Mike Tirico on McNabb, John Wall, Jon Gruden and the swinging gate
For the third time in the past 13 months, Mike Tirico will be at FedEx Field this week to call a Monday Night Football game between the Redskins and an NFC East opponent. The three-man ESPN crew is already in town for production meetings and a chalk talk luncheon and so on, but I talked to Tirico a few days ago about Donovan McNabb, the NFC East, the Swinging Gate and John Wall, among other topics.
At this point, I think we've gone way past overkill on the Donovan McNabb storyline in D.C., but you'll be talking to a national audience. How much will you have to talk about the benching controversy?
Of course it's a main storyline, but the beauty of the game is all the crap that gets discussed for 14 days -- in this case, from the end of the Detroit game until now -- now you finally have the next bit of evidence. It amazes me, the NFL cycle -- and we're all lucky to be beneficiaries of it. The game goes on for three-and-a-half hours, and the conversation goes on for the next 160 hours. Then there's another three-hour game. We [at ESPN] actually have the meat. Everything else is dressing on the plate.
We actually have the entree, and that's the game, and with Jaws and Jon, the advantage I have and our show has is we've got two guys there who can really interpret what's going on as the game's going on. So, is Donovan struggling as there's a two-minute drill? Is he succeeding with finding open receivers? Is the running game not good, is the offensive line not good? I've got guys who can focus on that. Let's face it, the Redskins offense has been disappointing, and it's much more than just Donovan.
It seems like the Sunday Night and Monday Night broadcasts this year have both been really heavy on the NFC East teams. (11 total appearances in 21 games.) Obviously a lot of these games get great ratings, but do you ever get sick of seeing the same teams over and over?
I don't. Ever. I've said for the last few years -- and having spent time covering the NBA and on SportsCenter, I really get a sense of being around every sport over the last few years. It's not close. No division compares to the NFC East. Start with ownership, with the legacy of the franchises. These are fanbases that will not accept rebuilding. Redskins fans expect to win a Super Bowl every year, same true in Philly and New York and Dallas. Take the market sizes, the value of the franchises, it's not close in any other division, in any other sport.
You have four national brands. Everybody's had their moment in the sun, everybody's had their day, and it really makes them national teams. Things that happen in these cities are bigger than other cities. It's not close, with any other division in any sport. There's no other division like it. That's why we see so much of it, and I never get sick of it.
Can I ask an NBA question? Over the last couple of weeks, Colin Cowherd has been pretty outspoken about John Wall, saying his game is selfish, he's not gonna win a championship, stuff like that. Do you have any thoughts?
Ive been around for a little bit. I'm not gonna make pronouncements about a guy after he's played one-eighth of his first NBA season. I wanted out of doing day-to-day talk radio for that exact reason. I like Colin, Colin and I are friends, I think he's very talented at what he does. Look, I go to cover NFL games, and I know most of the people who talk about Donovan right now in that situation have not sat down with Mike Shanahan or Kyle Shanahan or Donovan McNabb to ask what's really going on. I'll get to do that. I have a heck of a better chance of getting perspective on this than someone sitting in the studio making pronouncements.
There's no way you can make this grand pronouncement about John Wall without knowing him. Now, it becomes very hard to be a guy who can turn a team around. His talent is phenomenal, eye-popping. His speed is special...but let's save the grand pronouncements for John Wall's success or failure until he plays, say, 20 games. You know what I'm saying. Settle down.
I know you guys dealt with all the Jon Gruden rumors in the booth last year, and now it's happening again with the Cowboys stuff. Does that make it hard to have him in the booth, when he's actually a newsmaker at the same time?
You know, I read all the comments last year about how everybody was sure he was gonna get the Redskins job. I didn't see one person write I was wrong about that. That's the problem with our business. A lot of people throw a lot of crap on the wall, and never come back and say hey, I was wrong on that. Does it matter to the broadcast? No, I went through this last year. For the viewers, I'd rather have someone as in tune with the NFL as any analyst in the game than not have him. If i have Jon for the rest of this season, this and next year, or 15 years, I'm just gonna enjoy every second I have him there.
We watched it play out last year, and the last option on the list for people was Jon will come back and do Monday Night Football for another year. And he has. We've become friends, you hang out, you spend time together, but trust me, nobody knows at this point. Nobody knows. Let's watch it play out. If he's gone, then that's two of the best years I've had working with somebody. And if he comes back, then I'll enjoy year three.
It seems like every time the Redskins play on national TV, the franchise's chaotic recent history and all the coaching changes are part of the broadcast. Last year, obviously, it was a big part. Think you guys will go there again?
I think you have so much in front of you, that becomes less of a story. Last year there was a need to address that; it was a no-brainer. Of course you go there. The facts are the facts. I'm not going to avoid mentioning the number of times the team has missed the playoffs or the recent struggles, but I don't think you need to go in depth about it, especially not in this one. It's a story because your owner is an I-want-to-win-now guy. Dan's out there. He's put out a lot of money, he's desperately in search of a successful franchise. Jerry's the same way.
As a sports fan, which I still am -- and the day I stop, I'm out of this -- I want my owner doing that. I want my owner out front, because here's a ridiculously successful man who is personally invested in wanting to be a part of something great. I love that. I'm all for that. I'd be the first one with my hand up saying 'I'm a sports fan, Dan Snyder can own my favorite team.' Give me Dan, give me Jerry, give me the late Mr. Steinbrenner, give me Mark Cuban. Give me the guy who's been successful and wants to watch his life's resume change with the success or failure of the sports team I root for. Give me that guy every time. I love it.
Last question: last time you guys were here, the Redskins ran that swinging gate play, where Jim Zorn had them line up for a fake field goal, then there was the timeout, then they faked it again. The booth seemed pretty taken aback by that. Ever seen anything like that?
A wonderful, a wonderful, wonderful moment in that game. Boy. It'd be hard for me to sit here and make a list, given the number of college football games I've done. When you're up there, there's a fine line of doing your job, informing, who has it, what they're doing, the yards, all that stuff, explaining football, [but] part of you has to be a fan. And if everyone on their couch is saying what in the world is going on here, you've got to do the same thing. At certain points, you've got to be a sports fan. And if something like that happens, you go what in the world is going on? [But] I don't think the Redskins have that in the current playbook.
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