Sean McDonough grew up in Boston tagging along with his father to watch Patriots games in Foxborough on a regular basis. On Monday night he will fulfill a lifelong dream by calling a game featuring the team he grew up with on "Monday Night Football."
ESPN's lead play-by-play voice on the network's No. 1 vehicle, McDonough is no stranger to the NFL despite this being his first professional foray into the league. His father, the legendary Boston Globe and NBC Sports NFL Insider Will McDonough, brought Sean and his brothers along to work often during his time covering the Patriots at the old Foxboro Stadium.
The elder McDonough was a true pioneer as the first sportswriter invited on television to discuss the league's affairs during the 1980s, helping to pave the way for the countless individuals who handle those duties today. All the while his sons were along for the ride, hoping to absorb as much as they could and dreaming of someday working in the league just like their famous father.
After being given the keys to the store, Sean McDonough is seeing those dreams come true, and when he discussed Monday's Patriots-Ravens assignment he couldn't help wax nostalgic.
"It will be pretty emotional going down there," he said a few days before the Week 14 showdown. "We met to discuss the job for three hours and Jay Rothman, the producer, and I talked about every aspect of the job. When he asked me if I was interested in being the voice of "Monday Night Football" I got choked up just thinking about my dad and how proud he'd be. The NFL and AFL had been so important to him.
"He had an at times up and down relationship with the Sullivan family but he cared. When [Adam] Vinatieri kicked the game-winning field goal in the 2001 Super Bowl he stood up in the press box and clapped. He had been through all of those games and to be there when they won the Super Bowl it was meaningful to him."
Will McDonough passed away in 2003 but his legacy remains very much intact. His son relates countless stories of modern day journalists offering their thanks for the path his father paved for them. McDonough's passion for following in his dad's footsteps is also apparent, and the opportunity to call his first Patriots game is one he doesn't take lightly.
"I can't remember a time when I didn't love sports. All of the memories I have from childhood revolve around sports," McDonough said. "I got into this because it was a way to stay involved in sports my whole life. The emotional part of this Monday night, when I saw this game, particularly with Ravens being opponent, I thought of all the times with my dad driving down Route 1 with the anticipation of going in there with anticipation of what was going to happen and listening to what my father was going to say about the game.
"I'm such a fan. The fan part goes away a little bit but the same things as a kid stay with me. Sitting in Section 316 with my dad on the opposite side in the press box. I learned a lot of new words from some spirited fans around us but it was a blast. Some of my best memories of my childhood involved the NFL, and "Monday Night Football" -- getting to stay up late, our ongoing conversations about strategy, why did the announcer say that … Those things stay with me even today."
Sean isn't the only McDonough offspring to land a career in professional sports – or even the NFL. His brother, Terry, is the vice president of player personnel for the Arizona Cardinals and another brother, Ryan, is the general manager of the NBA's Phoenix Suns. Sean McDonough remembers some interesting times growing up when the phone would ring.
"We could be outside playing ball or raking leaves and the phone would ring," he recalled. "We'd drop everything and sprint into the house because you never knew who it might be. Pete Rozelle. Al Davis, Johnny Unitas. It could be anyone. My dad would tell us that someone was supposed to call, and I'd race Terry to the phone and hip check him out of the way to answer."
Those vivid memories of growing up around the NFL are now even more special with McDonough coming to the end of his first season as the voice of "Monday Night Football." Working side-by-side with the legendary Jon Gruden has been an experience all to itself, and McDonough is enjoying every minute of it.
"It takes time to develop chemistry but I think we did our best to speed up that process," McDonough said of his work with Gruden. "People ask me about him a lot because he is a rock star but he is pretty much what you'd expect. He's extremely energetic and passionate, particularly about football. I don't know many people who love football as much as he does. He's a great storyteller and I've really enjoyed it.
"Anytime you get to a point like this the people you're working with are the very best at what they do. Cameramen, producers, directors, color commentators … you're in this business to have a chance to do events like "Monday Night Football" so you're joining a great team."
After watching his dad be part of that team for decades, McDonough is thrilled to be along for the ride.