Wednesday, September 4, 2019
MODERATOR: Thank you, everybody, for joining us today for the “Football Night in America” conference call to kick off football’s 100th season which begins tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m. Eastern on NBC.
Joining us on our call today is “Football Night in America” host Mike Tirico, who will be spending his second year as the studio host; analysts Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison, who are working their 11th season together; and analyst Chris Simms, who is joining “Football Night in America” full-time this year, will be a part of every week’s coverage. We’re also joined by NBC Sports Executive Producer Sam Flood.
Before we begin, just a quick reminder that we will have a transcript of this call available a few hours after the call concludes. You can find that on nbcsportsgrouppressbox.com or e-mail any one of us in the NBC Sports Group PR department.
We’re going to begin first with some opening remarks from each of our speakers, and then we will take questions from the press. We’ll begin now with opening remarks from Sam Flood.
SAM FLOOD: Thank you all for joining us. We’re very excited for the start of the 100th season being here in Chicago. There’s a lot of energy and excitement in one of the greatest sports towns in America. To go from here to Boston for the opener on Sunday, Sunday Night Football, Steelers-Patriots, one of the great rivalries in the AFC, makes for an unbelievable opening weekend of the season.
Grouped with “Football Night in America” prides itself on being the show of record, the show that every Sunday, you know what happens, what it means, and on Monday morning, we’re giving the headlines Sunday night. So we’re getting ahead of the game.
Tony and Rodney, who came on board 11 years ago, just to see them evolve and develop as teammates and as partners, and now with Mike playing with them, and then Chris Simms with his occasional bad predictions for Super Bowls and playoff matchups, it’s great to have him on the team.
And then the production team, Rob Hyland as the lead producer, working with Matt Casey and Ron Vaccaro, they’ve done a great job of directing and leading the show, with Mike Sheehan, who makes every week look special, in particular, adding some more energy and excitement to the on-location site this year with the new set that Mike has designed with the team. So we’re excited about all that.
Finally, today, the announcement that the NBC Sports predictor app is adding the Sunday Night Seven, with $2 million in prize money, free to play game which allows people for the Sunday night game, Pittsburgh and New England, to make seven predictions made before the kickoff Sunday night for a total of $2 million in prizes guaranteed over the season, $100,000 each weekend. So, the opportunity to engage in a Sunday night game in a new way.
We’ve been doing the predictor app, which is where you’ll find this for the Premier League, NASCAR, and golf, and now it’s venturing into the Sunday Night Seven with Sunday Night Football. We’re excited to get that going. More details on that if you go to nbcsportsgrouppressbox.com.
At this point, I’ll hand it off to Mr. Tirico.
MIKE TIRICO: Thanks, Sam.
Hi, everybody. I’ll be brief so you can ask questions for the guys.
Last year was the first year for me in quite some time that I was in the studio and getting ready to go on the air after a game’s ended, whether it was college football, which I had done for many, many years in my prior career, or being part of a broadcast that was a pregame show and a post-game show wrapped up into one, which is what our Sunday night “Football Night in America” is, and it was a thrill.
I love the energy of our room, watching the games conclude, knowing that, as audiences scatter to the different rooms on Sundays, they come back to us to watch everything that happened around the league, here from Rodney, from Tony, and now from Chris and Mike Florio as well, and they get set for the Sunday night game, which caps off the week. It’s a lot of fun. Hopefully that comes through on the TV. Looking forward to another exciting year.
Really, although we joke about what a pain in the neck he is to have around, we really love having Chris with us every week. It’s fun, energy. Wish you all could sit in our screening room and watch games because it is like a bunch of football fans watching football all together and out loud, and it’s a joy. Hopefully, we’ll continue to bring more of that on the air each week.
I’ll pass it along to Rodney now for some comments.
RODNEY HARRISON: Hello, everyone. I’ll just say thank you. I’m really excited about this game, being from Chicago, having an opportunity to hear from so many people questions, the Chicago Bears and Mitchell Trubisky. I believe that personally the Bears are definitely a Super Bowl contender. There’s a lot of different story lines going on as far as the pressure on the quarterbacks. To me, I think Aaron Rodgers has more pressure on him compared to Mitchell Trubisky.
But this is a very exciting moment for us, going into my 11th season here. You couldn’t ask for a better matchup, Aaron Rodgers against that Chicago Bears defense. I’m excited. Can’t wait to see what happens.
TONY DUNGY: Yes, I’m excited too. As Rodney mentioned, 11 years for us. It’s hard to believe. Seems like just yesterday we were competing against each other. Having been together for ten years, I always look forward to the start of this season, but this year especially, because I haven’t seen enough in the preseason. The way the coaches are doing it now and not playing their players, I don’t really know who’s good and who’s not.
It’s going to be exciting these first couple of weeks. Thursday night and Sunday night, we’ll get to see four of the top teams and see who is who and who comes out of the gate strong. So, I’m really looking forward to it.
With that, I’ll turn it over to our new man, Chris Simms.
CHRIS SIMMS: Thank you, Coach. I appreciate that.
Again, this is just an unbelievable honor for me, a guy that grew up around my dad, the NFL game, and the fact that I’m a part of Sunday Night Football pregame is pretty special. It really is. I can’t deny that. It’s a dream come true for me, as far as when I got into the media. I truly am grateful that I’m out there with legends like Mike Tirico, Coach Dungy, and Rodney Harrison on a weekly basis.
Really can’t say enough to Sam Flood for just having the confidence in me to put me there and be a part of this whole show. So it’s really special. And I didn’t really want to thank Florio. Come on, I’m with him enough. Let’s not go there.
I’m excited for this season as well. 100 seasons. I’m a football historian, and we’ve got so many great story lines, whether it’s the old guys at quarterback, Brady and Brees, or Rodgers and the offense, or these new young whipper snappers in Mahomes and Mayfield, are they going to take over the league? Saquon Barkley, the Odell Beckham-Antonio Brown situation. So, it really is shaping up to be a special year for the 100th season of the NFL, and I’m just really happy to be a part of it.
MODERATOR: Chris, thank you very much. Now we will take questions from the press.
Q. Good afternoon. This question is for Sam or whoever else wants to chime in. Sort of a ratings question, not only just sort of general expectations. You’ve got obviously a long track record of success with this particular time slot and program, but with the Nielsen changes coming in and the changes particularly to the overnight ratings and what’s happening with the home viewing, how do you see that sort of shifting the numbers and shifting the audience narrative around Sunday Night Football this year?
SAM FLOOD: I think the simple thing to say is “Football Night in America” is the number one rated studio show in all of television. It will remain that way this year because of this team that works so hard and puts on a great show every week. How the numbers come out and how that floats through the system and how the system works, that’s what people in offices worry about, that side of the business. I worry about our content on the air, and I’m proud of the group that’s produced the number one studio show for all these years and plan to keep that going this year.
Q. Hey, guys, thanks for doing the call. Another question for you, Sam. Can you just elaborate with the new set, some of the things you’re most excited about, what you think it adds to the show and any other cool toys that you guys are going to be messing around with on the production side this year for “Football Night in America”?
SAM FLOOD: The new set gives us an engagement with the fans in the first half hour of the show outside the stadium, which we haven’t had in the past. It gives it a little more of an energy. As we’ve learned through the years, the audience and the stadium and the warmups start happening a little after 7:20, 7:30, so that first half hour gives you a chance to get out amongst the fans who are warming up in a different way for the game with their activities. So we’re jumping into that.
And in terms of new elements, Mike Sheehan and Rob Hyland and company are working on a field set that is part of a complex in Connecticut now that they plan to work in when appropriate. It’s only going to be used when there are moments that they can really highlight why it happened, and to have a quarterback that gets sacked a lot in Chris Simms, we can showcase things that way. When we have a safety intercepting a lot of footballs, we can show that. And we have a coach and a quarterback and a defensive back in Tony, the big three, we can handle them all. It’s going to have great insights there.
So it’s a new way to educate and inform in an engaging fashion.
Q. Two things, if I may. For anyone who would discuss it, the Texans had something of an unsettled week with the trade of Jadeveon Clowney, the acquisition of Laremy Tunsil, the fact they have no GM in place at this point in time. I’m curious what you think about that situation on both sides of the ball as they enter the season.
For Chris, Texas and LSU are playing this weekend for the first time in the regular season since 1954 and for the first time in any venue since your senior year at the Cotton Bowl. I was curious of any memories you might have of that particular game and the fact these teams only play each other every 60 or so years even though they’re from adjoining states.
CHRIS SIMMS: Sure, the last game of my college career, I remember that day a lot really. First of all, it was Nick Saban and the LSU Tigers who went on to win the National Championship the year after that, and it was a great challenge. I remember being scared all month leading up to the game, going, man, what is Nick Saban going to do to us? I know he’s going to have a trick up his sleeve.
We were a talented football team. These are two powerhouse schools with great tradition. It’s going to be a big test for my Texas squad. I don’t know if we’re back on the level of, say, the Clemsons and the Georgias and the LSUs and Ohio State quite yet.
I know the Sugar Bowl last year makes people think we are, but let’s be serious. We know Georgia didn’t really give a damn about being in the Sugar Bowl last year. Once they lost the SEC Championship, that was it. You heard all the stories about them not being at practice, people being tardy, whatever it was.
I do think Texas is headed in the right direction. We’re seeing more and more guys come out of the NFL Draft. The program really fell off for a number of years, and I think between Charlie Strong and Tom Herman, they’ve gotten it back on the right track to where we’re at least having games like this where it’s exciting, and I’ll certainly be tuned in on Saturday night.
Did somebody else want to answer the Texans one?
TONY DUNGY: I will speak from a coach’s point of view on that. I’m really scratching my head as to where they were. You make the Tunsil-Stills move, and you say, gosh, in that locker room, that’s telling the players we’re all in. This year we’re going after it, and then you get rid of Clowney, and it sends another message. Hey, maybe we’re building for the future. So I think there’s probably some question marks as to where they are. We’ll see what happens and how it plays out.
Q. The Texans with Bill O’Brien try to fashion themselves in the Patriots vision. I’m not sure what you think about the unsettled nature of the front office does to get them toward that goal of being more like a Patriots organization?
RODNEY HARRISON: I think you’re supposed to have your own personality. You shouldn’t try to emulate Bill Belichick because you’re not Bill Belichick. It is unsettling when you don’t have a general manager. You have some people out there capable. It’s obvious he’s sitting back and waiting for one guy to come free.
To me, I was really surprised that he made a move like that. Like Coach said, you’re sending messages to your team and confusing messages. He’s one of your best players on the defense, you send him to Seattle, and you bring in a young left tackle who, arguably, he’s going to want to be the highest paid left tackle in all of football. So they’re going all in, and they need to. They need to go all in because the last few years, they have had success, they get to the playoffs, they lose, and it’s the same cycle year in and year out.
So I didn’t necessarily agree with everything that they gave up. I thought they gave up too much, but we’ll see what happens.
Q. Sorry to ask a question about a team nowhere near your Sunday night schedule, but for Tony and Rodney, do you all agree with the extent to which Miami has stripped down the roster with Cam Wake, Robert Quinn, Kiko Alonso, Tunsil, Stills, T.J. McDonald, on and on, in a transparent attempt to get the top pick in the Draft? Was this a good move or a mistake? And in general, guys, is tanking good or bad for the NFL?
RODNEY HARRISON: I don’t think Brian Flores — I’ve known him since I was with the Patriots, and I don’t think he’s purposely trying to tank. I think he’s trying to get rid of contracts and get some younger players in there, guys that haven’t been there.
Brian is a very competitive guy, and for him, for someone to say that he’s tanking, that’s not his character. I think — they’re not the most talented team. He’s trying to build that roster, but you’re going to see the Miami Dolphins compete each and every week because that’s the type of coach he is.
CHRIS SIMMS: I’ll answer. First off, I think a lot of what Rodney said is spot on. Again, the NFL head coaches are not tanking. This goes on their gravestone, what their record is going to be. So Brian Flores, he’s not going out week one, hey, I hope we lose so we can tank for Tua or tank for Herbert up in Oregon, anything like that. I don’t think that’s really in the DNA of a coach, nor does he want a bad record next to his name. He’s going to do everything he can to show his worth as a head coach and try to build a winner there this year.
But realistically, I think, when he evaluated his team in OTAs and in training camp, he looked at it and went, wow, we have a lot of guys that are overpaid, like Rodney said. We have a lot of guys that don’t really fit the system in which we want to run on both sides of the football. I think that’s the biggest thing where they’re making this changeover.
Brian Flores came from New England. In theory, it’s more of a three-four type of defense, and that means more size, more kind of reading plays on the run. You don’t get to attack. In Miami the last few years, it’s been a four-three scheme. It’s all about one gap. It’s all about attacking.
So I think there’s truly not only a rebuilding of a football team, but it’s a totally philosophy rebuild there in Miami too, and I think Brian Flores and company looked at it and said, wow, none of these guys fit with what we really want to do on either side of the ball. Let’s start changing over this roster and getting what we want and thinking about the future from that standpoint.
Q. I wanted to ask Chris and Coach Dungy and Rodney if you could tell me what you think about Jameis Winston as he enters the final year of his first contract. What does he have to do to become the true franchise quarterback for the Bucs, something that the Bucs have never had in their history?
RODNEY HARRISON: I think he has to be a lot more consistent. We had the same argument last year, I think, on Sunday Night Football, where I was against picking up his fifth year option because I felt like he had four years to prove what he can do. He made some knuckleheaded decisions. I think he’s trying to get back to a situation where he can just play football and not be distracted off the field.
I’m not a big believer. I think he has talent. I think Bruce Arians is really going to come in and help him out and guide him in the right direction. I think he’ll be a lot better this year, but I wasn’t really high on Jameis Winston last year.
TONY DUNGY: I’m the opposite, having watched Jameis play. I know how hard he works. His players do like him. They want to play for him. He has tried to do too much, in my opinion, in those first four years, and I had kind of the same thing with Peyton Manning. I got there his fifth year. They had had success in a couple of playoff years, but he was really trying to win every game by himself.
They’ve got to build a team around him. He’s got to have confidence in the team. I think he’s going to have a good year this year and put them in a dilemma where they’re going to have to decide whether to pay him long term, but I think he’ll play well this year.
CHRIS SIMMS: I lean a little more towards Coach’s outlook on Jameis too. I think Rodney is spot on with the fact — I mean, consistency is the biggest problem, and the bonehead plays have got to escape. There’s too many of them throughout the year. You can make a highlight reel or a low light reel sometimes with some of the crazy things he does.
But where Jameis Winston really gives me hope is his good is off the charts good. It really is. When he gets on a hot streak and puts two or three games together, I turn on film and just go wow, this is a great decision. What a great throw. Wow, he can throw it a lot of different ways. He’s much more athletic than he gets credit for.
I do agree with Coach. He’s used to carrying the squad, whether it was high school or at Florida State, and I think he thinks, oh, I can still do it. I can break seven tackles and then still set up and throw a 40-yard laser down the field, where you’ve just got to learn to govern yourself in the NFL a little bit — throw the ball away, go down, don’t get hit or blindsided and fumble the football.
But the other thing I think we have to say in defending Jameis Winston, I checked the rule book. They’re allowed to have a running game in Tampa. They’re allowed to have a defense there too. I just think the team around him not necessarily has been great, and it’s kind of forced him to push the boundaries on a weekly basis with having to make plays and great throws and do that because they haven’t been great in some of those other areas. I mean, pass protection has been an issue for him until last year throughout his whole career.
I’m just hoping Bruce Arians can fix some of those consistency issues and a few of those bonehead things we see pop up from time to time. I still believe in the guy’s talent and work ethic like Coach is saying to where he can still make this a positive story about his NFL career.
Q. Hi, this is for Rodney and Tony because Rodney, you’re an ex-Patriots player, and Tony, an ex-Steelers player. Just wondering what you guys think of those teams as they get into Sunday’s game?
RODNEY HARRISON: I actually did an interview about this game probably about 20 minutes ago, and one thing that the guy asked me was what do you take away from the game? I said, both these guys, we don’t like them. The Patriots don’t like the Steelers, the Steelers don’t like the Patriots. We have a great respect for them, but we never liked them.
It’s going to be a very physical game. Any time you play against the Pittsburgh Steelers — and I know I’m saying we — but any time you play against the Pittsburgh Steelers, you know it’s going to be physical, you know going to be a lot of trash talk. Tom, he loves that. He’s had a lot of experience against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The interesting challenge for the Patriots will be on the defensive side of the ball. Even with A.B. gone and Le’Veon Bell gone, they haven’t tackled a lot, their starting group. That’s going to be a challenge, tackling these guys. I think they’re going to come out, and they’re going to play a lot of man-to-man coverage, challenge these wide receivers at the line of scrimmage, and force Big Ben to hold onto the ball. Tackling is an issue even as it relates to Big Ben.
So I think this is going to be a game where Pittsburgh, they upgraded their defense. They have more speed in the inside linebacker position with Devin Bush and Mark Barron. I think that’s going to really affect them.
But I think, if you’re the Patriots, you have to be concerned about your offensive line. You have center David Andrews, he’s not there. He’s their anchor. He’s the guy that communicates well with everyone. He’s their leader. And then you have question marks as it relates to Isaiah Wynn. He’s coming off an Achilles. He’s a 300-pound guy coming off an Achilles injury. So, I think they have their hands full concerning themselves with that offensive line.
TONY DUNGY: From the Pittsburgh side, if you look at previous games, the bad matchup has always been the Steelers defense, especially the secondary, against the New England offense and Tom Brady and especially the tight end Gronkowski. Well, Gronk is not there now. That definitely helps Pittsburgh. Maybe they’re going to be able to match up a little better and get them stopped.
The other side of the coin, Bill Belichick always takes away your best weapon and what you do best. In the past, that’s always let’s take away Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. Well, now with those two guys not there, what is the identity of the Steeler offense? What do you have to focus on? So in a way, that could give Pittsburgh a little advantage.
So I think it’s going to be a chess match, and it will be very, very interesting.
Q. Hello there. This question is for Mike Tirico. Mike, in the host chair again, presiding over the big Sunday night show. Through the years, you look at Bob Costas, you look at Brent Musburger, Musburger with an edge, Costas certainly not afraid to express his opinion on a variety of subjects. How do you define your role differently from those two guys and going forward at NBC?
MIKE TIRICO: David, I think it’s a very different show that we’re doing on Sunday nights. The window of time when that Sunday night game kicks off and when the late Sunday afternoon game ends makes it a pretty tight window in terms of how much real estate we have. If there’s some big issue that’s worthy of opinion, commentary, that Tony or Rodney or Chris are not better to hear from, I’m certainly not afraid to share my opinion.
We’ve been doing a social media or podcast type taping afterwards that airs each Monday morning, and I’m not afraid to share my opinions. I’ve got plenty of opinions that I’ve shared over the years. But I’m a believer that my job in that chair is to do the highlights, give the information, and get the best out of the guys around me. I think there are plenty of people on TV giving their opinions during the week in those shows.
The most important thing we have are the games that just happened, and our job is to bring that information to you folks. When a situation calls for it, I know what real estate I would need to carve out or ask for if there’s a big topic that we need to get into, and I’m not afraid to do it. I’ve done it at different times. I would do it in the booth during games on Monday night. It may just be couched a little differently than other people would do it, but I’m not afraid to give my opinion for a line or two.
I’m a firm believer that people come to watch the game. There’s a lot of hot air on TV with people talking about what they think is going on. It’s all great. A lot of them are friends. A lot of it is very entertaining. I actually like to cover sports and enjoy celebrating sports and try to do that whenever I can.
Brent and Bob are two of the all-time best and two of my favorite people. I’ve gotten to know both of them, and I cherish every second I get to talk to them and hang out with them. I don’t need to be them. I do what I do. 31 years it’s worked, and I’m going to try to keep doing it the best way I can.
Q. Thanks for doing this guys. First question for Tony and one followup for Rodney, if I may. Tony, one of the matchups that hasn’t been talked about this weekend is the Jaguars-Chiefs matchup with Mahomes going against the Jaguars and that defense and the new quarterback in Nick Foles. Andy Reid and Nick Foles spent a lot of time together. Andy coached Nick in his first year at Philly and then had him again as his backup with a couple of starts in 2016. In this kind of matchup, a lot of time to prepare, who do you see between Nick and Andy having any kind of advantage of one knowing the other?
TONY DUNGY: I don’t think that will play into it too much. They know what each other does well, and that’s fine. To me, it’s all about the defenses in this game. The Jacksonville defense, at one point, we’re thinking this is an elite group, a group that maybe could be the best in the league two years ago. Last year they didn’t show that all the time. They’ve got a big challenge. Will they step up and play against Patrick Mahomes and be able to hold them down?
The other side of the coin, that’s the question mark in Kansas City. Everybody says they can be a Super Bowl team. They’ve made a lot of changes on defense. Can they show improvement?
So to me, this is going to be more about the defenses than it is about Andy and Nick and who knows each other.
Q. Follow-up for Rodney about the Jaguars defense. Coach alluded to it about this was a very good defense a couple of years ago, generated 33 turnovers, 50-plus sacks. Last year the yardage was good, but the turnovers and sacks weren’t there in the same abundance. They’ve got two new safeties this year. Telvin Smith is gone. Quincy Williams is going to be in his spot. Now you’ve got Josh Allen there as well to go with the other pass rushers. How do you see this Jaguars defense this year? Do you see this as being elite? Is this first game against Kansas City probably the biggest test of the year given all the preparation Andy has?
RODNEY HARRISON: I played on a 1-15 team, and we had the number one defense, and we had the last ranked offense. Any time that you give a good defense or a great defense hope offensively, especially with a quarterback — Nick Foles has proven that he can do it. I don’t know that he necessarily has proven he can do it every single game. I think that’s the big, unique test for him.
The defense definitely gets pumped up when you have a quarterback and you feel like you have hope, especially in the fourth quarter. I looked at the Jacksonville defense last year, at times they flat out quit, didn’t play hard. They were yelling and pointing fingers. In order to have a great defense, which I’ve been on a number one defense more than once, you can’t do that. You can’t point fingers. You have to stay as a unit. You can’t separate. It’s not offense versus defense. It’s not their fault versus our fault. You have to play as a team, as a unit.
When I look at Jacksonville’s defense, I think along the lines of they need to mature, and they need to trust one another, and they need to get back playing physical, trusting one another, and of course their offense needs to put up some points, which I think will definitely help with Nick Foles there.
Q. Question for Sam. We got into this a little bit last week with the game announcers, but is there any change in the stance on introducing gambling information in the pregame show? With the Sunday Night Seven, is there any cross-promotion involved in that?
SAM FLOOD: Involving the Sunday Night Seven, there is a plan for that. We want a lot of people to play because it’s a great way to engage with the games we’re showing at a higher level. We think it would be beneficial to both the fans’ experience and to the stickiness of the broadcast. We’re excited to get that going.
In terms of the gambling information, we’re working with our partners in the NFL and following the rules and regulations as set out by them. They’ve been very engaged in having conversations about what they would like to see and not see on the air. I don’t think anything’s really changed for the game telecast, and in terms of the studio, they’ll be on the ticker. You’ll be seeing odds and some gambling information like under/over, etc., that have relevance in the story line and help put some perspective on the games.
We’ll never do a pure gambling segment or element because that’s not what our show is about. Our show is to be the show of record of what happened every Sunday and give you Monday morning’s headlines on Sunday night.