THE MODERATOR: Welcome, everybody, to the Monday Night Football conference call. My name is Derek Volner, for those who haven’t met me yet or communicated with me yet, from the ESPN PR team, and I’m joined here by Allie Stoneberg, who is my teammate on the ESPN PR team covering Monday Night Football and the NFL.
On the call today we have Stephanie Druley, ESPN’s executive vice president of event and studio production; and then we have our new Monday Night Football booth with Steve Levy, Louis Riddick and Brian Griese in the booth; and then joining us, as well, is Lisa Salters, who is now the longest tenured sideline reporter in Monday Night Football history.
We’re going to turn it over to each of them to give a little bit of an opening statement before we get to questions. We’ll start with Stephanie Druley. Stephanie, I turn it over to you.
DRULEY: Morning, everybody. Thank you for joining. I will say it’s a little discombobulating to see so many boxes and see everybody, but it’s a good change of pace.
Again, thanks for joining. Look, we are really excited to start the 50th season of Monday Night Football this Monday with Steelers-Giants and Broncos-Titans. We have a veteran team but not veteran to Monday Night Football, but a team of veteran broadcasters who have firmly established themselves in the football world and are familiar to our fans, and we have what is undoubtedly the best schedule we’ve had in a really long time, not just this opening Monday but obviously when you look to Sept. 28 and the Chiefs and the Ravens, probably on paper one of the best games of the year. We are really excited about that.
For the first time, Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit will call one of our opening games. They will call the Steelers-Giants Monday night, and the team you’re about to meet will call our Titans-Broncos game.
Look, I am very enthusiastic about this group. There are not a lot of unknowns here. We have been working since the beginning of our — since before our announcement. We have a new producer this year joining our director Jimmy Platt, who is Phil Dean. Jimmy is in his second year directing. So, we really feel like we have a new team headed in a new direction, and we are very excited to get to the season.
With that, I think I’ve set a record for using the word “excited,” so I think you know how I feel. I’ll give it back to Derek and he can kick us around.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll start with Steve Levy and going to Louis Riddick and then Brian Griese and Lisa Salters.
LEVY: Thanks, Derek, and good morning, everybody. Thank you for your interest and appreciate you all being here. I woke up this morning, as I often do these days, and I pondered when I should deactivate my Twitter account, and I thought I would wait probably until maybe Monday or Tuesday. We’ll see how that goes. But I saw on Twitter this morning that today is the 45th anniversary of “Welcome Back Kotter,” and that certainly brought me back to my childhood, and I was 10 years old at that time, and it was a family favorite for us. I wanted to be John Travolta at that point, and that was around the same time that I began really falling in love with NFL football and started the negotiation process with my parents about staying up as late as possible to watch.
Those games of course started at 9:00 eastern, so it was a year of first quarter and then the next year maybe can we make it to halftime and then it was through halftime and the great highlights and Howard Cosell and the music and so on.
It’s been quite the journey. I’m obviously ecstatic. “Dream job” feels so cliche now, but I can’t come up with anything that summarizes it better for me personally. People who know me know I have said for many years that I’m the most fortunate guy in the business, and I felt that when I was anchoring the 11:00 SportsCenter, so you can imagine how I feel now being put in the Monday Night Football play-by-play chair.
I feel like our upper management has put us all in a position to succeed. Stephanie gave you the names, and I can’t tell you — even people I haven’t worked with, I have fully vetted and hear only great things.
So, I am excited to not talk about the process anymore. Obviously, we can do that here this morning, but I am excited for kickoff. Let’s kick the thing off and let’s play football and let’s have a good time doing it. That’s where I’m headed.
RIDDICK: Good morning, everyone. I think this has been a heck of a ride. I think Steve put it very, very nicely right there as far as all of us are concerned. When you get into broadcasting, I think one of your goals is always going to be I want the biggest and the best assignments; I want the assignments that challenge you the most. You want the biggest stage, and you really want the pressure. You welcome the pressure.
Monday Night Football does all of that for all of us, whether you’re in front of the camera or behind the camera. It’s the most iconic brand, I believe, in all of football, whether that be college or pro or high school, whatever level you’re talking about, other than the Super Bowl. It’s something that I think we all have a long-varied history with.
My stories going back to childhood, as Steve referenced himself, start and end with sitting on my father’s lap, 9:00 eastern as a little kid just getting ready for school the next day and just begging him saying, hey, look, just give me a half, I’ll make it through a half, and I’d make it through two series and I’d be asleep and next thing you know I’d wake up in the morning and wonder how did I get in my bed, and it’s because he used to have to take me in there every morning.
But I wanted to hear the music. I wanted to hear Frank Gifford welcome everyone in. I wanted to see Don Meredith crack some jokes. I wanted to hear Howard Cosell’s voice, and back then what I wanted to see was I wanted to watch Tony Dorsett run because that was my guy. The Dallas Cowboys were my team. That’s what Monday Night Football means to me.
I played on it as a pro. I remember hearing the music at Three Rivers Stadium when I was with the Cleveland Browns and they played the music right before kickoff and the refs kind of blew the whistle, and the music went off in Three Rivers Stadium, and I remember looking across and seeing teammates with tears running down their face, because that’s what Monday Night Football is. That’s how big it is.
I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of this tremendous team and be set up with guys who have proven themselves as live broadcasters and proven themselves as professionals in Steve and Brian, and I think I’m ready to play some football and talk about some football, too.
This has been great. It’s been fun talking about it as far as all of our journeys are concerned, but I can’t wait until next Monday night because it’s a great match-up, the match-up that we have, Tennessee at Denver, and I can’t wait to get started.
GRIESE: I’ll echo what Steve and Louis said. I think that the feeling that I have this morning is one of being grateful and fortunate with everything that’s going on in our world today that it’s game week and that we’re going to have NFL football and that this crew is going to have an opportunity to cover it. I’m excited about the opportunities.
I think that for me, Monday Night Football is not so much a destination as it is a beginning, and I’m excited about the journey ahead. I understand that nothing has been done to solidify anything other than the fact that we have an opportunity to go out and do what we love to do.
I love covering football. I love interacting with the fan at home, creating that relationship with the fan and home and serving the fan. I can’t tell you how excited I am to work with Phil Dean and Jimmy Platt, who have been phenomenal in their careers, and I look forward to learning from them and exploring how we can do things differently.
We have a wonderful crew throughout Monday Night Football. We are just four individuals on this crew, but Monday Night Football is about so many more people and about the team of people that work on bringing this game every single week. We’ve met a few. I look forward to meeting all of them, from our camera guys to our tape guys to everybody that works in PR in Derek and Allie. There’s a lot of work that goes in, a lot of pride that goes in to putting this game on each and every week.
As I’ve told Louis and Steve, it’s about the team, and while the three, four of us are more forward facing, on air and off air, it’s important that the entire team understands everybody’s role in making this thing happen and happen in a way that’s done as well as we possibly can.
So I’m excited about that. I’ve been a part of teams my entire life, and now to be a part of the Monday Night Football team is the next great opportunity, and I can’t wait to get started.
SALTERS: Hi, and good morning, everybody. I echo what the guys have just said, and like the guys, I grew up watching Monday Night Football. What you might not know is that I am related to Tony Dorsett. He is a cousin of mine, so no one was cheering louder than we were as a family when he had that 99-yard run, and believe it or not, when I texted him when Derrick Henry matched that just a couple seasons ago, he was actually yelling at the screen then, too.
It means a lot to me to be able to be a part of the Monday Night Football family. I didn’t know that I was the longest tenured sideline reporter in the franchise’s history, so to hear it means a lot, as well. I’m continually reminded, and it’s humbling every time, how important it is for people to see someone who looks like me doing what I’m doing, and so every time a little girl comes up to me or someone’s mom or dad says, my daughter wants to do what you’re doing, it touches my heart. It makes me want to even work harder.
Again, it’s an honor, and I’m grateful for the opportunity that ESPN has given me to do this job, and looking forward to this unique 2020 season. To all my guys, Brian and Steve and Louis, I can’t wait to get after it with you guys. Can’t wait. It’s going to be fun. It always is.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you to each and every one of you for your opening thoughts here.
Steve, you’ve talked about what a dream job this is for you, and I’m sure had someone offered it to you 15 years ago you would have taken it, but do you think that this comes along at a good time for you in your career because you’re so established and presumably will feel less pressure or uncomfortableness than you would have at a younger point in your career?
LEVY: Yes, I think that’s very fair. There were conversations. I know my name has been mentioned a few times prior, and while I would have never turned it down, I probably wasn’t ready the first time around. And so I have used that experience, really getting back to calling football is only five years ago, and that was getting back into college football.
I think I needed that time, and it was college football, it was doing the preseason package with the Broncos, it was the XFL, which I absolutely adored doing the XFL. Those were all great reps. Pro football, as well, and I think that really helped me get to where I want to be in terms of play calling.
I think the timing is right. I wish I could have been at this point at the age of 35. That would have been nicer to have a longer runway, or exit strategy, if you will, but I’m thrilled at this point now, and I am ready for the job based on the circumstances and those I am surrounded by.
Griese is one of my closest friends or my favorite people in the world. Louis I’ve had the chance to work with, while not in the booth, only the one time last year on the opening Monday night. We have done many, many SportsCenter shows together. We have traveled together, many, many Super Bowl weeks together, and I had the experience of doing postgame SportsCenter from the field on Monday night, so I was able to see how Lisa and the entire operation got to work for three seasons.
I’m fortunate to be in this spot with both Phil and Jimmy. I’ve heard so many great things. But yeah, in the end the time is right, the time is now, and really ready for some Monday Night Football for sure.
Louis and Brian, what is your expectation of what you think you guys will sound like?
RIDDICK: Well, look, I think my expectation is that we will, quite honestly, just be us. We will be our normal professional selves. I think we will, without a doubt, play off of each other very well, given our experiences, given Steve’s experience as a play-by-play guy and someone who’s been on TV many years and has a vast knowledge base from which to draw. Brian and Steve have worked together, and Brian’s experience as a player and as a broadcaster is well-documented and he’s one of the very best that there is.
For myself, I think I’ll just be myself and we’ll all just play off of one another. I think we will sound like a group that has good chemistry. We’ll work to continue to always develop that chemistry even further. We’ll draw off of our vast knowledge base, and I think we’ll sound like a crew that really enjoys the game, no matter if it was being played in a parking lot or being played in a huge stadium, whether it was Pop Warner or whether it was professional football. I think you will hear us come off as a group that is just very much invested in the game and trying to, as Brian put it eloquently, serve the fan, while at the same time just kind of losing ourselves in the game and enjoying the process.
One thing that you realize I think in football, whether you’re playing it or you’re talking about it, once the game is over, just how quickly it goes by and how quickly your career goes by, how quickly seasons go by, how quickly it all goes by, and I think you’ll hear us sounding like a crew that is just really invested and in love with the game. I think that’ll come across organically and hopefully it’s something that people like to hear.
GRIESE: Yeah, I agree. I think the opportunity for us to do the second Monday night game last year was really beneficial. First time that the three of us had worked together. And I felt like pretty quickly the communication in-game was good.
Obviously having three people in a booth versus two people in a booth is different. It’s different structurally; the amount of time that you have to talk and how you organize that is something that you have to work through. I felt like the communication was great for the first time ever working together, and I think we are going to pick up there where we left off and continue to grow.
It’s going to be a work in progress, but I think as time goes on, we’ll develop our rhythm and ultimately I don’t view our role as showing up every week and trying to show people how much football we know. That’s not the point. The point is that people enjoy watching the show, that they’re engaged in the show, they’re engaged relationally. What I mean by that is they want to spend three hours with us, that we’re going to have a good fun, we’re going to have fun, that they’re going to be engaged mentally. They will learn something new watching the show, and at the very minimum they will know why the game was won or lost, whether that’s a decision by a player or a coach, et cetera, and they will be engaged emotionally because that’s always what’s the most interesting thing to me when we watch a football game. It’s the emotion of the players, of the coaches. And I think that this year in particular will be even more emotion than we’ve ever seen before.
If we do those three things, I think we’ll be fine.
Stephanie, what did you learn from your last experience with Joe, Booger and Jason in terms of what you brought from that experience into putting together this team and how you’re presenting this team to the public?
DRULEY: Well, first of all, everyone is a critic, right? I do want to say, look, Booger and Joe continue to be extremely valuable to our company. We just announced this morning that Booger is joining Chris Berman on NFL Primetime and also will have a role in Monday Night Countdown. Joe has a high-profile college football game, which we anticipate will certainly grow.
But look, I think it’s clear that we have here a team, as I said, it’s a veteran team. They’re not veteran together, but they’re veteran, right. Brian and Steve bring a chemistry that they’ve had for five years, and people can question, well, why a three-man. We heard them together last year.
I will also say that Brian and Steve have worked alongside Todd McShea for many years on college, and even though Todd was not in the booth, they integrated him in a way that was seamless, and so he felt like a third analyst. They are used to working with a third person. Add to that sort of Louis’s experience and what we’ve seen from Louis, it just made sense.
Look, we have high expectations here, and I anticipate these guys are going to gel really, really quickly.
Louis, two things for you: Besides your good work in studio, I thought your work on the Miami college Friday night game was really good last year. Had you wanted to do those games to show ESPN, look, I’m not merely a good studio analyst, I can do games? My other thing, Louis, was what do you like about the way the Dolphins have approached the rebuilding program and is there anything you don’t like which they’re doing?
RIDDICK: Yeah, I think calling live games obviously for me — well, maybe not obviously for everyone else, but for me, and I’ve tried to articulate this, I think is the ultimate challenge as a broadcaster. Although you go through a normal preparation process as far as gathering information about the teams that you are going to be talking about and covering, you just don’t know how it’s going to play out. Everything that you could possibly think that each team will try to do to each other could possibly be thrown totally out the window at the first play of the game, whether by injury or they’ve changed their scheme strategies, tactics in the middle of the game, and I think that’s the challenge that I wanted as a broadcaster individually at some point in time to be able to chronicle and talk about and analyze and explain why things change, why things happen on the football field of play.
Quite honestly, just to be there at the stadium while it’s all happening is really the closest thing to being involved down on the football field as a player or a coach, because that atmosphere is just something that you just can’t ever duplicate in your life. That to me is the pinnacle.
I think that was something that was always a goal of mine. It was something that I articulated to ESPN management that I wanted to do, and they came to me with a package of games last year to do that were absolutely fantastic. I got to see some of the best players in the country, some of the most storied programs in the country, was able to get some really good reps alongside Dave Fleming, who was spectacular, and I’m glad and I’m happy and I’m grateful for that experience.
As far as the Dolphins are concerned, look, I think that Chris Grier, the general manager down there, and Brian Flores, the head coach, are really on track. I think Brian comes from a program up in New England where they are the gold standard as far as how to build your operation from A to Z, starting with the internal mechanisms as far as coaching staff and scouting department, how you integrate all of that in order to actually get 53 players on a football field and then put them in the best possible position to succeed.
That’s what Bill Belichick is a master at. That’s what Brian Flores is trying to do down there now. And that all starts ultimately by making sure that you have the single most important position on a football team taken care of, and Miami I believe has taken care of that now. When they unveil Tua Tagovailoa, we’ll see, but I think they are on the right track because they have people in the important decision-making roles that are well-trained, well-versed, highly skilled, and they have the support of their ownership down there in Mr. Ross. So I think they are well on their way.
Now they have to put their money where their mouth is. As Mike Tomlin likes to say, now the rubber is about to meet the road. We’ll find out where they’re at as far as their program build is concerned, but I’m rooting for Brian Flores in particular. I think he is an absolute shining star in this league that people are going to find out a lot about over the coming months.
Louis, I’m wondering with the craziness of this off-season and camp, do you think the Patriots have an advantage with Bill Belichick with his experience and the structure he has in place to get a team ready in such unique conditions?
RIDDICK: Well, sure. I think any coaching staff that has the kind of familiarity with one another and the kind of time put in with one another like Bill has with his staff and has with his guys who are at the critical coordinator positions, namely in this case when you’re talking about offensively with Josh McDaniels, I think they’re always going to be a step ahead and have a competitive advantage over other teams that don’t have that kind of familiarity and don’t have that kind of time spent with one another.
Bill is going to need it. He’s going to need it because now he’s going into a season here in 2020 with a quarterback that he’s never coached before, after having had Tom Brady for what seemed like forever, two decades, and the greatest winner in the history of our game, and he’s having to start over from scratch with him.
Now, lucky for him, he has Josh McDaniels. He has a system in place that kind of almost teaches itself. They’ve gotten their program to the point where in previous years when Tom Brady was there, they didn’t really have to do very much. The players kind of took care of it for Bill. The support staff took care of it for Bill because everyone knew what was expected up there.
But now given the fact that he hasn’t been able to coach his team and be around his team all off-season, now on the fly just like everyone else in this condensed training camp and this unique environment, he’s going to have to really put his hands on that team again, which I think is right up his alley because Bill is a delegator but Bill is also a teacher and a coach that can coach any single position on his football team. If any coach went down, he could fill in any position, and you can’t say that about every coach in the NFL.
That’s why he is uniquely positioned, as are many others, but yeah, it’ll be his greatest challenge, but I would expect him to succeed because that’s what Bill does.
Jimmy Garoppolo. Louis and Brian, there’s a fair amount of talk out here about he’ll be entering his second full season in Kyle Shanahan’s fairly complex system. History shows quarterbacks have tended to take off in that year, best example being Matt Ryan was MVP in 2016. Just wondering, do you see qualities in Garoppolo that suggest he could make that leap, not necessarily becoming MVP but maybe go from good NFL quarterback to an upper echelon NFL quarterback?
GRIESE: Yeah, I’ll speak to that. I think that Jimmy Garoppolo has all the tools certainly to be an elite quarterback. I think he has a supporting cast, most importantly, in San Francisco, and he has a coaching staff and a head coach that will put him in position to succeed. I mean, this is a team that was on the doorstep of a championship and let it slip through their fingers in the Super Bowl, and I think you’re going to get a hungry team. I think you’re going to get a coaching staff that will anticipate the situations that they were in last year and be better in those situations this year.
And for Jimmy Garoppolo, I think if you asked him and if you went back and watched the film of the Super Bowl, there were two or three plays in the second half of that Super Bowl game that he should have made, reads that he should have made and throws that he could have made to seal the game and not give it back to Kansas City and not give it back to Mahomes and bring a championship to San Francisco. I don’t think there’s any question that this team is capable, and I’d expect to see a hungry Jimmy Garoppolo that learns from those situations that he experienced last year.
RIDDICK: Yeah, I think just to follow up with what Brian was just saying, I think absent a couple of those throws late in that game, Jimmy Garoppolo had they won that game was on his way to being named the Super Bowl MVP because he had really found a nice rhythm within the context of what Kyle was trying to get done. And Kyle is a master, Kyle Shanahan that is, is a master play caller who really uses a pretty simple attack strategy as far as how he likes to run his offense, but he just disguises it so well with the run game and the use of motion and misdirection that really just messes with defenders’ eyes and messes with defenders’ reads that he had really set Jimmy up very well in that football game, and they were executing it flawlessly.
I think Jimmy right now will be motivated based off of some of those failures that he had late in that game. I think Kyle will be motivated based off of some of the failures that his team had late in that game. And Brian is right; look, they are set up from the offensive line to the structure of the run game to the reinforcements they tried to bring in on the perimeter, namely Brandon Aiyuk is one of my favorite players in this past draft from Arizona State and pairing him up along with guys like George Kittle and Deebo Samuel, I think they really are set up as a football team offensively. And then defensively it really speaks for themselves. They have playmakers at all three levels.
I think this football team is set up for success big picture. Jimmy is one of my favorite people at the quarterback position in the NFL, so I think individually he’s set up, as well.
I had said earlier when they traded for him from New England, I thought from a value standpoint he would turn out to be one of the best trades that San Francisco had ever made, and had they won that Super Bowl I think that would have been validated.
I think they have so much motivation overall going forward, and I think Jimmy Garoppolo will acquit himself just fine in 2020.
For everybody on the broadcast team, how will you handle it if players protest during the National Anthem for social justice? Will you continue to cover it live and discuss it, or will you go to commercial? And then second question for Lisa, can you talk about the challenge of being a sideline reporter this year when the NFL won’t allow sideline reporters on the sideline?
DRULEY: I’ll take that. We will cover the anthem obviously week one. We’ll also cover Lift Every Voice and Sing that the NFL is doing, at least in the opener. Look, in the second game [of the season opening Doubleheader] we never know with the slide and if the kickoff is going to be on time or if we’ll have time to do that. Our policy has been to cover the anthem when it’s newsworthy, and that’s not going to change. We are going to continue, as we’ve done with the NBA as they’ve played, and the WNBA, we will cover social justice movements, actions as they happen. We’re not going to shy away from that.
But look, we’re going to keep our main rule, which is when it intersects with sports, we’re going to cover it, and look, we don’t see the social justice movement as being political. It’s social justice. We will cover as need be, and we’ll see — I can’t tell you that that means we’ll [air the National Anthem] the half of the season or we’ll do two out of ten. I don’t know. But we’ll make a judgment call every week. But I can tell you week one that first game you will see the anthem and you will see Lift Every Voice and Sing.
SALTERS: And as for me and doing the sidelines without being allowed on the sidelines, it’s a question that I’ve been getting asked for the last several weeks now. I’ve thought about it a lot. And I guess my answer is that while I’m disappointed that I’m not going to be on the sidelines to do the job the best way I think that I can do it, I think that maybe as the season progresses, maybe things might change. That’s my hope anyway, that the NFL can kind of take a look at what the NBA has done, what college is doing to see that it can be done safely.
But having said all that, that is the number one concern is the health and safety of the players, of the personnel down on the field. So I understand why I’m not going to be on the sidelines to start the season.
But as I woke up this morning, I thought to myself, as challenging as it’s going to be for me to do my job this season, I also get to do my job, and there are so many people in this country right now who don’t get to go to work and who don’t get to do what they love to do or what they need to do to put food on the table. I get to do my job, and I’m grateful that I get to do it. It’s going to be challenging to do it, but it’s going to challenge me to think outside the box, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
As you know, I’ve been doing this for this will be my ninth season, so I’ve kind of gotten in a flow, but maybe it’s time for me to switch things up a little bit. I think change is good, and just thinking outside the box, I can’t do my job lesser. I have too find a way to do my job as good if not better under new constraints, and so I’m challenged to do that, and I’m looking forward to stepping up to the challenge.
LEVY: I’ll just say from the booth perspective, from your first question, first of all, we are so lucky to have Lisa in her position, and I think you could make the argument she might be more valuable this season than in prior seasons, in a season where she can’t be on the field, because of her news background and because this is a season where there is the potential for a lot of serious news, not just touchdowns and extra points. We are lucky to have Lisa in that spot, wherever she winds up standing in the first row, wherever in the stadium or outside the stadium that might be.
And in terms of the booth, we will be as prepared for everything as humanly possible. We have had plenty of internal discussions as to what might take place on the field, and that’s where our focus will be, but undoubtedly something will come up that we will not be prepared for, that we will not expect, that no one could have expected, and then we will handle that to the best of our absolute ability. But we will be as prepared as possible for anything that comes our way on that field on each and every Monday night.
Louis, I saw your tweet yesterday about Von Miller, Steve, Brian and Lisa. I know you guys have all worked with him extensively. Would you share your reaction to the reports that he could be out for the year, and then just what impact that could have this Monday night and moving forward for the Broncos.
GRIESE: Yeah, I can kick us off with respect to Von. Steve and I have been doing the Broncos’ preseason games for the last two years, and living here in Denver I’ve gotten to know Von. I know that nothing is confirmed, but it certainly doesn’t look good. I feel bad for him.
I think just getting ready to call the game, and I was putting together some of our story lines and what we were going to say and talk about with respect to Von, and I think it’s been a very different off-season for Von, and not just because of COVID. And understanding how Kobe Bryant, the death of Kobe Bryant affected him, how watching “The Last Dance” affected him and watching how Michael Jordan led his team affected Von. Obviously Von contracting COVID in April and having to go through that gave him a different perspective, and I think we were seeing a different leader in Von Miller this off-season.
Just watching practice, you could tell, traditionally in the past Von has been more passive. He was be more directive, and I think he understood from watching the Michael Jordans and the Kobe Bryants and the Mamba mentality what it took to be a leader, and you didn’t always have to be that jovial “Vonster,” if you will, who he’s been in the past.
So he was taking a different leadership role. We can talk at length about on the field, the impact that this loss will have for the Broncos, but I think and I believe the biggest impact will be losing him in that leadership role, and if he is out for the season, I’ll be interested to see how he continues to lead and be tied directly to the team.
RIDDICK: Yeah, I think for me, look, Von is an artist. He’s an artist as a football player in terms of his ability to affect games on the football field. Let’s just start there. The great Steve Young likes to talk about the difference between science and art in playing the game of football. The science is kind of like what the coaches tell you to do, what your assignments are and how you’re supposed to carry them out, where you’re supposed to be, really just what is in the playbook. The art comes in the things that the coaches can’t teach you, the things that are instinctive and the things that happen that we all just sit back and go, wow, how did he do that, and really it’s what makes the great players great. It’s what makes the Hall-of-Famers Hall-of-Famers.
That’s what really, I think, people are going to miss and what I’m going to miss about Von Miller if he is out for the season. Obviously him being out for this game, that’s what I’m going to miss.
What that means and how that has an effect on players who are around him, namely the young players, and not just the players who are on his football team but players around the league. You saw the outpouring of concern and love for him on social media yesterday, and that’s because Von is one of those people that everyone understands and recognizes. He’s an artist. He’s an artist as a pass rusher. If you watch him play, it is beautiful to watch.
And the cool thing about Von is when we were out there last year for training camp before getting ready to do the Oakland-Denver game last year, he’s one of those guys who wants to share his knowledge with other people and not just keep it all to himself, which I think is what makes him so respected and makes this loss so devastating, not just because of what it does to this football team but because we’re being cheated out of watching a player who’s going to go down as one of the best pass rushers to ever play this game from a technical and from a production standpoint, and other players to not be able to see him out there and draw off of what he does and study what he does — he gets together with all these other pass rushers for the pass rush summit every year where he’s giving away his tips. He’s giving it away. He’s helping other players to try and maximize their potential.
That’s what makes him unique. That’s what the game loses with him not being around and being able to actually demonstrate why he is who he is. That’s tough to swallow. That’s something that is very, very unfortunate.
LEVY: I would just say how many outside linebackers are the face of their franchise, really, and has been for a long time. You think Broncos, Von Miller is the first name you think of. I had heard this was an entirely different camp for him. I don’t think he had a particularly great season last year. I think last year we were talking about him having a bounceback season. That didn’t happen. I think you heard a lot of that noise. I think Vic Fangio challenged him, and so it was my understanding he came into camp in unbelievable shape. Certainly the leader and the man that he is we’ll miss, as Louis and Brian mentioned.
And on the field, Bradley Chubb is going to his him, too. I don’t know how healthy Bradley will be for that opener, but when you had to account for Von Miller on the other side, that obviously created some advantage for Bradley Chubb. Now, Chubb probably becomes that guy, and maybe Malik Reed can take advantage of that.
The Broncos will be challenged for sure and especially on opening night as we saw that Titans’ offense, what they did in the playoffs a season ago. Denver is up against it without Von Miller, I think, this season, if, in fact, that’s the medical case.
Brian, when did you think or know that you were ready for this challenge and how intimidating is it? Also, what is your take on the Big Ten’s decision to postpone?
GRIESE: I don’t know if you can see behind me, I have know on the trees, on the ground and I’m sending it your way to Detroit very soon. I know you’re looking forward to that.
Hopefully the snow will be melted by Monday night here, otherwise Louis will be shivering in the booth and that would not be a good way for him to start.
To answer your first question, I haven’t really thought of it that way. I’ve just in my career broadcasting continued to try to put one foot in front of the next, and to be better each and every year and make people around me better has been a goal of mine. When I talked earlier about the crew and the team, I really view success in this business not as to where I go but where the team goes and how good of a job we can do in putting the best possible product on the air for the fan at home.
And so I’ve never been driven by individual goals. I think that this opportunity is no different. I think it’s going to be, for all of us on this crew, it’ll be important that we maintain the ego, right, and check the ego at the door when you walk in the booth. It’s really good how well we harmonize together, and that’s not just in the booth and Lisa down on the field, but it’s in the truck and it’s in the replay scenarios. It’s everybody, the camera guys.
To me that’s how I look at it. That’s how I’ve always looked at it from when I was a player. I don’t think that this opportunity will be any different.
And then with respect to the Big Ten, I just feel for the players. I think it’s unfortunate. Certainly the Big Ten made a decision early on. They made a decision without consultation with other conferences, which I think was a mistake. I know they wanted to be ahead of it, but at the same time, in a rush to be one of the first and be a leader, I think they made a mistake in not waiting to get more information and more data back.
And the ones that are suffering are the kids. I think as you know my story, I think back to if I didn’t have a chance to play my senior year at Michigan, I never would have gotten drafted. I never would have come to Denver. I wouldn’t have met my wife. I wouldn’t have my kids. I wouldn’t be on this call today. I wouldn’t be doing Monday Night Football. It’s that game of sliding doors that is real for seniors that are playing in college right now that are not potentially going to have an opportunity to fulfill that dream, and that’s what bothers me the most.
Louis, to follow up on Von Miller, if you’re in this locker room today in Denver, what do you want to hear from coach Vic Fangio to say, hey, that’s our highest profile guy who’s out but you’ve got to move forward to Monday night?
RIDDICK: Yeah, I think every coach will try to soothe his team’s fears and insecurities about losing such a high-profile player by saying, look, this is why we have depth on the football team, this is why the coach along with the general manager, John Elway in this particular case, build a football team, and that’s why we are always trying to improve the depth on this team.
A guy like Malik Reed has to step up, a guy like Bradley Chubb needs to be doing everything he possibly can do to get his knee feeling good so where he’s ready to go and he’s ready to regain his form from two years ago. That’s what players expect to hear. That’s what the player who is going to ultimately be tasked with filling in for Von Miller has to expect to have — as far as expectations from others, that he’s going to just move in and do his job.
Obviously, look, Von Miller is a Hall-of-Famer, so no one is going to be able to be convinced that, well, whoever fills in for Von we’ll just pick up right where we left off. Players aren’t oblivious to that. They don’t want Vic to lie to them, but what he will do is say, hey, look, we’re going to all have to do our job, we’re going to all have to raise our level, we’re going to have to play complementary football, and we’re going to have to make sure we shut down the run; secondary is going to have to increase their level of performance; we’re going to have to make sure that on the offensive side of the football we control the football, we score points; special teams win the field position battle. Because that’s what it is; it’s a team game. Brian just referenced it about the booth being a team; that’s what football is. It’s the ultimate team game.
Obviously it hurts to lose a Hall-of-Fame pass rusher, but we’ve seen other teams overcome devastating injuries to people who play critical positions, and now it’s Denver’s turn. Now it is Vic Fangio’s turn. They will have the bright lights of Monday Night Football to put that on display, and I expect they’ll respond favorably because that’s what professionals are paid to do.
For Stephanie, most or potentially all of these games will be broadcast from stadiums that will have no fans in them. Obviously, we would love for fans to be there and have that atmosphere, but what, if any, opportunities does that offer you to potentially broadcast these games with cameras or audio in a way that you wouldn’t have been able to? Secondly, you talked about the chemistry of not only the booth but the front bench producer, you mentioned first year, even Jimmy at the director position is entering just his second season. What, if anything, unique have you done in this odd off-season to maybe get those reps that you lost with this odd off-season and no preseason?
DRULEY: Look, these guys, we did a little bit of rehearsal last week, that’s really the extent of what we’ve done from a tangible standpoint in terms of physically doing something. As I said, these guys have worked together. There are going to be adjustments to make. We’ve moved people out for spacing. These three guys will be together, but their booth will not be crowded. Steve is going to have a virtual spotter, which means he’s looking at a screen and somebody is pointing to the sheet. There are things that you can’t replicate in a conference room or in an audio booth, so those things are going to — we’re going to have to feel that out as we go, but we’re prepared for it.
I’m really proud of what our team has done to prepare for the curve balls that distancing has thrown at us. We normally have about 225 people on-site. This year we’ll have about 130. But that doesn’t mean we’ve scaled back our ambition in any way. We have moved some key positions to Bristol, which really — look, it’s different for us, but it’s something we do on other sports all the time, so health and safety being at the very top.
Jimmy and Phil, look, Phil comes to us from producing our highest level college football games. He has produced one of the semifinal games every year. He was with the McDonough-Blackledge crew, which is one of our key teams on the college football side, and he’s done NBA, as well, for a long time. So he’s used to big stages.
I think it’s really interesting to get a fresh set of eyes, as we did with Jimmy last year. And look, those two guys, they are — I think when I talk about the front bench, like it might be the — it’s super talented. They’re also like the two nicest people in the world and will build this team camaraderie very quickly. I know they’ve already started to do that.
So I think it’s — look, it’s going to take real reps, though. That’s what it takes. It’s just the reality. It’s like playing the game; until you hit the field, you don’t know. But everybody has been set up to succeed in really challenging circumstances.
You know, in terms of the broadcast and the fans, we are working with the NFL, I think as everybody is, on potential virtual fan element, as you saw at the draft, something similar. I do think it’s also one of the reasons that I am — it also provides us the opportunity, because I think without those big fan moments, there’s going to be a need for the booth to expand upon what they’re seeing and to have the ability to tell stories and to go a little further in analysis. So I think that actually provides a really unique opportunity for these guys to gel really quickly. And it’s, again, another reason why I think we were really comfortable leading into three people up there.
Look, we’re going to learn as we go, but I know we’re really, really well positioned right now going into Monday.
LEVY: All I would say is really what Stephanie said at the end. If you’re ever going to go with three voices in the booth, this would be the time, I think. We’re so — as play-by-play people, we do love the layout, but there’s not — while there will be enhanced audio and there will be some in the stadium and even more on television, you’re not going to have the 70,000 screaming fans in Denver when Ryan Tannehill goes to the line of scrimmage on 3rd down. The stadium is just not going to shake.
I think there is more time there for both Brian and Louis to discuss whatever point we’re talking about, and when we do lay out, while you won’t hear that massive crowd, maybe one of the upsides is the unique audio you will hear from the field. I think you will hear more of the quarterback barking signals, for example, more communication on the field, and hopefully most of it will — well, some of it will be clean anyway. We’ll see what we can keep off the airwaves for those young impressionable ears that so many of you have.
Look, definitely this is the year, though, three voices in the booth will not be a problem, and it’s been touched on a bit. You really need to be ego free, right, because we have these voices with so many important and knowledgeable things to say, and Griese and Louis have both shown that and made that successful throughout their careers and will continue to do so.
Brian, from a QB perspective, what will you be looking for out of Ben to determine where he is in his recovery?
GRIESE: Yeah, you know, as a former quarterback and having issues with your throwing arm, I’ve had that in the past, and the thing that you look for right off the bat is the velocity. It seems, the reports from camp have been that his velocity has been good. And so for me, we learn how valuable Ben Roethlisberger is to the Pittsburgh Steelers last year. They went from being one of the best offenses in 2018 to being one of the worst in 2019. And all due respect to Mason Rudolph, it just was not the same, or to Devlin Hodges even.
Certainly this offense and the team goes through Ben Roethlisberger, and there will be pressure on him. I know he’s got some other toys to play with, Eric Ebron and others, but I think you’ve got to take it slow early in the season, make sure that after you go out and throw 40 balls in a game, which is the thing that none of these players have done is to play an entire game, but as Ben goes out there and throws 40 balls, how does he feel the next day, how does he feel the next week, how does he feel a month into the season. And I think he’s been around long enough to understand that this is not a race, it’s a marathon.
As long as he maintains that velocity, I think we should expect the same Ben we’ve seen.
Louis, from a safety’s perspective, what will you be looking for to see out of Ben to sort of see where he is?
RIDDICK: Yeah, I think from a defensive perspective, it’s kind of the same things you’ll be — you would want to see from him to kind of determine whether or not he is all the way back to what he was previously. And that being one, in those tight window throws when I’ve got good coverage is he he still one of those guys who will try and fit that ball in there because he has confidence in his ability to put enough RPMs on that football to put it in there. And then from a safety in particular, will he make me back up; will he be able to put the ball over my head, because if he can’t do it or he’s not willing to do it or he’s not willing to do it over the entire course of a game or in successive games, as Brian alluded to, meaning how does he feel as his arm starts getting fatigued, both within game and then from week to week; if he’s not able to do that, then as a safety and as a defender we’re just going to continue to squeeze down on that offense. We’re just going to continue to take the air out of the offense and come closer and closer and closer to him, and then when that happens you understand what that does to offenses. It just puts them in a box and they can’t do anything.
So I think as long as he gains the respect of the defenders and says, hey, look, one, I can make the tight window throws, I’ve got the RPMs left in two, hey, safeties, if you start cheating on me I’ll go up over the top to Juju or Diontae Johnson so you’d better back up.
As long as he can do those two things, then defenders will be like, okay, it’s the same ol’ Big Ben. If he can’t, then obviously it portends to the Pittsburgh offense having a whole bunch of other problems. We’ll just have to wait to see once he gets on the field. I expect him to be the old Big Ben because that’s what Mike and everyone else out there has said that he is. I’m hoping that that’s the case because that’s just great for all of us as fans.
Louis, people are all over the map about Josh Allen, some people have predicted he’ll be the MVP of the league, others think he’s going to be holding back the Bills. How do you feel about him? Also, every year you’re being thought to be up for a job in the front office. Do you have an out in your contract that will allow you to leave if actually you get to be a general manager of an NFL team?
RIDDICK: Yeah, I think as far as Josh Allen is concerned, look, I think one of the things that everyone wants to see with Josh is that he is just consistently accurate, putting the football where it needs to be put. Decision making and accuracy, right, Brian would attest to that. That’s really what it comes down to playing quarterback; can you make fast decisions and then can you put the ball where it needs to be put so people can catch it and run, and they’ve done everything Brandon Beane, the GM up there, and Sean McDermott, the head coach, they’ve done everything they can to really surround him with the kind of weapons on the perimeter, in the backfield to help him do that. Now it’s just going to be up to Josh to go ahead and take that next step and not just be the cannon arm that occasionally makes the 15-, 20-yard throw that everybody sits there and throws their hands up in the air and goes, oh, my God look at that arm strength, but the guy who can make the touch throws and who can finesse his way to moving his football team down the field without doing it brute strength all the time. So we’ll see how that all goes.
As far as me being rumored for GM jobs and the like, look, I am a broadcaster. I am on Monday Night Football. Obviously everyone knows what my personnel background has been. Yeah, I’ve been interviewed for a few GM jobs, but I am thrilled to death with this opportunity with this crew and being a part of this team. This has been a big goal for all of us collectively, and my focus is squarely on Monday night September 14th and talking about the Titans and the Broncos and every other game subsequent to that throughout this year because as Stephanie Druley alluded to and Steve Levy alluded to and all of us have talked about in the past, this is a tremendous schedule, tremendous opportunity, and that’s all that I care about right now.
I understand that, but I was asking if you have an out in your contract.
RIDDICK: I’m not going to talk about my contract here. I’m an ESPN employee. I’m a broadcaster. That’s what I am. That’s what I plan on being.
LEVY: I will say it, I have an out in my contract to become a general manager if anyone wants to offer me.
THE MODERATOR: That’s going to wrap up the call. Thank you to Stephanie Druley for joining, thank you to Steve, Brian, Louis and Lisa, as well. Of course the next time you’ll see them all together will be Monday night, 10:00 in Denver.