For the first time in four years, ESPN will feature the same "Monday Night Football" booth as last season.
Steve Levy, Brian Griese and Louis Riddick return to the MNF booth for the 2021 season, according to The Athletic's Richard Deitsch.
The trio debuted last season to mostly solid reviews, which was an upgrade from ESPN's previous experience with one of its most important broadcasts. That importance has only increased with the network's new TV deal with the NFL, in which parent company Disney is paying the league a reported $2.7 billion per year.
Under the new deal, ESPN will have increased freedom in scheduling "Monday Night Football" games and will be allowed to flex games to Monday beginning in Week 12, while ABC will enter the vaunted Super Bowl rotation with CBS, NBC and Fox. The upshot is ESPN's "Monday Night Football" will be calling even more important games at a higher price.
ESPN experienced turbulence with 'Monday Night Football'
While calling a booth "solid" can sometimes be faint praise, it's a high compliment given what ESPN has experienced on Mondays over the last few years.
The turbulence began with Mike Tirico's exit in 2016, which broke up a partnership with Jon Gruden that extended back to 2009. Tirico's replacement Sean McDonough didn't impress much — he wasn't really a fan of the experience either — but the real struggles began when Gruden exited in 2018 to take over the Las Vegas Raiders.
The new booth of Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten and Booger McFarland on the "Boogermobile" was widely maligned. Witten's decision to unretire and rejoin the Dallas Cowboys after one season in the booth inspired some hope for improvement, but McFarland's verbal misadventures and redundant analysis in the booth eventually reached meme levels.
ESPN eventually wiped the clean slate after the 2019 season, leading to the trio of Levy, Griese and Riddick. Of course, that group wasn't exactly Plan A for the broadcast.
ESPN had high hopes for MNF crew
Say this for ESPN, they have aimed high in trying to make a splash with their "Monday Night Football" booth.
After Tony Romo opted to stay at CBS despite overtures from ESPN, the network went all out to land Peyton Manning, widely considered the most attractive broadcast prospect out there. ESPN's offer to Manning reportedly exceeded the 10-year, $140 million deal that CBS gave to Romo, but the former quarterback turned them down for the second year in a row.
ESPN also made a major effort in the play-by-play department, attempting to negotiate a trade for NBC's Al Michaels and pursuing CBS's Jim Nantz. Neither worked out. The most odd pursuit, however, would be that of TNT's Charles Barkley, as the basketball player recently claimed he turned the network down for "Monday Night Football".
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