Sean McDonough’s superb play-by-play skills and droll humor became familiar to New Englanders from his 17 years (1988-2004) calling Red Sox games on NESN and Channel 38. In recent years, he has called marquee college football and basketball games, among other events, for ESPN, hardly low-profile gigs.
But he is well aware of the pro-sports bent and unyielding parochialism in his home state. He has often laughed that when he runs into Boston fans at the airport or wherever, they’ll ask him from time to time what he’s been up to since leaving the Red Sox gig.
Any suggestion that he’s taken a lower profile is gone now, of course, with this week’s news that he is the new voice of “Monday Night Football,” replacing NBC-bound Mike Tirico on ESPN’s broadcasts this coming season. It’s a role suited for McDonough’s prime-time talents, and ESPN’s decision to pair him with Jon Gruden seems to have been universally applauded.
While the NFL is not the league McDonough is most associated with — he called games for CBS in the early ’90s, but will forever be a baseball guy around here — we should require no reminder his ties with the sport are both local and intensely personal.
“When Jay Rothman [lead producer of ‘MNF’] came out a week and a half ago,” said McDonough, “and we chatted and he told me this was the way it was going to go, I stood up and gave him a hug. And then I apologized to him. I said, ‘I’m going to have a little bit of a moment here. I started thinking about my dad.”
He is, of course, the son of the late Will McDonough, the legendary football writer and columnist for the Globe who, as an NFL insider for CBS and NBC in the ’80s and ’90s, pioneered the now-standard use of reporters as information providers.
During a conversation with reporters Monday, Sean McDonough became choked up while talking about how his new role would have made his father, who died in 2003 at age 67, especially proud.
“My dad is one of the most important people in terms of media in the history of the league,’’ said McDonough. “He certainly had great information, was a great writer for a long time, then when he made the transition to TV, he became the first information person, really opened that door for a lot of other people.
“I remember at my dad’s funeral, Peter King came over to me and told me when he got into television, the first person he called to thank was my dad because my dad paved the way. Guys like him and Chris Mortensen and John Clayton and Adam Schefter, he’s said the same thing about my dad.
“My dad was the foremost influence in my life; he still is, even though he’s been gone for 13 years now, and I try to remember all the lessons I’ve learned. I still can’t be around a stadium where people don’t come up and talk to me about him.”
As it happened, Rothman and McDonough were putting the punctuation on the deal the same night as the first round of the NFL Draft. McDonough’s brother Terry McDonough is the vice president of the Cardinals. While it was obviously an important night for his football team, there was another pending football-related transaction that he found time to monitor.
“They were just starting the draft, and I texted Terry and said, ‘I know you’re busy with much more important things right now, but I just want to let you know that they’re offering me the job and I might take it,’ ” said McDonough.
“One minute later, Terry sent me a selfie from the Arizona Cardinals draft room. He said, ‘I got up from the table because I was fighting back tears.’ Part of it was that he was so happy for me, but I think he was also thinking about how cool my dad would think this is and how proud he would have been.”
Change for the better
Speaking of ESPN getting things right, The Big Lead reported this week that Ray Lewis and Cris Carter are “expected to be on their way out,” and Randy Moss is “expected to be on his way in” on “NFL Countdown.”
Responding to this report with a goofy, Lewis-style celebratory dance would be premature; the report has not been confirmed by ESPN. But the changes seem inevitable, and they would do something that Lewis did not do a whole lot during his three years at the network: make sense.
ESPN has hired recently retired stars Matt Hasselbeck and Charles Woodson for studio roles this offseason, while Keyshawn Johnson has moved on and Mike Ditka has been reassigned.
Moss, a candid and funny revelation last year for Fox Sports, would be a welcome addition, and local football fans would agree that ESPN could use another pro-Patriots voice to assist Tedy Bruschi.
Lewis, whose windy, bewildering soliloquies have lent themselves to easy parody, and Carter, the former Vikings receiver who probably should have been dismissed after suggesting at last year’s rookie symposium that players should find a “fall guy” to take heat for them when they’re in trouble, added little to the broadcast. Unless, one supposes, exasperating the audience was the goal. And really, that’s Fox Sports’s thing now.