August 29, 2017
THE MODERATOR: Just nine days out from the kickoff of the 2017 season with the Chiefs-Patriots on NBC. We’re joined today by the on-air team of Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth and Michele Tafoya, and the executive producer of Sunday Night Football, Fred Gaudelli. We’ll start with an opening comment from each, and then we’ll take your questions.
FRED GAUDELLI: Thanks, good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining. Thursday night will mark the 200th game of the Sunday Night Football package. Obviously one of the most successful packages in television sports history. As I’m sure you’ve heard a number of times, we finished our sixth year as the No. 1 television show in prime time. We kick off with the Super Bowl champions on Thursday night, as we’ve done traditionally now through this thing, the 12th season of the package, and it ends in the best way possible with Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.
So we’re excited for another season, and I will turn it over to Al Michaels.
AL MICHAELS: It’s an exciting time of year for all of us because we get to break the seal on a new season once again. It was mentioned that this is the 200th Sunday night game. I’ve done every season with Fred Gaudelli and Drew Esocoff, and more than half now with Cris, and the other percentage with John Madden before that.
So got a great team, and we all feed off each other and we push each other and we treat every Sunday night like a mini Super Bowl. Of course the great thing about this season is that we do get to end it with the real Super Bowl, Minnesota, on the 4th of February.
And every year we say we love our schedule, and the league helps make it so for us. I look down the list here and down the line, we open the Atlanta stadium in Week 2. We have games down the line including Atlanta at New England. We have that game — I think it’s Week 7 or 8 at the end of October. I think there are a couple of storylines for that one. New England at Denver, Green Bay at Pittsburgh, Philly at Dallas, Dallas at Oakland. Who knows if that’s a Super Bowl preview or not in late December.
So the games are fantastic. We were in Canton, Ohio, opening up the preseason earlier in the month, and we were honored to have a Sunday Night Football display, which they unveiled in Canton, and it was fantastic. As people stood there and looked at some of the artifacts, there is a loop, a tape that runs, and it’s about five minutes. I sat there and watched it, as did a lot of people who were surrounding that display at that point, and I can’t believe some of the incredible things that have happened in the 11 years of this package. Some amazing moments, and some of the most iconic moments in football history.
So once again, off we go in nine days. And once again, nine years now with my partner, Cris Collinsworth. Cris?
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: Thank you. I think all of us are genuinely excited. It just dawned on me that this is my 36th year of doing something with the National Football League, and it’s a little daunting when you start thinking back at all the different things you’ve been a part of. But to do the preseason game in Minnesota the other night and to be sitting in the seats where we’re going to be at the end of this season, it’s just exciting.
I think Al and I are going to have to cut back a little bit on our trip to Manny’s so that we don’t come out of there about 350.
But it’s an exciting time. It’s amazing, after 36 years I still feel that same surge of excitement when we come to this point in the season. And for all that people want to do with the National Football League and complain about this and this controversy and whatever, it really is an interesting time in America that people sort of have a united interest. No matter where I go, I’m sure no matter where Al goes, and no matter who the great company is that you keep, it seems more often than not the first questions at the dinner table revolve around the National Football League. So we’re very excited to be a big part of that.
MICHELE TAFOYA: Thanks, Cris. Yeah, it’s been fun here in Minnesota because it’s my hometown. To be ramping up to a Super Bowl where I live is really exciting and fun, although it can be a double-edged sword because everyone thinks you can get them tickets, which is just far from the case. But other than that, like Al said, our schedule looks terrific. I think anytime we have a Super Bowl season, it feels really special, actually you go into the season knowing you’re going to cap it off with the ultimate game, and that just makes the whole thing really, really a lot more exciting.
So I’m fired up about it, too. I want Al and Cris to know that Manny’s is not the only restaurant worth visiting in Minneapolis, and I’ll educate them before February.
Q. I know you’ve debuted in several stadiums in recent years on Sunday nights. Could you talk about, even though I’m sure the focus is on the field, just how prominently you intend to showcase the stadium when you have a new stadium, and how you might do that with Mercedes-Benz on the 17th?
FRED GAUDELLI: We’ll definitely feature prominently. One of the things we try to do is create that balance. I was in Mercedes-Benz Stadium a couple weeks ago when they unveiled it for the media. It’s spectacular. There are some really iconic features like halo and the tower, and some of the cool things Mr. Blank has done with the food service.
So we will definitely be showcasing as much as possible of the stadium, and just balance it out with the game coverage. When the game is on the field and there’s action, that takes precedent. But going in and out of break, and taking some downtime to talk about it, that will certainly happen.
Q. Anything strike you as unusual or interesting there in terms of camera positions or shots you’ll be able to get? Obviously big difference from the Dome, you can see the city from there. Just wondered if any of that thing kind of struck you?
FRED GAUDELLI: The thing that strikes you more than anything else is the halo. That is really unique. Obviously the roof is unique too. Unfortunately it won’t be open for the first game. But I think as much as we can do showing off that halo, and I know it will be up in the catwalk just to look down at it a little bit and just show you what it looks like in perspective to the field, and perspective to where people also sit, to me that is one of the really cool and distinguishing features about this place.
When the roof does open, that will be a very distinguishing aspect of the stadium as well. They opened it up this past Sunday for us to get some shots for us to use in the promotion of the game, and obviously during the game on September 17th. Those are the two things that really strike me more than anything else.
Q. Al, how do you feel about the whole way the Thursday night part of the schedule worked out? Last year there was a perception you weren’t necessarily thrilled with doing both. Now this year you’re not. Mike’s doing it. Do you like how this played out and how you can just concentrate on the Sundays again?
AL MICHAELS: Oh, definitely. One of the reasons we were able to bring Mike over was the opportunity for him to do NFL games. I’m excited for him. This is going to work out great for all of us. For me, just doing the Sunday Night games, you do two preseason, there are 19 regular seasons counting the Thursday night opener and Thanksgiving night. Between three playoff games this year, that’s a pretty full-sized plate for me. So I’m happy for Mike, and it’s going to work out great for everybody.
Q. Fred, any changes to the number of cameras or kinds of cameras you guys plan to use this season? Any new production tools on the docket?
FRED GAUDELLI: Really not much of a change to the number. We have a pretty prodigious complement as we speak. But we are going to convert two of our regular Sony 4300 cameras to X-Mos, so now we’ll have a total of seven of those high-speed replay cameras, which I think are just spectacular. And in a sport like football where literally every frame can be the difference between a touchdown or not or winning or not. I think it helps in the totality of the coverage of providing the feeds.
We did experiment with a dual Sky Cam system in Minneapolis this past Sunday night where one flew at the normal height that people are used to seeing and one flew much higher, about 50 feet above, where we did some offensive line and pass patterns and things of that nature. I thought it was pretty effective. Won’t be something we use on an every-week basis, but I can see it coming back for a handful of games during the season and the postseason.
Q. Speaking of Minneapolis, any possibility of a sneak peak into some of those preparations for Super Bowl LII?
FRED GAUDELLI: It’s still early. We had a survey there yesterday. I think it was our fourth survey with the league, going over the camera positions. I think it’s one of the most spectacular stadiums from an architectural standpoint. It’s really cool with the transparent roof and the way the reflections of the city in the glass on the sides of the stadium, so we’re pretty excited about doing the game there.
Q. Al and Cris, the Carolina Panthers had one of the biggest Super Bowl hangovers ever last year. You guys saw the first game. Wondering in addition, Julius Peppers and McCaffrey and players like that, do you think the Panthers can bounce back and challenge Atlanta for a conference championship this year?
AL MICHAELS: Briefly, I’ll say yes, because two years ago they were great. I mean, almost ran the table. Again, and I don’t know, I don’t have to tell you because you’re down there in Langston, but how healthy is Cam? Is he 100%? Can Cam be Cam? McCaffrey’s going to be very exciting to watch, obviously. They’re a terrifically coached team as well. Have a great deal of respect for Ron Rivera and his staff. So, yeah. I think there is little doubt that they should be right in the mix.
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: I agree with you. I thought that was a pretty big fall. Now they’re bringing in some new offensive linemen. I really kind of can’t wait to see what this is going to look like with McCaffrey in there. What does it mean for Cam? Is it a little bit more of the quick passing game? Are we going to see the same sort of number of runs? He’s been such a force down on the goal line for a number of years. Will he continue to be that or is he going to be now coming out of the shoulder stuff, more of a guy that’s going to try to fit in the pocket where you’ve seen other quarterbacks try and evolve and become that? And we’ll have to see if this defense can be dominant again. I mean, that was a major changeover in the secondary a season ago, and bringing back in Julius Peppers, that will be kind of fun to watch this season.
But do I think they’re going to catch Atlanta? My gut is no. Atlanta, for all the talk of domination of what we saw about the New England Patriots in this off-season, it sure didn’t feel that way when it was 28-3 and we’re all sitting around going, ‘Oh, my goodness. What is this? Is Atlanta one of the truly super teams? Is this a possible dynasty watching them destroy the Patriots and Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in this way?’ So it’s hard to not think that the Atlanta Falcons are going to bounce back with what they’ve got on that team.
Of course, said the same thing about Carolina the year before.
Q. One follow-up, Cris, on Cam, given what you’ve seen of him, do you think he can make the transition and improve his mechanics and be able to make the check-down throws and extend his career? Because he can’t continue to take the punches he’s been taking.
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: Yeah, I would agree with that. It’s a big transition. Instead of running, now he has to hit that throw consistently in the flat. He has to hit that swing pass consistently to keep those drives alive. Clearly that’s what they’re trying to get done. And they have to protect him. Matt Kalil has a big job this year. They’re going to have to be better on the outside. Hopefully they’re healthy again on the outside with some of those receivers.
But it’s not an automatic, yeah, for sure, it’s going to happen. And Cam is such a force running the ball, it’s almost hard to believe that when the game is on the line, that instinct is not going to take over.
Q. Al and Cris, I believe this is the 11th Giants-Cowboys game on a Sunday Night Football package and the 18th overall for Al. What is it about this rivalry that maintains that kind of juice for a prime time audience and makes it special?
AL MICHAELS: Well, you start with the two markets. New York is the center of the universe in a lot of areas, including sports. So anytime you have a game featuring a New York team, obviously, you’ve got the great Metropolitan area, the population, all of that, you know there is a tremendous amount of interest. Dallas, of course, not that they’re America’s Team or whatever, but they were. There is a certain patina with that team. There is no doubt about it. When you look at the ratings through the years, we can’t get enough Cowboy games. You’ve seen that through the decades now.
So the Giants and the Cowboys, great rivals, same division. Terrific way to open up the season. It’s just exciting. When they get together, it sings. When people say to me on the street or airport or whatever, ‘What is the game next week,’ and I say, ‘Giants-Cowboys,’ they go, ‘Yeah.’ It’s a lot different than talking about some of the other match-ups.
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: Yeah, from my standpoint, the star power just continues to grow. Al covered the Cowboys and why they’re always of interest, and of course the Ezekiel Elliott story and saga now will continue, I’m sure, right into game day with the Cowboys, [with] some sort of appeal where he could actually play in this game? I could make the argument this may be the most important game on the schedule for either one of these teams. It’s hard to create a scenario where it doesn’t at least as a pre-season prognostication feel like the Giants and Cowboys are the two teams to beat in this division.
Then you add in Brandon Marshall and, of course, Odell Beckham and Eli Manning, and the star power is back on the defensive side. Watching Jason Pierre-Paul the other day was spectacular. We saw Janoris Jenkins in the Cowboys game last year play as well as any corner I saw during the course of the season. Olivier Vernon has added a great player on that side. And they were the No. 2 overall defense or something like that a season ago.
So, I mean, you have greatness on the field. So you have all of this stuff that Al is talking about, but it’s backed up by great players on the field.
Q. Is there more of a buzz on the sideline for Giants-Cowboys?
MICHELE TAFOYA: Oh, it’s fantastic. It’s palpable. The Dallas fans love having it. Just love it. It’s a ‘throw down the gauntlet’ kind of game. The fans are pretty much always fired up in Dallas, but there is extra juice when the Giants are there. The fans are rabid. And they get a sprinkling of Giants fans in there, too, but the home team is in rare form when their division rival comes to down. It’s a terrific scene.
Q. Cris, do you think the Giants might have a window and they’ve got to take advantage of it before it closes since they’ve got a 36-year-old quarterback?
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: Yes. I mean, just look around the league right now. There just aren’t many of those guys. Every year I kind of take a count as to how many guys playing in the quarterback position that I think will actually win the Super Bowl. Of course there is always a year, right, like the Ravens or whatever the case may be.
But for the most part it’s the same seven, eight quarterbacks that are rotating through the championship game every year, and what we’ve seen out of Eli is that now that he has the weapons — I mean, this team is absolutely loaded with weapons. This Evan Engram is going to be fantastic. Odell Beckham, for all the greatness that he is. I still think a guy like Brandon Marshall down in the red zone that could go up and make some plays down there is going to take even more pressure off of him.
I don’t have to tell you, Sterling Shepard, assuming he’s okay with the ankle and all of that, is a great player. But it’s going to come down to Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart, and it’s amazing whether or not the Giants can get back to the Super Bowl comes down to probably two of the guys that most people couldn’t name, right? But that’s actually what this team is about right now.
Q. Michele, you mentioned earlier that the Super Bowl is coming back to your hometown of Minneapolis. Can you explain how much you’re looking forward to it?
MICHELE TAFOYA: You know, I’ve lived here now for close to 25 years, and what I know about Minnesota is they love to throw a party. They love to show off the best side of the state and the cities, the Twin Cities, when there is going to be something big here. They take a real pride in it.
And that is not to suggest that any other Super Bowl city doesn’t, but I think Minnesota’s a pretty provincial place. They love boasting about what’s here and what they’ve developed that’s great. If Prince were still alive, it would stun me if he wouldn’t have been the halftime act. That’s the kind of place this is. They love to show off.
I think, too, they know how to embrace the cold, and they’ve got some really cool stuff that’s going to be set up for fans to check out in downtown Minneapolis. That’s really going to be the center of the activity leading up to the game.
You know, selfishly for me, it’s just fun to be able to think about driving everywhere and meeting the crew and doing stuff like that. It’s fun for me, too, to let people know about the Twin Cities. So often I’m on the road and people ask me where I live. They know Al lives in L.A., and they associate Cris with the Cincinnati area because of his playing career. But when I say Minneapolis, they kind of look at me like, why? You could live anywhere. Why would you live in Minneapolis? And while the winters aren’t easy, I think this is an opportunity to showcase why I do live here and why I love it so much. So it’s a source of pride for a lot of us.
Q. Al and Cris, can you guys talk about Year 2 of the Carson Wentz-Doug Pederson era here in Philadelphia?
AL MICHAELS: I’m excited to see what it brings. Obviously the team got off to a pretty good start last year and pretty much came back to real life. But we’ve got these guys twice. We talked about Giants-Cowboys. We also have Eagles-Cowboys. We’ve got a whole bunch of those games, and they’re terrific. We’ll have that again this year. Then we have Philadelphia going into Seattle as well.
So, you know, it’s year two for the coach and the quarterback, and obviously they’ve upgraded several positions along the way here. I look for a pretty good bounceback year for the Eagles.
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: Yeah, I’ve watched quite a bit of Carson Wentz. He fits the mold for me. He’s a big, strong, powerful guy, large, who understands what he’s doing. You know, I think he’s only going to develop. I know there were quite a few things that they wanted to kind of work with his footwork and his release and different things in the off-season. Frank Reich and Doug Pedersen, and so now with Alshon and Torrey Smith, and, you know, LeGarrette Blount, it may be a bigger role for Darren Sproles. I don’t know exactly how this is all going to play out. But with Lane Johnson back in there playing the tackle position from the beginning, this is an interesting team. I don’t know where they are exactly on the back end with their secondary. That was the big question in my mind coming into this season.
But I’m excited to see 2.0. So far this season Dak Prescott 2.0 has been very impressive. We’ll see if Carson Wentz can make that kind of jump, because that’s what it’s all about, right? I already talked about those eight quarterbacks; the Eagles are trying to make it to nine that can win a Super Bowl.
Q. Follow-up question, can you guys talk about doing the Eagles-Cowboys game every year? Because I know, Al, you’ve done several of those games?
AL MICHAELS: Oh, yeah, and this year it comes late in the season. I think it might be the Sunday before Thanksgiving. So by that time we’re going to know, you know, what each team is. And the race, I expect, to the NFC East should be tight all the way down to the finish.
But we talked about that Giants-Cowboys buzz, there is that same kind of buzz with Philadelphia and Dallas. That is the great thing about the NFC East. No matter what you do in terms of those match-ups, the rivalries are great, no matter which way you want to go, you throw the Redskins into the mix, you throw in the Giants, Cowboys and Eagles. So any of those combinations is going to be terrific. We look forward to a great game, as it was last year when we had Philly and Dallas going into overtime.