Tirico Set to Join Elite group on Monday Night Football

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Mike Tirico is about to make his “Monday Night Football” debut, and the play-by-play announcer hopes he doesn’t grab fans’ attention.”If I’m doing my job, I’ll be like an offensive lineman or an official,” Tirico said. “You’ll know I’m there, but you won’t really notice me.”

Tirico will be part of a new-look broadcast as “Monday Night Football” moves from ABC — its home for 36 seasons — to ESPN, starting with Monday’s broadcast of the Oakland-Minnesota game.

Al Michaels and John Madden are out, leaving to join NBC for its Sunday night NFL games, and Tirico is in along with analysts Joe Theismann and Tony Kornheiser.

Tirico is about to join an exclusive group and acknowledges he’s not real comfortable about it. Keith Jackson was the play-by-play voice in 1970 when “Monday Night Football” started and was followed by Frank Gifford (1971-85) and Michaels (1986-2005).

“I’m only on that list because we have the same title. I hope I can earn my place with those guys down the road, because they’re among the best in the business,” Tirico said in a recent interview at a coffee house near the Michigan campus. “In your wildest dreams, you hope to do things. This is not one of those things you would even put in your wildest dreams.”

Tirico’s path to his dream job began in Queens, New York, where he was raised by his mother and grandparents, all of whom lived in the same house not far from Shea Stadium. He was baptized on the same day as the first Super Bowl, Jan. 15, 1967, when he was a month old.

“My mom’s brothers took me to a lot of Jets and Mets games,” he said. “Meals revolved around football games. If the Jets played early, we ate late. If they played late, we ate early.”

He says he grew up listening to Marv Albert, who at the time was the voice of the Knicks and the Rangers, was on the local news and worked for NBC on the weekend.

“When I was 11, I wanted to be a broadcaster for a team. I thought that would be the pinnacle,” he said.

Following in the footsteps of famed broadcasters such as Dick Clark and Ted Koppel, Tirico attended Syracuse with help from an uncle and a $2,000 Bob Costas Scholarship. He was one of the first in his family to graduate from college.

“When you’re at Syracuse, you’re surrounded by people that want to do what you do and it prepares you for the competition we have in this business,” Tirico said. “The college radio station was our fraternity.”

Tirico graduated from Syracuse in 1988 and was hired in 1991 to be a SportsCenter anchor at ESPN, where he hosted NFL and college football studio shows for the cable network for several years. He also has been a play-by-play commentator for numerous college football and basketball games, three NFL games, and has called the action from 10 British Opens.

“I’ve been listening to him for about 15 years, and he never seems to get flustered or rattled,” said Theismann, a former NFL quarterback. “He’s incredibly smooth.”

Tirico is an avid reader and research hound, who makes lists of lists, and acknowledges he’s more likely to watch C-SPAN than ESPN. He has a preparation book, which includes key concepts and words, but not a script in front of him during games.

“If you get stuck on specific words or things you wanted to say, it sounds rehearsed,” he said. “We’re judged on a 3½-hour game, but I push myself more in the preparation process.”

Tirico’s first test will come Monday night when the Vikings host the Raiders.

“I’m excited about it,” he said. “Randy Moss will be going back to Minnesota, so we have a good hook on that game.”

Kornheiser, a Washington Post columnist, hopes Tirico helps his transition to the broadcast booth. He has plenty of TV experience as co-host of “Pardon the Interruption,” but acknowledges he has done nothing like the job he’s about to start.

“My tenure on ‘Monday Night Football’ will be determined by Mike Tirico and how he treats me on the air,” Kornheiser said. “He’s my lifeline.”

Tirico’s life away from the booth is in Ann Arbor, where he lives with his wife and their two young children, a place he chose because it’s near his wife’s family and a major airport.

“The longer we’ve been in Ann Arbor the more we’ve loved it because the energy in a college town is second to none,” he said. “And unlike a lot of college towns, Ann Arbor has its own culture and is a wonderfully diverse place for kids to grow up.”

His new schedule will keep him home more than when he traveled for two college football games each week and to about 15 golf tournaments.

“I’m very fortunate because usually when you get a promotion, it takes more time away from your family life,” he said. “But this is actually going to keep me home more, and it’s happening at a wonderful time in our lives.”

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~ by Sactown Raider Boosters on August 14, 2006.

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