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Q&A with Sean McDonough: Monday Night Football broadcaster talks background, experience

Jonathan Colon | Staff Photographer

Sean McDonough, a Syracuse University alumnus, is the play-by-play commentator for ESPN's "Monday Night Football."

Sean McDonough, a class of 1984 Syracuse University alumnus, came back to his alma mater to speak to students in the Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium in Newhouse 3 about his career in broadcast sports journalism. Afterward, The Daily Orange sat down with McDonough to talk more about his background and experience in the field of journalism.

The Daily Orange: What made you come to Syracuse in the first place?

Sean McDonough: I knew at a very young age, that this is what I wanted to do, I wanted to be a sports broadcaster. At that time, even in high school, Syracuse had a reputation for producing sports broadcasters, the ones I used to watch: Marv Albert, Dick Stockton, Bob Costas. Bob was young, Bob’s 10 years older than me, so he was probably 28. And he was on national TV. It just seemed like Syracuse was the logical place to go, for somebody who wants to do this. And it is the logical place to go. Still is.

The D.O.: Following off that, how did starting off at WAER lead to calling the Syracuse Chiefs games?

S.M.: WAER, when I was a student, had the rights to the (Chiefs) games, the first two years. Any student who wanted to stay for the summer and broadcast the Chiefs games could audition … I was lucky enough the summer after my sophomore year, to win the audition for the first time.

… Then when I was about to graduate and wasn’t able to do it, the games went to a commercial station and they hired me to do it. So I did it three years, the last year was on a station other than WAER. But it was a great experience. People say “Geez you did the Red Sox at 25 and the World Series at 31,” but I already had 400 minor league games by the time I was 22. Not just minor leagues but one level below the highest league, next stop for the players is the majors. So, it works the same way for the broadcasters too.

The D.O.: You’ve had a lot of co-commentators from various sports and various networks. How does the process go when you’re establishing a rapport with your co-commentator? How does that relationship work?

S.M.: I think it’s like relationships that people would have outside of TV. You know, naturally occurring within life. The longer you get to know somebody, the more you’re around them in different settings, the more you kind of understand what makes them tick, what their values are, what they think is funny, or stupid or how they respond to situations. It takes time. Chemistry on the air usually gets better the more time you spend off the air with people, and it’s part of the process I enjoy.

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Jonathan Colon | Staff Photographer

The D.O.: And that extends to your other crew, right? Like your spotters or researchers.

S.M.: Yeah, spotters, producers, directors. It’s a team, it really is. Everyone has an important role. Mine is, you know, more public, this side of the camera, but it’s not any more or less important than anybody else really. So, yeah, it’s what I enjoyed. As excited as I was when I got “Monday Night Football,” I actually cried because I was leaving my college football group that I really loved, our producer and director and technical crew that I worked with for a while. I look forward to seeing them every week, and I still miss them. It’s the reality of life. I wouldn’t give up “Monday Night Football” for them, but I do miss them.

The D.O.: On “Monday Night Football,” you’ve made some controversial statements regarding the NFL’s officiating policies. Do you think more broadcasters should be doing that kind of thing?

S.M.: I think everybody has to do what’s comfortable for them. I think nobody should be afraid to give an opinion, as long as it’s factually based, well-supported, can’t just go out and say “officiating in the NFL stinks.” First of all, it’s not true, it’s just nothing anybody should be saying. I was just responding to specific circumstances that happened within one game. I just said what most of the people watching the game were thinking anyway. I wasn’t doing anything courageous … I think you have do the job the way you think you should do it and if there are consequences as a result you deal with it when they come up. But to their credit, nobody in the NFL has ever said a word to me about it.

The D.O.: Related to that, you mentioned during your talk about how some commentators were pretty big “homers” for their teams. Do you think those commentators have a place in broadcasting?

S.M.: Yeah, obviously if you’re doing the games for a team that’s fine. If you’re doing a game on network TV you’re supposed to be neutral, you have to be neutral. But if you’re working for a team you have to do it the way that comes naturally to you. … I think people can tell even though I was candid about the performance of the team, I wanted them to win, when they hit a home run I screamed a lot louder than when the other team hit a home run, I was much more excited. So, that’s fine, but I think you need to do it the way that comes naturally to you … I owe the audience an honest commentary about what I thought was happening, not looking at everything through rose-colored glasses.

The D.O.: What do you think is the hardest part of commentating on air?

S.M.: I think the preparation part, is the longest part, and the temptation is to mail it in, and not work as hard, because it’s work. And you could just show up with some basic knowledge of the team and scrape by, and you’d be OK, but it’s not the way you should do it. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself professionally if that’s what I did.

 

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