CFP Semifinal crew finds comfort in food and football

(L-R) Joe Tessitore, Holly Rowe and Todd Blackledge at the 2016 College Football Seminar. (Joe Faraoni/ESPN Images)
(L-R) Joe Tessitore, Holly Rowe and Todd Blackledge at ESPN’s 2016 College Football Seminar.
(Joe Faraoni/ESPN Images)
Joe Tessitore will call his first College Football Semifinal tomorrow in Atlanta. (Keri Potts/ESPN)
Joe Tessitore will call his first College Football Playoff Semifinal tomorrow in Atlanta. (Keri Potts/ESPN)

Food has often been described as the way to someone’s heart. For Joe Tessitore, the newest member of the ESPN Saturday Primetime crew, food’s a familiar language and a favorite pastime. And for SI.com’s “2016 Broadcasting Team of the Year” of Todd Blackledge, Holly Rowe and Tessitore, food is the recipe for their chemistry.

So, it’s more than a little convenient they’re assigned to call a College Football Playoff Semifinal (Saturday, Dec. 31 at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN) named “Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl,” in Atlanta – a city known for its superb restaurant offerings.

Fresh off a crew outing to Bones, an iconic Atlanta steakhouse, Blackledge reflected on the moment he knew he’d gel with his new boothmate, after having worked alongside his friend Brad Nessler for years.

There are only X amount of days in an entire year’s calendar where it is absolute required television in order to consider yourself a sports fan and part of mainstream American culture. . . and the College Football Playoff Semifinals is one of them.”
ESPN’s Joe Tessitore

“Our chemistry started two nights before the Notre Dame/Texas game (appropriately enough, a “Tess Effect” contest) when we went to eat together and I realized that this guy likes food as much as I do,” he said. “We immediately bonded and then it just carried over into the booth.”

Blackledge is an authority on food having penned a book on the topic. And Rowe explained, “If you want to get in with Todd, you have to eat, and you have to hold your own.”

Tessitore did just that amid Blackledge’s famed three-stop meal outings all season. Whether he was haggling with a waiter for two massive plates of green beans or taking on a jalapeno pepper that made him sweat profusely and ask for milk, Rowe says he fit right in.

Tessitore agreed. “Todd is a foodie and that’s a good partner for me with my family in the restaurant business (Ludal’s in North Haven, Conn.).”

The only thing the trio takes more seriously than their meals is their preparation for games, especially this one.

Tessitore said, “There are only X amount of days in an entire year’s calendar where it is absolute required television in order to consider yourself a sports fan and part of mainstream American culture. . . and the College Football Playoff Semifinals is one of them.”

Given the high stakes, it’s only logical the crew gathered one last time at top-notch Bones.

“Mr. Blackledge said it’s an absolute must we start our week there. There was a lot of carnivore celebration,” Tessitore said, adding, “But I took a hard left turn and went with the lamb, so, maybe I’m the outlier in the way I see the game.”