1. Now that we’ve had time to think and process the surprising news that Jason Witten has returned the Cowboys and jilted ESPN, we have some advice for the World Wide Leader—either do nothing or do something radical with the Monday Night Football booth. Don’t try to do the same old, same old.
By do nothing, we mean just get Booger McFarland off the crane, stick him in the booth and allow him and Joe Tessitore to call the games for the 2019 season.
By do something radical, we mean, get some random, non-hardcore football, lesser-known TV people in the booth and see what happens.
I’ve often praised the success of The Starters on NBATV and Good Morning Football on NFL Network because these are not traditional studio shows that rely on big names. They’re all about chemistry. This should be the road ESPN travels down for its Monday Night Football booth.
The obstacle here is that ESPN thinks Monday Night Football is special. It’s not. ESPN still holds on to the idea that Monday Night Football is connected to the old days of Howard Cosell and Don Meredith. It’s not.
The reality is this: Thursday Night Football, Sunday Night Football and the 4:25 p.m. ET slot on Sunday afternoons all feature better games than MNF. Those three slots also have a much bigger viewership.
Here are average viewership numbers for MNF the past three seasons.
Those are very solid numbers in today’s TV landscape, but in the NFL landscape, they are far from special. There's no need to worry about a big drop in viewership if you change up the broadcast.
ESPN wants to preserve the sanctity of Monday Night Football, but there’s nothing to preserve. It’s the last game of the week, people are footballed out by this point and it’s not a marquee event. So have fun with it. Make it a completely different telecast. Get a fantasy football person in the booth. Get a gambling person in the booth. Get someone funny in the booth.
I wrote this piece Thursday on five potential replacements for Witten. There really weren’t any surprises on the list, because I focused on what ESPN would do, not what they should do. In addition to the names I mentioned, former Browns offensive lineman Joe Thomas and Panthers tight end Greg Olsen have been mentioned as possiblities for the job. These are all fine people who would do a good job, but it's the same old, same old.
What they should do is skip the former players and go for a completely different vibe. A few radical suggestions: Kevin Clark of The Ringer, who is the best NFL features writer today; Former San Francisco Chronicle writer Ray Ratto, who would bring a Larry David, curmudgeon-esque quality to the telecast; ESPN already has Katie Nolan in house, put her on MNF and let her riff; Gambling expert Todd Fuhrman or ESPN's Stanford Steve would be great in the booth updating prop bets and live betting lines.
(Side note since I mentioned Larry David: He would be an awesome choice, too, but we know that's unrealistic. ESPN should have Larry call in each week and give his observations during the game.)
The point is, ESPN should pass on every instinct it has for what to do with Monday Night Football and get completely radical. Many fans hated the ESPN booth this past season, so they have nothing to lose. If the experiment fails, you throw a blank check at Peyton Manning the following year and move forward.
2. Speaking of ESPN, it's good to see the World Wide Leader continue to embrace gambling.
3. The tweet below is slightly inaccurate. The guy wasn't trying to avoid paying a Super Bowl bet. He tried to scam a box pool and it all went wrong.
4. The WWE Universe was ablaze Thursday by this Twitter exchange between Becky Lyncy and Ronda Rousey.
I got a few tweets and texts from people asking if this was a work or a shoot, aka, real or fake. Nothing that gets done publicly by WWE superstars is a shoot. If Vince McMahon wasn't in favor of these tweets, they wouldn't be out there for public consumption without some sort of punishment.
5. The Inside the NBA crew on TNT on Thursday night did the "Choco Challenge" and Jason Terry, filling in for Charles Barkley, pretty much almost died.
6.Thanks for this, Questlove.
7. The newest SI Media Podcast features an interview with Jon Weiner, aka Stugotz from ESPN's The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz. The radio host and new podcast host (“Stupodity”) gives the backstory on his nickname, talks about how he linked up with Le Batard, the chemistry between the two, growing up idolizing Mike and the Mad Dog, the show’s relationship with ESPN, his dream guests for his podcast, Bruce Springsteen, and much more.
You can listen to the podcast below or download it on iTunes.
8. RANDOM YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THE DAY: No matter how you feel about Bryce Harper getting $330 million, we should all agree that Harper's dugout fight with Jonathan Papelbon is a great baseball moment.
Be sure to catch up on past editions of Traina Thoughts and check out the Sports Illustarted Media Podcast hosted by Jimmy Traina. You can also follow on Twitter and Instagram.
IN CLOSING: I didn't say this in my opening, but if Gronk does indeed retire, he should be ESPN's No. 1 choice for its new booth.