and how he accepted a broadcasting job but then accepted an offer from the Miami Dolphins after Ryan Tannehill tore his ACL.
Knowing that he was going to ask if there was any chance Witten would return to the gridiron, Tessitore cut Schefter off mid-question saying, “Schefty, I’m going to kill you.”
Witten said that he made sure that he had inner-peace about his decision and that he doesn’t want to go back and forth about it.
“That’s not my style, I’m going to be all-in and I’m excited to share my insight,” he said. “I’m amazed at how fascinated I am by (broadcasting.)”
You have to appreciate the work Witten and Tessitore have already put in together. They say that the rest of their time leading up to their debut will be spent studying film and practicing their craft.
We won’t truly know until we see them together live, but I think this duo is going to be around for a very long time.