This space is happy to salute any NFL broadcaster who speaks out, in real time and without a filter, about issues that plague the league — especially those that do so in prime time and without sweating any potential repercussions that might come from agitating Emperor Goodell with something as inconvenient as the truth.
So here’s to you, Booger.
The league’s latest officiating debacle (the motto “when a rule is already a mess, trust us to make it worse!” should be etched on the NFL shield) occurred Monday night in the Packers’ 23-22 come-from-behind win over the Lions.
It was a heck of an entertaining game, one that aired on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” with Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland on the call. But the outcome was marred by not one but two phantom hands-to-the-face calls on Lions defensive end Trey Flowers in the fourth quarter, both prolonging Packers scoring drives.
The first negated a third-down sack with approximately 10 minutes left. The second, which the NFL eventually admitted was an error, was even more damaging, allowing the Packers to run down the clock before Mason Crosby came out to kick the winning field goal.
McFarland, in his second year on the “MNF” broadcast and first in the booth (he was on the sideline last season while the overmatched Jason Witten, who has since returned to the relative comfort of playing tight end for the Cowboys, was alongside Tessitore), did not hesitate to spit the truth. And he did so on multiple occasions as it played out and then when the debacle was over.
“That is a terrible call,’’ said a clearly annoyed McFarland after the second Flowers penalty. “That’s twice on Trey Flowers in crucial situations that the refs have blown the call.”
When Tessitore noted that Flowers had never been called for hands to the face in his NFL career, McFarland responded sharply: “And he shouldn’t have been called tonight. Let’s make sure we let America know that. That’s twice. The first time it cost [the Lions] a sack. This time it cost them the game.”
His bluntness served viewers well, especially with ESPN’s rules analyst, former official John Parry, seeming more interested in finding something to justify the terrible officiating than pointing out how egregious the calls were. (Fox’s Mike Pereira, the original, remains the only broadcast rules analyst worth his stripes.)
McFarland, who will call Monday night’s Jets-Patriots game with Tessitore and sideline reporter Lisa Salters (and hopefully minimal usage of Parry), told me that in those situations, his aim is simply to tell the truth.
“It may rub people the wrong way, but I try to be honest,’’ he said. “ I try to look at something and give my honest opinion. And I try to give that opinion based on if I were sitting home and it was me, you, and couple of buddies watching the game. Or maybe we’re watching it at a local bar and having a good time. I ask myself, ‘What would I say there, with my friends?’ And that’s what I try to say on TV.
“Most of the time during the game, my job is to talk about the how and the why,’’ added McFarland, who played nine years as a defensive lineman in the NFL, winning Super Bowls with the Buccaneers and Colts. “I think the bonus you get from having a guy like me who has in the past worked in a studio role and has been on the radio is that I’m well-versed on giving opinion also. So I think when ESPN put me in this role they knew that not only was I going to be a football analyst who would talk about the specific nuances of plays, but also that ol’ Booger was going to give some opinion now and then.”
McFarland said he recognizes that officiating is a sensitive issue in the league office, but that he can’t allow that to make him hesitant to share his thoughts. It’s a lesson he learned long ago.
“My mother told me years ago,’’ McFarland said. “I made a mistake and lied to her. And she said, ‘Son, I can deal with a lot of things in life. But I cannot deal with you lying to me. Because when you tell one lie, you’re ultimately going to have to tell another. And then another. And you become a liar. And that’s something you never want to become.’
“So to me it’s about that. It’s about credibility. I have to be honest about what I see. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to agree with my opinion. But those were bad calls in my opinion, and I’m going to say that. I stand by that.”
ESPN’s “MNF” broadcast still has flaws, but McFarland isn’t one of them. He did good work from the sideline last year in a weird situation — he was positioned on a gimmicky vehicle known as the Boogermobile, which added nothing to the broadcast. But his sense of humor and sharp observations are even more noticeable in the booth.
“I didn’t realize this because most of the stuff I’ve always done has been in a three-man booth, even when I called college games, but it’s amazing how much more simple it is in a two-man setup,’’ he said. “It’s amazing how much more simple it is.
“Being on the sideline last year, I equate it to talking to your kids through FaceTime rather than being in the room with them. FaceTime is a great tool, a great feature when you have to use it, but there’s nothing like being in the room with your kids and seeing body language and the non-verbal communication and things of that nature.
“Being in the booth and seeing Joe and what really is going on, it’s like that. I couldn’t take a ton away from last year and what I learned just because of that vantage point. But I know how to be myself no matter where I am. I know how to be the best Booger I can be, and I’m just taking that and learning game to game.”