Syracuse native Beth Mowins will be 2nd-ever woman to call ‘Monday Night Football’

Courtesy of ESPN

Beth Mowins' career started in Syracuse with a Mr. Microphone. Years later, she'll be giving play by play to millions of viewers on Monday night.

UPDATED: Sept. 11, 2017 at 11:55 p.m.

Beth Mowins loved few things more than her Mr. Microphone.

In the early 1970s, Mowins sat in the backyard of her Syracuse home and held the toy that allowed her to become the sportscaster she always dreamed of being. She had grown up watching “NFL Today,” with former Miss America Phyllis George analyzing football alongside Brent Musburger and Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder. She liked the show, focusing particularly on what George said and how she acted.

Mr. Microphone allowed Mowins to host her own radio program and, watching football or any other sport, she called the game as if she were there. Her broadcasts imagined an audience much larger than the one she had, which was usually just her mother inside the house.

“I knew in elementary school I wanted to (broadcast),” Mowins said. “So, I did it as much as I could. I wanted to practice.”

On Monday night, Mowins will have a slightly larger audience when she co-hosts ESPN’s broadcast of “Monday Night Football.” The program usually receives several million viewers. In the second game of MNF in Week 1, the Los Angeles Chargers will host the Denver Broncos and Mowins will be the second woman ever to call play-by-play on an NFL game. The only other woman, Gayle Sierens, called a Kansas City-Seattle game on NBC in the final week of the 1987 season. It’s an encouraging step, fellow female broadcasters said, because in a league where women have become officials, assistant coaches, trainers and executives, the broadcast booth is still a relatively unexplored space.

Mowins, 50, will broadcast Chargers-Broncos with former Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan and then, on Sept. 24, she’ll broadcast the Cleveland-Indianapolis game on CBS with Jay Feely.

Courtesy of ESPN

“I’m not surprised she’s a sportscaster,” said her friend from high school, Fina Santangelo, “because she told me she would be. … It’s definitely in her blood. She loves sports, and being a female growing up in the 1980s, it was a boom for females who were starting to feel good about participating in sports.”

Mowins herself had learned from her father, a basketball coach, and her three brothers. At Cicero-North Syracuse High School, she played softball, soccer and basketball, but she loved basketball most. The point guard earned a scholarship to Lafayette College before attending the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications for graduate school. While at SU, she worked with broadcasters in school as well as professionals in the area, including Mike Tirico, Ian Eagle and Dave Ryan.

In 1991, after graduation, she got a job as news and sports director for WXHC-FM radio in Homer, New York. She bounced around and, in 1994, joined ESPN. Mowins has called every sport, from basketball to football to collegiate bowling. Her knowledge grew so much that one broadcast partner later compared her to a sports crossword puzzle answer machine.

Mowins is not worried about broadcasting with Ryan on “Monday Night,” even though it’ll be the former coach’s first game. She spent the spring preparing with Ryan and they called a Florida State football practice together in April.

Mowins has helped a former athlete transition to the broadcast booth before. In 2011, she called the FIFA Women’s World Cup with former United States women’s national team defender Cat Whitehill.

Mowins and Whitehill met each other not long before the World Cup and ended each match by piling into the van with their production team and driving on the autobahn to their next city. Though they decompressed by eating Pringles and watching “Arrested Development,” the broadcasting team spent most of the four- to five-hour drives, to Augsburg, Germany; Frankfurt, Germany; and Luxembourg, dissecting each game. Mowins helped Whitehill learn.

Here, she said, is how to interject smoothly with color during a play-by-play break. Here’s how to wear an “IFB,” broadcast shorthand for the earpiece called an “Interruptible foldback.” Here’s how to use different color notecards to separate standings from statistics. Here’s how to build a clean “board,” which is the packet of information television broadcasters use to help tell viewers interesting things about the players.

“I was extremely nervous and kind of clueless,” Whitehill said, “but I learned on the job because (Mowins) was forgiving that I stepped on her toes. I always wanted to major in journalism but couldn’t because (I played on the U.S. women’s national team). What I remember was how easy it was to work with her. We had a good back and forth on air. She was serious, but fun. She was like a professor.”

Mowins understands the significance of her debut. She knows that some kids might see her on TV the way she once saw Phyllis George. So, she just wants to get it right.

“If there are little girls or little boys out there who want to do this, chase it,” Mowins said. “Show people what you’re capable of. I don’t really like to toot my own horn so much, because we talk about sports, I don’t like talking about ourselves talking about sports, but hopefully a lot of little girls out there hear that.

“I’ve always been more about actions than words.”

But on Monday night, Mowins’ actions will be words. And that will be enough.

CORRECTION: In a previous version of this post, Beth Mowins’ former broadcast partner Cat Whitehill was misquoted. Whitehill said the reason she could not originally pursue journalism was because she played on the U.S. women’s national team, not because she played college soccer. The Daily Orange regrets this error.


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