After spending the entire summer being compared to his former teammate and friend Tony Romo, retired Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten finally called his first NFL game for ESPN last night.
Witten wasn't the only new addition to the Monday Night Football booth. Following Jon Gruden's decision to return to coaching, ESPN underwent a complete overhaul of its announcing crew. The only returning face is sideline reporter and King of Prussia native Lisa Salters.
Joe Tessitore replaced former play-by-play announcer Sean McDonough, who returned to the network's college football coverage. ESPN also added former NFL defensive tackle Booger McFarland as an on-field analyst, a new role for the network, where he appeared throughout the broadcast driving around in what has become known as the "Boogermobile"
Fans and sports media pundits had near-universal praise for Romo's first appearance in the CBS Sports booth last season, thanks to the former quarterback's energetic narration and his psychic-like ability to predict plays.
The reviews for Witten's performance were mixed. I thought he did a solid job his first time out, though it was odd when Witten and Tessitore claimed Gruden never had a franchise quarterback during his coaching tenure. During his first stint in Oakland, Gruden had four-time Pro Bowler (and current CBS NFL analyst) Rich Gannon behind center for four seasons, leading him one Tom Brady non-fumble short of the AFC Championship Game in 2002.
"I was pleased with our entire team," said Jay Rothman, the executive producer of Monday Night Football. "Beginning with the opening series, [Witten] had good insight on the coach-QB relationship between Gruden and Carr and it continued from there. He is determined to be great at this and is constantly working and looking for feedback. With every game, he will become more comfortable and confident."
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones also praised Witten's performance.
"I thought he was outstanding. He's got such credibility. He should. He's earned it. I assure you no one is going to outwork him," Jones said. "I really thought he had a great opening night."
In a conversation with the Inquirer and Daily News prior to the start of the season, Romo offered his friend and former teammate some advice.
"I think back to when I first started, I thought it was just going to be like if you knew football, you could do it. Then when I did some practice games, I was like, 'Nope, that's not enough. I still stink. I'm not good at this. I'm bored with myself,' " Romo said. "Like I told him, it's a long season so just put your head down and keep getting better and better, and you'll wake up and the season will be right towards the end."
Here's a round-up of what other sports media pundits and hosts thought about Witten's performance:
Dan Katz, Barstool Sports
Andrew Marchand, New York Post
Ben Maller, FOX Sports Radio host:
Patrick Daugherty, NBC Sports
Danny O'Neil, ESPN Seattle
Michael Lev, Arizona Daily Star
Ollie Connolly, The Guardian:
Christopher Hansen, Raiders Blog
Scott Kacsmar, Football Outsiders