For the past three weeks, a new presence on a national stage has ruined what should have been a must-watch start to the NFL season. I'm talking of course about Pat McAfee's new high profile, highly expensive show on ESPN. Also, Zach Wilson has done abysmally as the quarterback of the New York Jets filling in for Aaron Rodgers.
These figures are connected only in that they together have torpedoed sports viewing pleasure for the entire week. Wilson is an atrocious Sunday morning quarterback, and McAfee an equally grating Monday morning quarterback… who we then have to listen to Tuesday through Friday, and on alternative college football broadcasts on Saturday as well.
New York Jets legend Joe Namath has already called out Zach Wilson as being unfit to start as an NFL quarterback. Now it's time for someone to call out McAfee as being unfit to headline a major cable sports show. And since whoever the Joe Namath of sports journalism is isn't stepping up to do it, it falls on my humble shoulders.
What qualifies me to judge, you ask? Nothing really, except for a sneaking suspicion that I'm not the only one out there whose morning gym routine has been decimated by McAfee's unsightly presence on the treadmill screen instead of the familiar comfort of SportsCenter.
Let's start with the wardrobe choices. Zach Wilson was famously ribbed by Aaron Rodgers on Hard Knocks for his affected headband choice that he claims he needs to wear to keep sweat out of his eyes (it looks more like a bandana party favor from a five year old's ninja-themed birthday party). McAfee, meanwhile, wears a tacky black tank top, gold watch and necklace each and every day on his program.
He comments on the ensemble frequently, just as Wilson frequently fidgets with his precious headband. Both gentlemen seem to feel the look makes them appear “edgy” in their respective arenas. Wilson is clearly trying to find something to personalize his style as a clean-cut, bland, vanilla quarterback. But the attempt falls as flat as one of his third-and-long passes.
McAfee is equally thirsty to contrast his carefree style with the suit-wearing, buttoned-up look of his ESPN peers. Instead, he just looks like a YouTube star trying unsuccessfully to bring his casual format and attire to a medium in which it doesn't play.
All the ensembles do at present is make onlookers wonder why Wilson and McAfee don't put more focus on their craft and less on their clothing and accessories.
Both Wilson and McAfee also come with disclaimers before every kickoff to their performance. Wilson's warning is visual in nature — namely, his face, in itself a reminder of the Aaron Rodgers injury that led him into this starting role.
McAfee's disclaimer is a more on-the-nose warning, that pops up at the start of every ESPN broadcast.
“The following progrum,” begins the intentionally misspelled announcement in an over-the-top cartoonishly stereotypical red-neck voice, “is a collection of stooges talking about happenings in the sports world. It is meant to be comedic informative.” Yes, because things are always funnier when someone has to explain to you ahead of time that what you're about to watch is meant to be funny.
The disclaimer continues, “The opinions expressed on this show do not necessarily reflect the beliefs of their peers, their boss, or ESPN. There may be some ‘cuss' words because that's how humans in the real world talk. If you are a young, please seek permission before watching any further. Cheers, The Pat McAfee Show.” And then, in case the legality of the disclaimer isn't clear enough, it ends with the unnecessary post script, “p.s. Don't sue us.”
If you're not cracking up yet, it doesn't get funnier from there.
Instead of sports clips from the weekend that speak for themselves and don't require commentary, you get unnuanced analysis by a former punter and his entourage of frat buddies with semi-ironic mullets, zero stage presence and morning DJ catch-phrase asides that make one long for “Crazy Ira and the Douche” to be a real radio show.
Just as Joe Namath called out not only Zach Wilson, but also the Jets' coaching staff, head coach Robert Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas for allowing Zach Wilson to take the field woefully unprepared, so too must ESPN's brass be called out for putting The Pat McAfee Show on the air in its current format.
The network is obviously trying to find a way to adapt to cord-cutting and seeing cable subscriptions take a nose dive in recent years. The Pat McAfee Show in its YouTube iteration did have a substantial following and appealed to a younger audience that must have enticed ESPN, just as the Jets' front office was intrigued enough by Zach Wilson's college tape to take a chance on making him the number two pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Burke Magnus, ESPN’s president of content, recently told the Wall Street Journal in an interview that McAfee's show “feels like nothing else that we have.” Yes, but in this case, that's not a good thing.
Joe Namath also pointed out in a series of tweets on Sunday how outside the realm of standard operating procedure Zach Wilson's actions were as an NFL quarterback. Again, he didn't mean it in a positive light.
One additional similarity both Zach Wilson and Pat McAfee share is an over-reliance on the advice of Aaron Rodgers. McAfee famously has his buddy Rodgers on his show every week for “Aaron Rodgers Tuesdays.” And it's not just for a few minutes of chit-chat. His segment is so long-winded Rodgers should really be called a co-host.
On today's program, Rodgers joined McAfee for a riveting conversation in which the effects of growth hormone on one's “dong” were discussed, what part of Sauce Gardner's genitals Mac Jones either intentionally or inadvertently brushed against during the Patriots game with the Jets, and how the noises dolphins in the ocean emit during sex may help Rodgers' torn achilles to heal faster.
Shocking, I know, that a spreader of Covid vaccine misinformation like Aaron Rodgers has unscientifically researched opinions about the post-muscular surgery healing process as well, but it seems that history is repeating itself. Rodgers should really be more concerned though about the Miami Dolphins, who are surely also emitting plenty of their own sounds of euphoric delight after putting up 70 points against the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
The problem is that whatever advice Aaron Rodgers is giving Zach Wilson from his recovery bed seems to be about as good as the medical advice he's giving McAfee. In short: it isn't working.
The Jets seem to still be running Nathaniel Hackett's game plan for Aaron Rodgers, and not gearing it at all for Zach Wilson. The slim prospect of hope for Aaron Rodgers returning this season is built upon the assumption that the Jets are getting deep into the playoffs. But if they keep their Aaron Rodgers-centric playbook unchanged from now until then, there's no way the Jets will be playing into late January.
Both outlets have an Aaron Rodgers' problem, and the Hall of Famer doesn't offer a long-term solution for either organization.
It's time for each of these premiere sports media organizations — ESPN and the New York Jets — to admit they made a mistake on their risky, costly gambles. Both companies, trying desperately to adapt to changing times, are moving in the wrong direction with the aggravating personalities Zach Wilson and Pat McAfee. And both need to find fixes fast, before this sports season is completely lost.