Joe Tessitore

ESPN Monday Night Football play-by-play voice Joe Tessitore, left, along with color analyst and former Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten

After a broadcast career focusing on college football and boxing, Joe Tessitore is in his first season as the lead announcer for Monday Night Football on ESPN.

That means he is in New Orleans for the Saints-Redskins game.

The Advocate’s Ted Lewis talked to Tessitore last week from his home in Darby, Connecticut.

Advocate: Obviously the storyline for Monday is Drew Brees on the cusp of making history. How are you approaching that event?

Tessitore: This is one of the great stories in NFL history – a guy who was told was told every reason why he would never be the guy. From being a great high school player in Texas who chose not to stay home. to his troubles in San Diego to his right shoulder not being able to pass a physical, to this day Drew Brees a guy that I marvel at.

The guy who is about to be the greatest ever to do this statistically is a guy who has always been unappreciated and has been constantly told it will never be you.

We are treating like this as a very special event.

Advocate: Where to you think Drew ranks among the all-time quarterbacks?

Tessitore: One of the greatest debates in the history of sports is ranking the all-time great quarterbacks. Is it physical abilities, or passing skills or how many games he’s won?

Rankings like that are subjective. But the bottom line is on Monday night we have something that’s not subjective. We have a number, and that number is that nobody has thrown for more passing yards at the highest level of this game than this person. This is the one moment when we don’t have to apply the great debate.

Advocate: Drew is breaking Peyton Manning’s record in Peyton’s hometown and playing for the team his father starred on. How much is that part of your storyline?

Tessitore: It’s definitely going to be a big part. The Manning family is the royal family of football in our country and this is their home town. Now the guy who happens to be the knight-in-shining armor in New Orleans is about to eclipse Peyton. Peyton is prepared to congratulate Drew, but we will honor both Peyton and Archie and the meaning of this record in our coverage.

Advocate: What’s your view of the Saints thus far and how does the Redskins game shape up?

Tessitore: The Saints are a championship-level offense, and they have enough pieces on defense that if they put it all together, in this modern day NFL, can compete for the Super Bowl. With Brees, those two running backs and Michael Thomas they have all the firepower to outscore anyone. The question is can they be consistent enough and have their defense grow and develop as the season moves along. They also can't afford injuries to their best defensive players."

This Redskins game is an incredible swing game in the NFC. The Redskins can be sneaky good. They have a proven veteran quarterback who will have them in every game and limit mistakes. They have an offensive line which can bulldoze you, and two young elite talents on the defensive line in Allen and Payne who are capable to being multi-year All-Pros. If the Skins win this game, which they’re more than capable of, they are not going away in the NFC playoff race."

Advocate: Moving on to MNF. What’s it like to occupy such a historic broadcast position?

Tessitore: Since I was a little kid growing up in the 70s with Frank Gifford, Howard Cosell and Don Meredith, I could have told you that was my dream job.

So this is a real blessing. When I arrive at the stadium and pass by the trucks, and the outside of the trucks has photographs of Howard Cosell, Al Michaels, John Madden and others through the years and you see your face painted on that truck, you pause and think about it. It’s a very special job.

Advocate: Your broadcasting style is different from your predecessors – and from most NFL broadcasters for that matter since you are so emotional and excited about what’s going on.

How do you feel that’s translated to MNF?

Tessitore: I will be the first to admit that my style isn’t the most-conforming to be the network’s lead NFL broadcaster.

But I only know how to be me. So I’m going to concentrate on being the best Joe Tessitore I can be, not the best Al Michaels or the best Joe Buck or the best Jim Nantz because they are so far ahead of me in terms of talent and skills and experience that it’s laughable.

Advocate: You’ve described your style as jazz riffs. Are you going for that tone in every broadcast?

Tessitore: It’s the way I watch football. I don’t flip a switch. If you watch a football game with me or you watch a fight with me, I’m going to hit you on the back. I’m going to scream. I have a passion in life to be deeply passionate about everything. I love the things I love. I love the people I love. I go full throttle every second of the day. I do nothing half-way. I go through a brick wall every single session of the day. That’s why I’m so into every broadcast. I work hard to prepare and at the football stadium, I am one with the event and one with the fans.

Advocate: What’s the biggest difference you’ve found in doing college and NFL games?

Tessitore: College games are far more difficult to prepare for. You have 100 players on the team. You have a freshmen and walk-ons, and 128 teams with constant change.

In the NFL, you whittle that two-deep down and you have players who haven’t gone anywhere for years. If you’re a Saints fan, you know who your quarterback is.

The level of national scrutiny is much higher in the NFL. In a college game, the scrutiny comes from the fans of those teams.

Also, in the NFL, the access is far greater, and the players are much more honest and open. In college everybody falls in line with the program. In the NFL, these guys are brutally honest and open.

I enjoy covering the NFL more. The event of college football though, I love.

Advocate: You, Jason and Booger (broadcast partners Jason Witten and Booger McFarland) are NFL broadcast rookies.

How much of a work in progress are you?

Tessitore: We’re four weeks into the job. We’re working extremely hard in our preparation. I would ask anybody that does anything what it was like four week into it for them.

The chemistry gets better as time goes on.

Advocate: MFN might be ESPN’s most important property. How much are they letting you do this your own way?

Tessitore: We get a lot of feedback day in and day out. Our leadership is wonderful and supportive in letting us taking things our way. You feel like they’ve got your back and that you can grow into something.

Advocate: What’s your favorite Booger story so far?

Tessitore: When we did our game at Tampa Bay, on Saturday night he had the entire production crew over for dinner. And it wasn’t just for dinner. There had to be four chefs, a waitstaff and a bartender. It was two hours of appetizers followed by a four-course meal. There were probably worst dinners being served at Buckingham Palace last week than what Booger put on. I don’t know how we managed to work after that.

Advocate: When is he going to let you ride in his chair?

Tessitore: I haven’t gotten up there yet, but hopefully I will. He’s got that thing tricked like a Ferrari.

Advocate: Finally, you’re as passionate about food as you are football. What are your dining plans for New Orleans?

Tessitore: There’s not a place I don’t like in New Orleans – Mother’s, Emeril’s and hole-in-the-wall places. I’ve had so many great dinners there from. I’ve got my spots like Seaworthy.