Super Bowl Q&A with ESPN Sunday NFL Countdown Host Chris Berman
Chris Berman has the longest running streak as host of a weekly pro football studio show as the leader of ESPN’s popular Sunday NFL Countdown. Berman has occupied the host chair since 1986 and he is in his 30th year covering the National Football League. Berman, who was recently voted the Best NFL Pregame Host in a USA Today reader survey, will be in Tampa for Super Bowl XLIII, where he will host ESPN’s four-hour Super Bowl Sunday edition of Countdown (10 a.m. – 2 p.m. ET). He will also receive The Pat Summerall Award at the annual Legends for Charity dinner (Thurs., Jan. 29). On the verge of his 27th Super Bowl, Berman reflects upon his many years of covering the biggest game of the NFL season:
What are some of your favorite Super Bowl memories?
The first Super Bowl I ever covered was the 49ers’ first in 1982. I was very close to the organization and it was fun watching it up-close because every time they went to the Super Bowl they won. Super Bowl XXIV against Denver in New Orleans sticks out. Joe Montana had come under a bit of scrutiny during the week for something and I was the only one to interview him late in the week. He went out and just destroyed the Broncos’ defense. I’ve never seen him better and that’s saying something because it’s Montana. There’s one play just before the end of the half, a touchdown on a post to Jerry Rice that pretty much put the game away. It was like the play was drawn up on a screen and Rice ran it to precision, as if they were playing against nobody. Montana gave a fist pump after the touchdown and you knew they were in the driver’s seat. They went on to repeat as Super Bowl champs and Montana became arguably the best quarterback of all time.
I also think of five years later when the 49ers were back in the Super Bowl in Miami and it was Steve Young’s time. Finally, they had beaten Dallas and there was one more game to get the monkey off his back. I went to practice on Thursday and the ball in the hour and a half never hit the ground. The 49ers were so precise and so “on” offensively. To see that translate from practice to the actual game was incredible. Steve threw for six touchdown passes, ran for 49 yards and the 49ers beat the Chargers 49-26. Practice was perfect and then the game was perfect. Those last few Super Bowls the 49ers won, their offense was just like a race car, ready to roll and blow everybody away.”
You were also close to the Buffalo teams of the 1990s, right?
Yes. What I admire about the Bills is they had the gumption to keep coming back, especially after the first one they lost in such a heart-breaking fashion, on a kick that missed, by one point to the Giants. No matter how many times they got knocked down, they just kept getting back to the Super Bowl. It was amazing.
What is one of the strangest experiences you have had covering the Super Bowl?
Perhaps the most surreal experience of covering the Super Bowl was the first Dallas-Buffalo game at the Rose Bowl. Tom Jackson and I had to leave the stadium just before halftime to get to our set location and ready for our post-game. When we left the field with a few minutes to go in the half, it was a close game. We hustled through the long portal and before we were out of the stadium, the Bills had fumbled and Dallas scored again. We got in a van that had one of those remote TVs and here’s Michael Jackson getting ready for one of the biggest halftime extravaganzas I have ever seen. We ran out and there was a football game that was close. By the time we got to the car, it was in blowout fashion and the field that had the game on it was transformed into this huge concert with Michael Jackson. It was the most surreal 15 minutes, and then it was back to football in the third quarter.
How different is covering the Super Bowl now compared to when you first started?
When the Raiders beat the Redskins in Super Bowl XVII, it was myself, a producer, a cameraman and the flight schedule from Tampa to Hartford. We put the tapes on a plane, and a couple of times a day we went to the airport. We got some stuff in the morning that might make the 6 or the 11 o’clock, but if we got afternoon stuff there was a non-stop at 8 o’clock. They would cut that and have fresh stuff for the overnight show. This was how we got it back. Then Paul Maguire joined us on the weekend and it was a couple of directors’ chairs back at the hotel, not at the stadium. We only went live day-of-game. I must have written 15 pieces for the week then. We would screech to the side of the road on the way to the airport, stand in front of a palm tree, and do a stand-up right outside the airport without seeing the airport. That’s the biggest juxtaposition from then to now.
What are some of your memorable moments from past Super Bowl games in Tampa?
You cannot mention a Super Bowl there without that pirouette that Marcus Allen made en route to him being named MVP in the game against the Redskins. Fifty years from now, they will still show that one. The next one was Whitney Houston and the Giants beating the Bills in as good a Super Bowl as you could ever get, especially in the midst of Desert Storm. The game was unbelievable and there was a big underdog with the Giants.
It’s well documented that you were fond of the “Big Sombrero” in Tampa. What do you think about Raymond James Stadium which will host Super Bowl XLIII?
I love that stadium. I’m a big fan of that stadium with the Jolly Roger there in the end zone. It’s a great football area and I’m always excited when the Super Bowl goes to Tampa.
What are some of the Super Bowl moments that most surprised you?
Certainly last year with the Patriots 18-0, that has to rank right up there. They didn’t come this far not to win, did they? But, of course the Giants had other ideas. It was an awesome game and one for the ages. Another one that stands out for me was when the Packers were defending champs in San Diego (SB XXXI) and Denver came in and beat them in John Elway’s first of two Super Bowl wins right toward the end of his career. That is one of the best Super Bowls that no one really talks about. They came out and Terrell Davis just started running. At that point, the NFC had won 13 in a row and the Packers were defending champs with a young Brett Favre, coach Mike Holmgren and Reggie White, and Denver shocked them.”
How much do you enjoy Super Bowl week?
It’s fun because you enjoy the people in and around the game. My favorite day is Media Day. If you like football, the players are in their uniforms on the field where they will play the game. To me that’s exciting. I really enjoy that day. A lot of the PR people from around the league and the people we deal with on the phone throughout the year are there, and I feel good for the coaches. I have great respect for the job of head coach in particular, assistants also. They work their life to get to that moment, and I am particularly fond of interviewing the coaches on that day a little off to the side. I’m genuinely happy for them because it’s their lifelong dream and I respect that.
Do you have any annual Super Bowl traditions, things that you do ever year?
I count on seeing certain people during the week, a lot of the people with the teams. Jerry Green, the longtime columnist of the Detroit News, and one of my Brown (University) guys, is another person I always look forward to seeing each year at the Super Bowl.
I enjoying piecing together “the Swami,” The Two Minute Drill, from all the interviews I’ve gotten on the Tuesday and make it the theme of where we are. Sometimes it’s Glenn Frey at the “Hotel California” and “sitting on the corner in Winslow, Ariz.” We’ve done the Jackie Gleason Theater in Miami and played off the Honeymooners, and another year in Miami I ran off the field at the Orange Bowl at the exact same angle Namath did with the No. 1. Back to Tampa many years ago, Paul Maguire and I went and took a tour of a cigar factory and tied it into the game. You can’t always push it but if something’s there, you go with it.
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