As he rode in an SUV out of MetLife Stadium about 35 minutes after calling one of the wildest opening-week games we’ve ever seen, a 22-16 New York Jets overtime victory over the Buffalo Bills with enough drama for multiple telenovelas, Joe Buck was exhausted and fighting a headache. His daughters were with him, as was broadcast partner Troy Aikman and longtime editorial consultant Steve Horn. Buck said he planned to be home in the morning to take his 5-year-old twins to school the next day.
“That was crazy,” Buck said as the hour approached midnight. “It was great. Just a perfect example of you just don’t know how these games are going to go, but you have to be ready to shift. I mean, we had a million things (prepared) on (Aaron) Rodgers, and you throw that away and you start doing the Zach Wilson bucket, which was pretty short, and then you just cover the game. It was a long night and muggy too, so I don’t smell really great.”
The game ended at 11:17 p.m. ET on the first overtime punt return for a touchdown since Patrick Peterson did it for the Arizona Cardinals against the St. Louis Rams on Nov. 6, 2011. Buck had a terrific call, highlighting for viewers that there were no flags on the play.
“When I’m home watching games, I just want to know that,” Buck said when asked why it was important to let viewers know there were no flags on the play. “I’m going to be wrong one of these times and there’s going to be a flag under somebody’s shoe. But I feel like it’s just a good detail to throw in because people are used to seeing a lot of flags on special teams plays. So if you throw that in there, it lets people know that if he gets into the end zone, this thing’s over.”
ESPN understandably is highlighting that this is Buck and Aikman’s 22nd season working together, which makes them the NFL’s longest-tenured network broadcast team ever. The duo passed Pat Summerall and John Madden (1981-2001) upon kickoff last night. According to ESPN PR: Buck and Aikman have called more than 300 regular-season games, 50 postseason games and six Super Bowls together.
Last year was a huge season for the duo given they were in the middle of the NFL broadcasting carousel that saw announcer movement like never before. ESPN invested significant money to bring them in from Fox — about what the NBA’s Chris Paul will make this season — to set themselves up with a Super Bowl booth when that time comes for the 2026 NFL season. Buck acknowledged to The Athletic one year ago this week that he was feeling pressure upon taking over “Monday Night Football.”
“I feel the same pressure leading into this season that I felt when Troy, Cris Collinsworth and I took over for Pat Summerall and John Madden (at Fox), when we did that back in the day (2002),” Buck said. “Then Cris moved on after three years, and it was just Troy and me. We’ve enjoyed every second of it. To be together in this business that can be high-pressure and strange at times and back-stabbing and infighting and all the stuff that goes on in a broadcast booth or in a TV production, we’ve never had any of it. Maybe that’s getting a little annoying hearing that all the time, but it is true.”
They drew a massive game last night given the major storylines of two AFC title contenders and Rodgers playing in his first regular-season game for the Jets. The anticipation felt like a “Monday Night Football” game from the Howard Cosell era.
“Here comes Aaron,” Buck said as Rodgers took his first snap with 12:30 left in the first quarter, letting the crowd noise finish the sentence for him.
But then the entire game and broadcast changed in an instant.
Rodgers went down just 90 seconds later after being sacked by Buffalo linebacker Leonard Floyd. He appeared to have his left ankle trapped under him on the tackle and limped off the field with help from trainers. There were multiple replays but no speculation from the announcers. It was the same approach the last time this crew called a Bills game — the night of Jan. 2, 2023, when Buck, Aikman and reporter Lisa Salters were the public’s conduit when Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field with cardiac arrest in the first quarter. “Now Rodgers sits down,” said Buck. “A loss of 10 on the play and hopefully, the Jets are thinking, that’s the only loss on that play.”
But what looked like a lost night for the Jets ended up hours later with Buck calling rookie Xavier Gipson winning it for the Jets.
“Four snaps in after all this build-up and Hard Knocks, you finally get here, and it’s over before it starts,” Buck said. “The air went out of the stadium, and then all of a sudden it started to build and it built on the Jets’ really good defense. So you start changing your focus. You go from Aaron Rodgersville to highlighting what’s a really good defense. You are not in a position where it’s like, ‘Well, that’s over, so let’s just pack it up. See you in Pittsburgh.’ It’s, ‘Let’s tell the stories and see where this thing goes.’”
Rodgers was ruled out early in the second quarter and might be out for some time, and that obviously has implications beyond this game. As Anthony Crupi of Sportico pointed out here, the NFL schedule-makers went heavy on the Jets for national games early in the season. Next Monday in Pittsburgh, Buck and Aikman will continue to add to their longest-tenured NFL partnership to call Browns-Steelers.
“You just can never give up on a game, and we ended up with a thrilling overtime win for the home team on a punt,” Buck said. “I mean, that’s as good as it gets. You always get reminded, and we happen to be now reminded in Week 1 of our 22nd season together that you’re doing the audience a disservice to give up on a game. I think anybody that’s bothering to listen or watch, they have an interest to see what’s going on. So you owe that to the viewer to not quit on it.”
Aaron Rodgers goes down with injury, likely taking the Jets’ dreams with him
Here are some additional media thoughts (along with those from Monday) from Week 1 of the NFL season:
2. Like all professional sports leagues, the NFL desires the under-18 demographic. Create a fan young and you get his or her money for decades. Earlier this year, the NFL and CBS Sports announced that this season’s Super Bowl will have a kids-centric presentation on Nickelodeon, marking the first time the Super Bowl has had an alternate telecast on another network.
Now comes another foray into the kids’ market. ESPN, The Walt Disney Company and the NFL announced last night that they are collaborating on “Toy Story Funday Football,” which will feature the Falcons-Jaguars game on Oct. 1, at 9:30 a.m. ET experienced in Pixar’s “Toy Story” universe. The game will broadcast on Disney+, ESPN+ and on mobile with NFL+ and will be recreated simultaneously in Andy’s room, one of the movie’s most recognizable settings. ESPN says viewers will experience all the surrounding aspects of the game — announcers, graphics, scoreboard, penalty announcements, celebrations — in a “Toy Story”-themed offering.
The broadcast will include all the famous Toy Story characters such as Woody and Buzz Lightyear. The announcers for the game will be Drew Carter (play-by-play), Booger McFarland (analyst) and 12-year-old Pepper Persley (reporter), with all three fully animated and their body movements viewed through motion-capture technology. The alternate telecast is in addition to the Falcons-Jaguars’ Week 4 matchup available on ESPN+, local broadcast stations in the markets of the participating teams, and on mobile with NFL+. Chris Fowler, Dan Orlovsky, Louis Riddick, and Laura Rutledge will be inside Wembley Stadium for the main telecast.
3. If you want a viewership story to watch, keep your eye on this year’s “Monday Night Football with Peyton and Eli” (ManningCast) viewership numbers. ESPN’s alternative broadcast has been a success for two major reasons: One, ESPN has long wanted to be in business with Peyton and Eli Manning, and now they are in a significant way. Two, the ManningCast is additive programming, and the network created demand for a show away from its main broadcast — an impressive achievement.
The question is whether we’ll continue to see an erosion of viewership. The ManningCast averaged 1.58 million viewers in its debut season. Last year it averaged 1.34 million viewers for nine regular-season broadcasts, down 15 percent. (The main “Monday Night Football” broadcast averaged 13.8 million viewers, for context, though that did not include any of the Buffalo-Cincinnati game in which Demar Hamlin was injured.) Alternate broadcasts are tough to increase after the first year, and we’ll get a real sense of the viewership trend by the middle of the season.
4. Here was the Mannings’ reaction to Rodgers getting injured.
5. The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis spent some significant time with Buck and Aikman for a feature that came out on Monday, and the one thing the piece makes clear — and it is consistent with every conversation I have had with both Buck and Aikman over the past decade — is that the two really enjoy each other’s company. This is a friendship. And that shows in the work.
6. Fred Gaudelli, the executive producer of NBC’s and Amazon Prime’s NFL coverage and a former ESPN producer called Chris Mortensen, the longtime NFL Insider who recently announced his retirement, one of the five most influential hires in ESPN’s history. Why was he compelled to say that?
“I mean, he was the first true insider that ESPN hired,” Gaudelli said. “All of a sudden, we were breaking NFL stories left and right and they were all accurate. He revamped our draft coverage. When I hired Chris for the draft, I’d been reading him in The National, which a lot of people may not even know what that is now. But it was a daily sports paper that had some tremendous writers that unfortunately didn’t last very long. He really taught me and so many other producers and so many other talent about reporting and about stating things with precision.
“The thing I really appreciated about Mort, aside from being a tremendous teammate, was he never cared about being first. He just wanted to be right. I remember there were times where we had stories and I’d say, ‘Mort, I feel comfortable here,’ and he’d say, ‘You know what? I just want to get one more independent confirmation. Gimme two hours.’ And he would come back and he would have it. He laid the groundwork for Adam Schefter and (Adrian Wojnarowski) and people like that. He really reshaped ESPN’s news and information as it related to the National Football League.”
7. My latest episode of the Sports Media Podcast features three guests together — Amazon Prime Video “Thursday Night Football” play-by-play broadcaster Al Michaels, Gaudelli, and lead producer Mark Teitelman. Amazon’s first broadcast this season features the Minnesota Vikings at the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday at 8:15 p.m. ET. In this podcast, the three discuss Teitelman taking over the lead producer role and a ton of other topics.
8. Check out this phenomenal find from NFL historian Kevin Gallagher: Jim McKay previewing the 13-game slate of ABC’s inaugural season of “Monday Night Football” from August 28, 1970.
If the Cowboys are this good, watch the ratings soar: NFL Week 1 media thoughts
(Photo of the celebration after Xavier Gipson’s touchdown: Elsa / Getty Images)