This 2022 Stanley Cup TV announcer's family ties to sports - and Arizona - run deep

Bill Goodykoontz
Arizona Republic

Typically the person conducting the interview asks the questions, but Sean McDonough, ESPN’s jack-of-all-trades play-by-play announcer, started things with a query of his own.

“What’s the temperature there today?” he asked in the deadpan voice he uses to call college football, some Boston Red Sox games and, for the first time, the Stanley Cup Final.

The answer was brutal: 110 degrees. Ouch.

It wasn’t just an idle question. McDonough lives part of the year in Arizona.

Just not this part.

“We get out of there in the summertime,” he said. “We’re out there from December till about May, then back to Boston for the rest of the year.”

Growing up as the son of sportswriter Will McDonough had a big impact

In truth, McDonough asking questions isn’t really a surprise. He comes by it honestly; his father was Will McDonough, the longtime Boston Globe sportswriter known for his scoops — and for being one of the first print journalists to make the transition to television.

“He was an accidental TV person,” Sean McDonough said. “He didn’t have any interest in it. He didn’t even think it was a possibility.”

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Appearances on “The NFL Today” changed that. McDonough was the oldest of five children at the time, in college with four more to follow.

“He used to say, ‘I don’t care about TV. The only reason I’m doing it is for the money. It pays a lot better than the newspaper does.’”

You will note that Sean McDonough went into TV.

A passion for sports runs in the family

ESPN's Sean McDonough.

“It was always interesting” in their home growing up, Sean McDonough said. “You never knew when the phone rang who was going to be on the other end. It was always fun to ask who’s calling, please, and have the answer be, ‘It’s Pete Rozelle, it’s Red Auerbach, it’s Johnny Unitas, it’s Al Davis.’ You never knew who was going to be on the other end of the phone line.”

Clearly this made an impact, though only Sean went into TV. His brother Ryan is the former general manager of the Phoenix Suns. His brother Terry is senior personnel executive with the Arizona Cardinals. That’s a lot of sports.

McDonough went to Syracuse University, which has become known as something of a factory for announcers, including Bob Costas, Mike Tirico and Dave Pasch. His broadcasting career included two seasons as the play-by-play voice of “Monday Night Football,” but that didn’t work out.

(Unfairly so, in my opinion. McDonough is for my money the best play-by-play announcer going. Pairing him with Jon Gruden was a no-win situation.)

To McDonough’s thinking, all’s well that ends well.

“If you had told me back then you have the choice between ‘Monday Night Football’ and the Stanley Cup Finals, I would choose this in a heartbeat,” he said.

He’s called football, basketball, baseball, hockey, even golf.

“I enjoy all these sports,” he said. “When people say what sport do you enjoy the most, I say I enjoy the variety more than anything else.”

McDonough will call the Stanley Cup Final for ESPN

Again, you can trace a lot of this back to McDonough’s upbringing, and being Will McDonough’s son.

“A lot of my approach was definitely formed by being his son,” he said. Part of it comes from watching TV with his dad, his brothers and his sisters.

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“When we would sit in the back porch and watch sporting events with him, we wouldn’t just sit there and watch the TV,” McDonough said. “He’d be talking about the game. He’d be engaging us in conversation about the games while we were watching them. ‘Why do you think they’re not bunting’ or ‘Do you think they should take the pitcher out of the game’ or ‘Do you think they should go for it on this fourth down?’ He was always critiquing everything — the playing, the coaching, the officiating, the announcing.”

McDonough listened, and learned.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman talks with ESPN's Sean McDonough.

“I’ve tried to bring that to my play-by-play,” he said. “Not just sit there and say, ‘Ball one, strike one, that’s a first down.’ But try to talk to the analyst about what I think the person at home is wondering about if they watch the game.”

McDonough’s delivery is deceptively straightforward. He’s got a dry wit that’s all the funnier because of the way he says things — he just kind of says them, meaning you either get the joke or you don’t.

'I'm not there to call attention to myself'

“People tune in to watch the game,” he said. “I’m not there to call attention to myself. And I don’t enjoy when I watch people who do what I do when they’re being particularly provocative in a manner that seems like they’re trying to call attention to themselves.

“I have friends all the time say why doesn’t more of your personality come out on TV? I say well, I think it comes out enough.”

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He still does 35 or 40 Boston Red Sox games on radio, scratching whatever itch he may have for telling longer tales.

“That’s an area where you really can put more of your personality in it,” he said.

But it’s clear in conversation that McDonough is uniquely excited about calling the Stanley Cup Final. He grew up, like any Boston kid, idolizing Bobby Orr, the Boston Bruins’ great. “Every kid on my block wanted to be Bobby Orr,” he said.

He’s called college hockey, and he called NHL games for ESPN when the network had rights to the league previously. When they required the rights, he made it known he wanted to be the lead play-by-play announcer, and it worked out.

“I love it,” he said.

Finding 'perfect' in Arizona

McDonough has had a home in the Valley for years. He had visited years ago as part of an annual golf outing with friends. He loved Arizona, he said.

“I was getting really tired of the Boston winter and was thinking about where can I go for the winter, I can do my job anywhere?” He said. “And I decided, why not Arizona?”

Much like his broadcast career, it worked out; he called the move “one of the smartest things I’ve ever decided to do in my life.”

“Friends back home ask me all the time, how do you like Arizona?” McDonough said. “I say, well, it’s good if you like perfect. If you don’t like perfect, you’re not going to like Arizona. But if you like perfect, you’re going to like Arizona.”

Reach Goodykoontz at bill.goodykoontz@arizonarepublic.com. Facebook: facebook.com/GoodyOnFilm. Twitter: @goodyk.