Because there’s no Monday Night Football in the final week of the NFL season, ESPN gets to broadcast two games in the season’s first week, an awkward doubleheader the network has never really known what to do with. The company has only one NFL broadcast crew, and has never quite figured out how to staff its second game. The only time the network has tried to create a conventional booth was the first time it broadcast a doubleheader, in 2006, when Brad Nessler, Dick Vermeil, and Ron Jaworski called a game, a trio some football heads still reminisce about. After that, ESPN generally tried to shoehorn personalities from its other NFL properties into a makeshift broadcast crew. From 2007 to 2009, Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic did color commentary, turning the game into a worse version of the duo’s radio show with a football game in the middle. From 2012 until last year, Chris Berman did play-by-play for the game, making for easily the least enjoyable broadcast of the season each year. He was often joined by Trent Dilfer. I’m shuddering.
For Monday night’s game between the Chargers and Broncos, ESPN created a conventional booth from unconventional parts. The play-by-play commentator was Beth Mowins, the first woman to call an NFL game in 30 years. Mowins has done a great job calling football for ESPN since being foisted week-after-week on the worst noon Big Ten game available. Some men, predictably, become enraged whenever she announces games, claiming she isn’t knowledgeable, or that her voice is off-putting. Those complaining about Mowins should be tied down and forced to listen to Berman’s calls of previous Monday Night Football games at high volume. Anyway, they’d better get used to it—Mowins will also be calling games for CBS this season.
The color commentator for the second game was former Bills and Jets coach Rex Ryan. Coaching had been his only job since graduating college in 1986; announcing an NFL game might not be a feat—er, accomplishment—he’s ready for yet. The personality that’s made him one of America’s most famous coaches didn’t show through. He’s normally boisterous, but Monday night he was extremely quiet, to the point where some thought his microphone settings were off. He’s known for his sense of humor, but had few jokes, except when he compared Trevor Siemian to Michael Vick. (I think that was a joke.) And for a coach of 30-plus years, he didn’t really provide much insight. The highlight of his evening was a quote after Chargers kicker Younghoe Koo had a potential game-tying field goal blocked: “Some days you’re the dog, some days you’re the fire hydrant.”
But the star of the show was sideline reporter Sergio Dipp, a Mexican journalist who has mainly been a part of ESPN’s Spanish-language broadcasts, including many NFL shows. I don’t think he’d ever been asked to participate in an English broadcast before Monday night. Here was his first—and last—report.
Dipp spoke like he was buffering. His speech was so strange and stilted that its defining characteristic is not even his accent—I expected Twitter to break out in xenophobic cacophony after his sideline hit, but more people assumed he was an overmatched high schooler than a foreigner. His report amounted to little but saying that he was excited and Broncos rookie coach Vance Joseph was excited too—in fact, Joseph was “HAVING THE TIME OF HIS LIFE.” He quickly became a sensation online, but as Dipp went viral, he disappeared from the broadcast.
ESPN put Dipp in a really bad situation. Speaking on camera is hard enough in any language, as evidenced by Rex Ryan attempting to call a game in English. Speaking on camera in a second language is like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube that defuses a bomb. ESPN has some on-air talent who are able to do it, such as play-by-play commentator Álvaro Martín, who calls NFL and NBA games in Spanish and has called college basketball in English. John Sutcliffe, who serves as the primary sideline reporter for the Spanish-language broadcast of Monday Night Football, has worked the English version as well in the past, but he was working the first game of the night in Minnesota. Dipp, suffice it to say, is not as adept as they are.
So they turned to Dipp. Why? I don’t quite know. It’s a bummer that Dipp, a trained professional, is now known as a punch line for failing to do a job he wasn’t suited for. But he handled his virality with grace and humor:
I wanted Dipp to get another chance to talk more than I wanted to watch the rest of Monday Night Football. (I was not alone.) But he never got that shot. ESPN set Dipp up for failure, then never gave him the chance to redeem himself. Dipp didn’t do a good job, but he put on a brave face and tried his best in a difficult situation, pouring more enthusiasm into his 30 seconds of glory than some NFL announcers will display in an entire season.