Sports broadcaster Mike Tirico of ESPN won one of his industry's most coveted jobs in 2006 when he became the newest play-by-play commentator for Monday Night Football. Only four others have ever held that title since the prime-time Monday night games began back in 1970, and Tirico admitted he was stunned to learn he was a contender. "People say it's got to be a dream job, but it's not a job you ever dream about getting," he told Mike Waters in the Syracuse Post-Standard. "The only reason I didn't say yes before they finished asking was I was in too much shock. It was the phone call you always dream of getting but never get."
Born in 1966, Tirico is of mixed Italian and African-American ancestry and was raised by a single mother in the New York City borough of Queens. He was an ardent sports fan from an early age and was loyal to the New York Jets, one of the two National Football League (NFL) franchises in the New York area. "It was a good day or a bad day depending on the Jets Sunday," Tirico recalled in an interview with the New York Post. "My grandfather was one of the security force at Shea Stadium. He worked a second job with the Jets and the Mets. That's how I fell in love with sports and sportscasting."
Tirico attended Syracuse University, a school with a renowned journalism program. Two legendary sports broadcasters—Marv Albert and Bob Costas—both attended Syracuse, and in 1987 Tirico was the recipient of the first-ever Bob Costas Scholarship, given to an outstanding broadcast journalism student. Tirico began his on-air career with the local cable company, serving as a play-by-play announcer for Syracuse basketball, football, lacrosse, and volleyball games. He was hired at the local CBS affiliate, WTVH-TV, more than a year before he actually earned his degree. "One of the proudest days of my life was graduation day," he told Leonard Shapiro in Golf. "Commencement was in the morning, we had a family brunch after that, and then I went in to do the 6 and 11 newscasts. It just seemed like the natural thing to do."
Tirico was hired by ESPN, the cable sports channel, in the summer of 1991. He began as a reporter and became the host of Monday Night Countdown, ESPN's pregame show for Monday Night Football, in 1993. Over the next eight years he took on an increasing number of additional assignments, including the anchor desk of College Football Scoreboard and hosting several ESPN Radio shows. The ABC network owned a major stake in ESPN, and in 1995 the ABC properties were acquired by the Walt Disney Company. Over the next year Tirico began appearing on ABC Sports and became the network's golf commentator in December of 1996. At the time, he was only the second African-American broadcaster to handle play-by-play details for a network golf telecast.
Over the next decade Tirico maintained a hectic work schedule with his various reporting and anchoring assignments for the cable network. In 2006 he was offered one of sports broadcasting's top jobs as part of the ESPN team for Monday Night Football, consistently one of the highest-rated television sports events since Monday night games began in 1970. He was hired as the play-by-play commentator, with Washington Post sportswriter Tony Kornheiser and former NFL quarterback Joe Theismann serving as game analysts; another retired player, Ron Jaworski, replaced Theismann at the start of the 2007 season.
Tirico was only the fourth person in the history of Monday Night Football to hold the job, following Keith Jackson, Frank Gifford, and Al Michaels. Tirico was adamant that the duties of the job required a low profile, however. "If you watched a broadcast and didn't know I was on it, that's fine," he told Arizona Daily Star journalist Mark Stewart. "I view myself like an offensive lineman or an umpire, where you know they did a good job, you just don't know who it was." In other interviews, he has hinted that the only possible goal for him as a sports broadcaster might be to become the announcer for one specific team, citing Ernie Harwell's forty-plus years as the voice of the Detroit Tigers as one example. "When you become associated with the team, you become part of a generation's memories of a team," he said in the interview with Waters in the Syracuse Post-Standard. "You talk to anyone our age in Detroit, they talk about falling asleep to Ernie Harwell."
Tirico makes his home in Ann Arbor, Michigan, less than an hour's distance from Detroit, where he and his wife, Debbie, moved in the mid-1990s to be nearer to her family. Tirico's wife was a basketball player at Syracuse University, and the pair have two children. In 2004 Tirico was interviewing late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel during the National Basketball Association finals halftime show, and Kimmel joked that if the Detroit Pistons won the championships, the city would erupt in flames. Tirico replied, "Hey, hey, hey, be careful. That's my home state," according to a Detroit News report. Calls flooded the ESPN phone lines from angry Detroiters, and Kimmel was suspended for the remark. To make amends, he broadcast his show live from Detroit when the city hosted the Super Bowl championship game in early 2006. Tirico later said that Detroiters often stopped him to say thank you, telling him, "‘thanks for sticking up for us. Thanks for representing us in Detroit,’" he told Detroit News writer Joanne C. Gerstner.
In September of 2007, Tirico became host of his own daily show on ESPN Radio, The Mike Tirico Show. His two-hour call-in show focused on the day's sporting news, while making an effort to avoid the usual bluster and braggadocio found on most sports radio shows. "I'm not going to change for the genre," he told Jerry Greene, a columnist with the Orlando Sentinel. "If they want someone to yell and scream, they'll find it and I'll be OK…. I keep getting well-written e-mails from somebody, so you don't have to have your face-painted to listen to radio."
At a Glance …
Born Michael Tirico on December 13, 1966, in Whitestone, NY; married Debbie Gibaratz; children: two. Education: Syracuse University, BA, political science and broadcast journalism, 1988.
Career: WTVH-TV, Syracuse, NY, sports director, 1987-91; ESPN, began as a reporter, 1991; has hosted NFL Prime Monday, Monday Night Countdown, GameDay, College Football Scoreboard, and various ESPN special events; SportsCenter, anchor; ABC Sports, golf commentator, beginning 1996; appeared in the film Jerry Maguire, 1996; National Basketball Association broadcasts, ABC, studio host, 2002-06; Monday Night Football, ESPN, announcer, 2006—; The Mike Tirico Show, ESPN Sports Radio, host, 2007—.
Addresses: Office—ESPN Inc., Comms. Dept., ESPN Plaza, Bristol, CT 06010-1099.
Arizona Daily Star, February 20, 1997, p. 1D.
Detroit News, June 10, 2004, p. 2F; June 19, 2005, p. 4C.
Golf, November 1997, p. 94.
New York Post, December 27, 2002, p. 68; November 25, 2005, p. 76.
Orlando Sentinel, March 2, 2008.
Syracuse Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY), September 7, 2006, p. D1.
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