ESPN’s Booger McFarland is taking the NFL on-field analyst job to another level.
Roughly 10 feet off the ground.
McFarland will have the best seat at Fedex Field on Thursday when the Washington Redskins host the New York Jets in an exhibition game. He’ll be riding in an elevated chair that will be positioned over the line of scrimmage for each snap, giving him a God’s-eye view of the action. He’ll be transported up and down the sideline by a cart equipped with an outreached arm that supports a two-seat platform, one seat for McFarland and the other for a camera operator.
The network, which debuts the technology Thursday night, is working out the kinks before its “Monday Night Football” broadcasts in the regular season. It will unveil the dual cart at Jets-Redskins, and next week will test a cart that transports only McFarland.
“I’ll be able to see and hear up close the footwork, motion, things that are being said, the audibles, things you can’t see from the booth,” said McFarland, a former NFL defensive tackle who played on Super Bowl-winning teams with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts.
He’s not simply in a moving seat. He’s surrounded by a desk that features computer and video monitors, allowing him to call up statistics and replays to enhance his coverage. And it isn’t just his raised seat that separates him from traditional sideline or field reporters. He’ll have a Facetime-type connection with play-by-play man Joe Tessitore and analyst Jason Witten, so it’s in essence a three-man booth even though one is 100 yards away. Lisa Salters will continue her role as sideline reporter.
Jay Rothman, executive producer of “Monday Night Football,” came up with the idea of putting McFarland on the cart but treating him as an extension of the booth, so it’s a conversation among the three as opposed to designated times when Tessitore and Witten throw it to McFarland.
“I want them to have open mics,” Rothman said, “because I don’t want to orchestrate the opening and the closing of the mic every time Booger speaks.”
When Indianapolis hosts Baltimore in Week 2 of the preseason on Monday, McFarland will have a cart to himself, without a camera operator. That will allow him to raise and lower the arm, affording him the opportunity to get off the cart and walk around when it better suits him. That should offer him some relief.
“I do have a fear of heights,” he said. “That’s why it’s going to be a good thing that I’m watching and analyzing football. Because if I was just sitting there and had the opportunity to look down, I’d probably be freaking out. My family can tell you I’m not really a guy that likes roller coasters. I don’t like going on Ferris wheels. I’ve got a six-feet rule; I like my feet no more than five, six feet from the ground at all times.”
He wears a seat belt when riding in the cart, which the crew has nicknamed the “BoogMobile” and was built by Chapman/Leonard Studio Equipment in North Hollywood.
“The only unknown, which we’re going to find out in Washington, is Booger talking while the cart is moving,” Rothman said. “We’ve tested it in a fixed position. The cart doesn’t drive 50 mph, so it’s not that bad, but it is moving.”
Rothman sent a back-of-the-envelope sketch of the cart to Eddie Okuno, ESPN’s senior remote operations specialist, who took it to Chapman and made the rig a reality.
“We had Booger come out to Los Angeles,” Okuno said, “and when we custom-fit his cart for him we adjusted it to the height that he’d be looking at the field from, we put some headsets on him, put some music on the headsets so he’d get distracted, and just got the feel for it.
“It’s a bumpy ride. There are many sidelines, and some are bumpier than others. Obviously, with inclement weather it could be muddier, and some could be slicker than others.”
So it will probably be an adventure for McFarland. Then again, he’ll have a view of the game that perhaps no one — other than someone looking through a camera lens — has ever had. The cart has to stay behind the bench area, which is between the 35-yard lines, but can move closer to the field as it moves toward the end zones.