Discerning the accomplished veteran broadcaster from the rookie during the second game of ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” doubleheader was easy, just as common sense would suggest.
Play-by-play voice Beth Mowins, who since joining ESPN in 1994 has called various sports, including NCAA championships in basketball, softball, soccer, and volleyball — not to mention countless high-profile college football games — was a revelation on the Chargers-Broncos broadcast only to those unfamiliar with her work.
To those familiar with the 50-year-old Syracuse, N.Y., native, she confirmed again that she’s a steady and often superb broadcasting pro, no pronoun qualifier necessary.
She deserves degree-of-difficulty bonus points for working with novice Rex Ryan, who proved that spectacular debuts for NFL analysts — such as Tony Romo’s Sunday for CBS — are approximately as rare as Jets Super Bowl wins.
Ryan was the king of the news conference quip as a coach, but in his booth debut, his voice lacked authority. Perhaps it was his microphone, but he almost sounded at times as if his energy meter was running low. At one point, after a drop by Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas, Ryan said, “That’s a rare drop for this young man.” Thomas was tied for third in the NFL with seven drops last season.
I’d like to hear how Mowins would fare with a more polished and prepared analyst.
Ryan also endured some self-inflicted technical mistakes. Once, in the second half, he made the rookie mistake of responding out loud to the voice in his ear from the production truck. “All right, I can do it. Yep,’’ he said, before attempting to use the telestrator.
During their on-camera introduction at the start of the broadcast, Mowins had to gently remind Ryan, who looked ready to burst through the screen like John Madden in a Miller Lite ad, not to interfere with his microphone.
I suspect that’s the only time I’ll mention Ryan and Madden in the same sentence for a long time. I think he belongs in the studio.
Mowins belongs right where she was. She is excellent at her job, and always has been, even if her voice sometimes suggests what Reba McEntire might sound like if she had been born in upstate New York instead of Oklahoma. But there was a certain magnitude to Monday’s moment that almost demanded, fairly or not, that she prove it again.
Mowins, who has called Oakland Raiders preseason games for a couple of seasons, was the first woman in the booth for a regular-season NFL game since Gayle Sierens called a regional broadcast of a 1987 Chiefs-Seahawks game. This was the first time a woman has called a nationally televised NFL game, ever.
It was a big deal. She received well wishes on ESPN from the likes of Mike Tirico (now NBC’s featured studio host), Michele Beadle, and Doris Burke, as well as a short video clip from the NFL Twitter account that featured Sierens and was sponsored by Secret deodorant.
On “SportsCenter” approximately 20 minutes before kickoff, a segment on Mowins’s role was touted with a voiceover that said: “This particular doubleheader is especially meaningful. It also signals to female sports journalists and budding female broadcasters that a career in sports is a legitimate possibility. Because this Monday, regardless of gender, the most qualified person has been given the job.”
Mowins’s preparation was manifested in shared knowledge all night. When Broncos rookie Isaiah McKenzie lined up to return his first punt, she informed the audience how dynamic he had been in camp. He later returned a punt 31 yards, nearly taking it the distance. She had a nice zinger on Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian’s lack of speed: “He actually found a way to rush for fewer yards than Tom Brady did last year.
Most important, she got it right in the game’s biggest moment, offering the abridged version of rookie Chargers kicker Younghoe Koo’s compelling personal story in the seconds before he lined up for a potential game-tying kick (it was blocked).
It should be noted, if you haven’t already noticed it on the Twitter trending list, that the most buzz-worthy development of the broadcast came not from Mowins or Ryan, but from sideline reporter Sergio Dipp.
A 29-year-old native of Mexico, the ESPN Deportes reporter was part of the broadcast in an attempted bit of synergy, with ESPN2 carrying the Spanish-language broadcasts of Monday’s two games.
Dipp’s first appearance on camera, which came with 4 minutes and 20 seconds left in the first quarter, became permanently meme-worthy. It almost felt like a Christopher Guest sendup of a sideline reporter, at least until one realized he was speaking in his second language and we all know of sideline reporters who struggle to communicate in their first. Sympathy noted, here’s what he said, verbatim:
“Beth, Coach, it’s a pleasure to be with you guys, from here on the field, from up close, just watching coach Vance Joseph from here, you watch him now on the screen, this diversity in his background is helping him a lot tonight. Quarterback at Colorado, defensive back in the NFL, and here he is having the time of his life this night making his head coaching debut.”
Dipp handled it with grace, sending out a series of amusing tweets, including a Google search for how to deal with newfound fame.
Chances are Mowins, who will call the Sept. 24 Browns-Colts Thursday night game for CBS, is also better-known today than she was prior to broadcasting a high-profile NFL game.
But not much else should change. She was a high-quality play-by-play broadcaster Monday night. She has been a high-quality play-by-play broadcaster for years. Several million more sports fans just happen to know it now.
Follow Chad Finn on Twitter at @GlobeChadFinn.