1. Earlier this week, ESPN announced it hired Joe Buck and Troy Aikman to call Monday Night Football starting this season.
Aikman’s contract was up after this year’s Super Bowl while Buck’s still had a year remaining. Fox and ESPN worked out a deal this week that allowed Buck to leave Fox a year early to join his longtime partner.
Buck had been calling NFL games for Fox since its inception in 1994. Aikman had been with Fox since 2001. The duo began working together as Fox’s No. 1 NFL broadcast crew in ’02.
Rumors persisted for several weeks that Aikman was headed to Amazon to call Thursday Night Football, but once he ended up at ESPN, he wanted to bring his partner with him.
I spoke with Buck on Thursday about his shocking jump from Fox to ESPN.
Jimmy Traina: What a few weeks this has been.
Joe Buck: It was so out of nowhere. If you think about it, we’re not that far removed from the Super Bowl and I left the Super Bowl thinking I was gonna at worst have Troy in kind of a split setup [with Amazon] where I would get him for the late afternoon games, postseason and Super Bowl, which was great.
Then having a chance at 1 o’clock to work some other people in and see where it went from there, but once he was out altogether, that changed the equation totally.
JT: Why and how did Fox let this happen?
JB: I don’t know. They have their reasons and they have their business that they’re running, and Troy had an out and he had a chance to go out on the market and see what he [could] get. But I think all along, his No. 1 choice was to go back to Fox, and that’s what I was hoping for and that didn’t materialize.
JT: Were you hurt that Fox didn’t keep you guys?
Buck: No. Hurt isn’t the word. I’m more grateful at this point. I’m past all that. I’m more grateful that [Fox Sports CEO Eric] Shanks and I left as what we always were, which is friends first. When he told me they had worked out a deal with ESPN to make it a reality, it was a lot of thank-yous and he said, “We love you, it makes me sick to my stomach, but we understand why you wanna go.” I always heard and was told by people way smarter and way more experienced in the business that these are not friendships, and it’s always a work relationship. But at the end of the day, they were friends first because they could’ve easily stood in the way of this. And I take them at their word that they didn’t want to lose me, but they also knew that if I didn’t leave now, I was probably gonna leave in a year from now.
JT: Once Troy left, was your thinking that you were going to work with him in a year at ESPN no matter what?
JB: It leaned more that way. I think at this point, I wanted a known quantity next to me. I think this business is more intense. As I’m coming up on 30 years in it, it’s more intense now than it’s ever been. With the amount of scrutiny that’s out there, I felt like we have a good thing. I know where he’s going. He knows where I’m going. If it was at all possible, I wanted to try to continue that. I don’t care about—we’re one year shy of tying [John] Madden and [Pat] Summerall—and all that. It’s just about two guys who enjoy working with each other and feel comfortable. That’s this business.
When I started at Fox and I was working with Tim Green or, after him, Brian Baldinger or Bill Maas or anybody … you’re only as good as the guy or gal standing next to you. If it’s not working for that person, it’s not working for the broadcast. Once he was gone altogether, my next thought was once I knew they had interest in bringing me over there, trying to make that happen.
JT: And you were going to give up calling baseball for Fox after this season?
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JB: Yeah, I had been telling [president, production and operations Brad] Zager that the last couple of years. This season would’ve been my 25th World Series. At some point, it’s like, “O.K., enough.” It needs a different voice. I had whittled the game so far down. I’ve gone from doing 162 games a year to doing six in the regular season. It’s harder doing that.
The game moves on and doesn’t wait for anybody. I look back on it with 24 World Series, and I think about being a college student and watching my dad do it for two years with Tim McCarver and never when I was in Indiana did I think I would be just a few years later I’d be doing it with Tim myself at the network level at a young age. So there’s nothing I left undone there with all the great droughts that ended while I got a chance to call the Red Sox world champs or the Yankees back on top or the Cubs for the first time in 108 years or the White Sox. Do enough of them and these long droughts end, and I was proud I was there for those moments and there aren’t many of them left.
JT: Is it official that you won’t be calling baseball for ESPN?
JB: I mean, over the course of the next five years, could I find myself sitting in a baseball stadium doing a game? Maybe, but that’s not the plan.
JT: Do you feel extra pressure given the way this all went down and the focus on it and the salary involved?
JB: I think it’ll be a good pressure and a good nervous. I talked to [former Fox Sports president] David Hill about it, and David’s the man responsible for getting me to Fox and letting me do World Series and letting me do Super Bowls, all the other stuff I’ve done there. So when I talked to him, he was talking about how the last 10 years of his career have been some of the most fulfilling years of his life and that came after his time at Fox, which he’s known for that run and getting Fox up and off the ground. And he said change is gonna be good for you. It’s gonna reignite some fires and take you in directions you probably never expected to go in, whether it’s in the producing end of things or different projects [my wife] Michelle and I can be a part of. And then for the game themselves. You’re gonna be nervous before that first game and that’s good. You should never be comfortable and I’m not saying I was ever comfortable. This business isn’t like that, but it felt like, O.K., here’s another year and another year and another year. It’s like the World Series thing. O.K., so you do 24, now you do 25, now you’re doing 26 or 27. At some point you gotta change it up and so I’ll be nervous, but I think that’ll serve me well, actually.
JT: We all know the internet hasn’t always been kind to you, but the tide seems to have changed in recent years. What kind of reaction have you gotten about the move?
JB: The reaction has been way [larger] than I thought it would be. I just didn’t feel like anybody really cared about this stuff. I do feel like when you do it for 20 years and you mix in six Super Bowls and all those NFC championship games, you gain the public’s trust. If you do it the right way, I think you end up getting a sound that comes out of your voice that makes it sound like a big event, and I think that’s what ESPN is hoping for and trying to buy. As far as the reaction, it’s been really nice. It’s nothing I expected. My phone is dead by the end of every day and I never went through my battery on my phone. Texting people back, thanking them for reaching out for saying how happy they are for me and Michelle and the family. People from my past, people from my future meaning ESPN, people I don’t really know yet. It’s been nice.
Like you said, when you’re a young guy and you’re somebody’s kid, which a lot of people still can’t get over, that I’m a famous guy’s kid at 52, you get that nasty stuff, but I feel like it’s dissipated over the years and it’s been nice to see the other side of that.
JT: Did the scheduling issues—you won’t be calling the NFC title game every year or a divisional playoff game, Sunday at 4:25 gets more viewers than Monday Night Football—give you pause at any point in making the move from Fox to ESPN?
JB: No. Nobody’s going, Oh, my God, Joe and Troy were amazing. There were 50 million people watching the NFL championship game. It doesn’t work that way. I’ve done all that stuff and I think getting a chance to go to a different night at a different network, a network that employs my wife, and work on the same night as her and do that standalone game, which we got four years of a taste of that with Thursday Night Football, there’s value in that, too, and there’s value in feeling that they really want you to be there. They’ve not made that a mystery to me, beyond the contract. It’s people reaching out and saying the nicest things, and thankful we’re coming there and I like the challenge of going to Monday night. I’m 52. I grew up in the radio booth of Monday Night Football with my dad and watching Howard Cosell and the pomp and circumstance of what Monday Night Football was all about when I was a little boy and now getting a chance to do that and go in that booth and listen to that theme song and do the last game of the week is really cool to me. The cool factor of doing Monday Night Football trumps all that other stuff.
JT: Any chance we can see you and Troy bring back the vintage Monday Night Football yellow blazers?
JB: I hope. He’s already got one. He’s got one form the Hall of Fame. When I got the Rozelle Award, he was like, “You’re getting a gold jacket, buddy.” [Former president and CEO of the Pro Football Hall of Fame] David Baker texted me almost within a minute, “Just so you know, you’re not getting a gold jacket.”
JT: There needs to be one game where you guys bring back the Howard Cosell–Frank Gifford gold jackets.
JB: I’m definitely gonna bring the toupee back. I think they’ve done that over the years as kind of a throwback. I’m the right age. They got the right guy who grew up going, Oh my god, Monday Night Football is just huge and different and cool. That’s what it means to me and I’m excited to be a part of that.
2. The biggest story of Day 1 of the NCAA tournament was obviously Saint Peter’s 85–79 overtime win over Kentucky in a 15–2 seed game. Not only do the Peacocks players deserve credit for giving us a thrill, the school’s men’s basketball also deserves a shout-out for rising to the big moment.
They used the occasion to make a plea to Twitter.
The Saint Peter’s Athletics Twitter account was also on point.
3. Loyal Traina Thoughts readers and followers of mine on Twitter know that I’ve often praised CBS’s Andrew Catalon for his play-by-play work. He may have given us his finest moment last night when calling the action as an Indiana cheerleader saved the Hoosiers’ game against Saint Mary’s.
4. It was great to see Dick Vitale getting back to being Dick Vitale yesterday after recently undergoing throat surgery.
To his credit. Vitale even poked fun at himself for picking Iowa to go to the Finals.
5. It seems that Raiders quarterback Derek Carr owes Davante Adams a car.
6. This week’s SI Media Podcast features a conversation with Sports Business Journal reporter John Ourand.
Why did Fox let Joe Buck and Troy Aikman go to ESPN and Monday Night Football? Will the ManningCast be impacted at all by Buck and Aikman now calling MNF? What role did Amazon play in ESPN going after Buck and Aikman? What did ESPN have to give Fox for letting Buck out of his contract early? Will Fox go with Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen as its No. 1 team? Where will Fox go for a No. 2 team if that happens?
Other topics covered include where we stand with NFL Sunday Ticket and DirecTV’s exclusivity, Major League Baseball’s bizarre deals with AppleTV+ and Peacock to exclusively air games and much more.
You can also watch the SI Media Podcast on YouTube.
7. RANDOM VIDEO OF THE DAY: On this date in 2001, the “Employee of the Month” episode of The Sopranos aired on HBO. The episode closed with one of the most powerful scenes in the show’s run as Dr. Melfi struggled to decide whether she should tell Tony about being sexually assaulted and who her attacker was. This was maybe Lorraine Bracco’s finest moment on the show.
Be sure to catch up on past editions of Traina Thoughts and check out the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast hosted by Jimmy Traina on Apple, Spotify or Stitcher. You can also follow Jimmy on Twitter and Instagram.