Jones: Sean McDonough completes his comeback with 'MNF' gig

Sean McDonough, right, says he got “choked up” thinking of joining Jon Gruden on MNF.
Sean McDonough, right, says he got “choked up” thinking of joining Jon Gruden on MNF.
Published Oct. 10, 2016

Sean McDonough was walking in the parking lot of his gym last spring when he got the phone call.

Mike Tirico, longtime voice of ESPN's Monday Night Football, was leaving for NBC. There was an opening for lead announcer for one of the most iconic sports series in history, and McDonough was high on the list.

"I sort of did a fist pump,'' he said. "I was just excited about the possibility.''

Three days later, he was offered the job.

Thus completed one of the greatest comebacks in sports history.

"I've had a very interesting, kind of winding career path,'' McDonough, 54, said. "To get this opportunity at this stage in my life was really exciting.''

Interesting. Kind of winding. That doesn't nearly capture how McDonough got from Point A to Point MNF.

McDonough grew up a huge sports fan, the son of the late legendary Boston Globe sports writer Will McDonough, one of the earliest sports writers to work on TV. Just four years out of college, Sean became the voice of the Boston Red Sox. His meteoric rise continued when he was named CBS's lead baseball announcer in 1992.

Imagine calling the World Series on national television at the tender age of 30.

He called Francisco Cabrera's pennant-winning hit in Game 7 for the Braves in 1992 and Joe Carter's World Series-winning homer in 1993.

He worked the Olympics and the Masters, the NFL and the U.S. Open. McDonough had it all. He was on top of the sports broadcasting world.

Then it all disappeared. His contract was not renewed by CBS in 1999. It's still a mystery as to why. The guy was and is top-notch.

In the broadcasting world, once you've been knocked off the mountaintop, rarely do you get there again. It looked as if McDonough's glory days were behind him, that the rest of his career would be spent calling second-tier college games and second-tier sports. He went from calling the World Series to the College Lacrosse Championship.

Not that his work or his attitude ever suffered. He remained one of the best in the business even if his events were not exactly marquee.

"No matter what event you're doing, you owe the audience, the teams involved, your employer the best effort you can put forward,'' McDonough said.

So that's what he did. He landed at ESPN. He worked college football, college basketball, major golf. He kept plugging away, always the professional. Most broadcasters would love to be doing what he was doing, calling the events he was calling. But, truthfully, what he was doing was one rung below the big-time events, one step below what he truly wanted to do.

He bided his time, hoping he would get another chance to get back on the biggest of stages.

When Brent Musburger left ABC/ESPN's Saturday night's college football booth, McDonough was hopeful to get that second chance. He did not get it. He said he understood when the talented Chris Fowler got the gig.

Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene

Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene

Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter

We’ll send you news and analysis on the Bucs, Lightning, Rays and Florida’s college football teams every day.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

"But that doesn't mean I wasn't a little disappointed,'' McDonough said.

He thought about leaving the network, going somewhere where he could get back on top. But was assured by his ESPN bosses that he would get another chance someday, that the right opening would eventually come along.

But he couldn't see where. Fowler landed the Saturday night college job. Dan Shulman was locked in as ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball announcer. Tirico looked to be a mainstay forever at Monday Night Football.

"Of all the big chairs,'' McDonough said, "which one was likely to open?''

Again, McDonough never stopped working, never gave up, never half-efforted it.

"I've always believed God has a plan for your life,'' McDonough said. "And if you just trust in that and go with it and be grateful for the blessings you have, that you'll wind up where you are supposed to be.''

Where he is supposed to be is Monday Night Football, right alongside the bigger-than-life personality of analyst and former Bucs coach Jon Gruden.

"He is what you would think he is,'' McDonough said of Gruden. "He's interesting. He's fun. Tremendously passionate. Not just about the football part, but the TV part. He wants to be great at TV, and he does a great job educating. I've been around football my whole life, but I've learned a lot about football these past couple of months watching film with him and listening to him. It has been a blast, and our chemistry is getting better week by week.''

McDonough is thankful for this continuation of a career built on preparation, professionalism and, if I may say so, a whole lot of talent.

He is where he is supposed to be, back at the top. And he still remembers the moment he got back in the big chair at Monday Night Football, the place where icons such as Howard Cosell, Dandy Don Meredith, Frank Gifford, Al Michaels and John Madden all worked.

"I got choked up,'' McDonough said of the time he got the offer. "I grew up watching Monday Night Football with my dad. I just thought of him.''

What a comeback.