A “Monday Night Football” matchup between the 2-5 Patriots and the 0-8 Jets might not inspire much enthusiasm among a national viewing audience, other than perhaps from fans outside of New England who are basking in the schadenfreude of the Patriots' struggles.
But the broadcaster who will call the play-by-play of the game on ESPN’s telecast will be as authentically enthusiastic as ever, no matter what affronts to quality football might be taking place on the field.
Steve Levy has been a fixture at ESPN since 1993, first as a “SportsCenter” anchor (he lived in Boston during his early years at ESPN, commuting to the Bristol, Conn., headquarters) as well as an NHL and college football play-by-play voice.
He’s always been an upbeat presence in any role, but his sanguine approach has particularly shined through during his first season in the “Monday Night Football” booth.
Levy acknowledged when ESPN announced in August that he and analysts Louis Riddick and Brian Griese would replace Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland in the booth that calling “Monday Night Football” would be a dream fulfilled.
But in a world in which cynicism is too often the default attitude, Levy took some criticism on the usual social media channels earlier in the season for that enthusiasm.
If those cynics expect him to apologize for being who he is, they might want to stock up on necessities, because it’s going to be a long wait.
"I’m not going to be one of the people that say, ‘I don’t look at social media.’ I’ve got lots of critics everywhere, and I get a lot of feedback from people in our place and feedback from other places, and from a lot of people I respect,'' said Levy. "One of the knocks on me specifically was that, ‘He sounds like he’s too happy to be there.’
"Well, you know what? Damn right I’m happy to be there, man. If I was too fired up Week 1 or 2, I mean, this is the job of a lifetime for me to get to this spot. Hell, yeah, I’m excited to be in that chair. I don’t think I have to defend that.
“In whatever I’ve done, that’s always been — I don’t think I have a style, but maybe one of my trademarks. And if you know me, it’s real. I’m never faking that. I’m going wild on a second-and-4 on a big play, it’s because it’s something I’ve never seen before. It’s genuine and real.”
Halfway through their first season, the new booth has been a clear upgrade over the Tessitore/McFarland pairing, and significantly superior to the 2018 “MNF” booth that also included overmatched Jason Witten.
While the Levy-Riddick-Griese team has fun — a self-deprecating moment in Week 3 when the group acknowledged Patrick Mahomes’s mother’s tweet about how she wished Riddick would stop calling her son “Pat” was a highlight — the emphasis is on the field of play and the game action rather than any forced buddy-buddy antics.
Better, the broadcast improves from week to week, with Riddick — who made a name as one of ESPN’s most incisive studio analysts before getting a well-deserved shot at the booth — and Griese increasingly learning how to best play off of each other.
"The beauty of those two guys is the different roles they’ve played in the past, right?'' said Levy, "so, you know, Louis being a [former NFL] defensive back who later worked in the front office and scouting, I mean, that’s just invaluable knowledge.
“And I do believe you need a head coach or a quarterback type in the broadcast booth, because they’re the most informed on all the nuances, the clock management decisions and things like that, and Brian is great at providing insight on running that side of the game. So, I really feel like we have the best of both worlds.”
The professionalism and normalcy of the broadcast makes it easy to forget the degree of difficulty they faced in preparing for their first season together. While Levy had worked with Riddick and Griese before — the former on various ESPN studio programs and the latter on college football broadcasts the past five years — they’d done just one game together before, a half of the Monday night doubleheader to open the 2019 season.
Becoming copacetic in the broadcast booth as a trio would have been a challenging enough task before the COVID-19 pandemic eliminated the possibility of calling a couple of preseason games together as a test run. Guidelines for social distancing have also complicated the logistics in the booth.
"It’s not a complaint by any means, but we’ve dealt with some stuff that no first-year broadcast crew has had to deal with,'' said Levy. "But everyone has to deal with some challenge nowadays, and I’ll never forget that this is supposed to be fun. Brian and Louis are going to do the X’s and O’s. I’m there to tell you what’s happening. And we’ll meet in the middle with football and entertainment.
“Nowadays people are really looking at something like ‘Monday Night Football’ to pick them up, like, ‘Can I have three happy hours on my television?’ I think we all kind of need that. There’s a reason I start the show, ‘Happy Monday night.’ We all like football. It’s supposed to be happy. It’s supposed to be a good time. We’re having one, and we sure hope the viewers do, too.”
Chad Finn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.