ESPN’s Ryan McGee is living the college football dream

ESPN’s Ryan McGee is living the college football dream

Marty Smith (left) and Ryan McGee. Photo: Wade Rackley / ESPN Images

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Ryan McGee accomplished his childhood goal. He figured out how to get paid to go to sporting events.

You probably know him from his work with ESPN, which spans nearly 30 years. Today, he’s a senior writer for, co-host of the TV show “Marty & McGee” along with Marty Smith, and a regular contributor across ESPN’s programs like SportsCenter.

  • He’s a character, and he’s hilarious on TV and often in his written stories (see the one he published yesterday on the feud between handlers of the South Carolina mascot).

Why it matters: McGee is also a south Charlotte dad. Actually, let’s capitalize that D. He’s a Dad.

  • Take this example: Even though his daughter, Tara, is a senior at Providence High, McGee still writes lunch box notes he calls #DadJokes for her. Then, he tweets a photo of the joke.
  • He mailed Tara a postcard a day while she was at Governor’s School of North Carolina, a residency program for high schoolers, over the summer.

Flashback: Twenty-eight miles east of Uptown at Wingate University, his father, Jerry McGee served as president for 23 years.

  • The elder McGee was also a college football referee from 1972 until 2009. His final game was the BCS Championships between Florida and Oklahoma. Ryan wrote about his father’s farewell for ESPN.
  • Jerry and his sons, Ryan and Sam, published a book in 2020 called “Sidelines and Bloodlines: A Father, His Sons, and Our Life in College Football.” It explores their experience as a family in college football, which included both the sidelines and the press box.
  • “I used to go to games with dad and kind of had this behind the yellow rope experience,” Ryan told me. “I had sideline passes at ACC football games when I was 12.”

Today, North Carolina is bursting with major league sports — with the NFL, NBA, MLS and NHL — but when McGee was growing up, college sports were the biggest ticket in town, and his love for college campuses, where he spent so much time as the child of an administrator and a ref, never waned.

  • After all, he’s had credentials to a game since 1983.

Zoom out: Now he’s turned that childhood into a career. He spends his autumns chasing college football on Saturdays and keeping an eye on NASCAR on Sundays for ESPN. It’s a life that offers lots of moments of levity.

Like, for instance, on the opening weekend of this year, when “Marty & McGee” kicked off the college football season in Arkansas. One of their guests was golfer John Daly, who stole the show when he read the “Hillbilly Headline”: “Not gonna lie, I’m drunk.”

  • McGee turned to Smith on their way to the airport and said, “holy time machine moment,” which what they say to each other when something happens that they think their 12-year-old selves wouldn’t believe they would be doing now. Like, for instance, interviewing John Daly on TV and seeing him read a headline about drunk people in Florida that will go viral on the internet.
  • “I literally have a moment like that every day,” McGee says.

McGee says he remembers the days when he had to travel outside of Charlotte to find fun. Now, he says, Charlotte is cool.

Here’s where he’s going:

  • Coffee: Brakeman’s Coffee in Matthews
  • Restaurant: Beef ‘N Bottle in LoSo, which is No. 22 on our best restaurants list.
  • Brewery: Devil’s Logic in Elizabeth
  • Thing to do with out-of-town guests: They’re going to a Charlotte Knights game (his family has season tickets), taking a tour of NASCAR Hall of Fame, having breakfast at Stacks in Matthews, lunch somewhere with a rooftop in Uptown and dinner at Beef ‘N Bottle.
  • Stadium in North Carolina: N.C. State’s Carter-Finley Stadium
  • Place to watch college football: Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California. “You can’t beat the Rose Bowl,” McGee said.
  • Press box: Tennessee’s (his alma mater) Neyland Stadium
  • Sneaky good press box food: Duke for their Eastern North Carolina barbecue spread. Also, Ohio State has a McDonald’s milkshake machine in the press box.
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