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UPCOMING EVENTS

FOX’s Super Bowl Crew Ready for Its Biggest Test Yet

There are people in this world that have been to every Super Bowl. The single biggest event in American sports has become old hat to them. Most of those people will not be part of FOX’s broadcast crew on Sunday. 

Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen will be in the booth for the first time ever. Tom Rinaldi will be on the sidelines of the game for the first time ever. The lone veteran on the game crew will be across the field from Rinaldi. The 57th Super Bowl will be the fifth Erin Andrews has covered.

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Andrews told me she is happy to help out and share what she can, but her new crew doesn’t need advice on how to do the job.

“They don’t need me,” Andrews said. “They don’t need me at all. The only thing they have leaned on me for is stuff like ‘What’s the week like?’ and ‘Where are we going?’ In terms of the game prep. They don’t need me.”

The spotlight will be especially bright on FOX this year. Not only is this the first time the nation will hear Burkhardt and Olsen call the NFL’s biggest game of the year, but plenty has been written about the fact that it could be their last. The next time FOX carries the Super Bowl, Tom Brady is expected to be in the booth alongside Burkhardt. Whether that’s with Greg Olsen or instead of him remains to be seen.

Olsen has been a trooper throughout the week. When we met, I told him that I wanted to ask him a broadcasting question he probably hadn’t heard yet. He quickly used the moment to inject humor by adding “you want to know what I think about Tom Brady?”. It elicited a near guffaw from Tom Rinaldi.

The former tight end turned television analyst has won near universal acclaim since he retired from the NFL. It really shouldn’t surprise anyone. He has been great as an interview subject for years. 

I asked him if those interviews, particularly his regular visits with The Mac Attack on WFNZ in Charlotte, helped get him to the point he is at now, where he’s not just ready to analyze a game in the booth for Super Bowl LVII, but does such excellent work that the discussion that follows is nearly start-to-finish praise.

“Like anything, the more experience you have being confident speaking and being confident with your thoughts and answering hard questions is all really good experience to draw on,” he told me. “I think the challenge is how do you make it compelling but also concise and easy to absorb. The more experience you have going on radio shows, going to press conferences, facing the music after you had a bad game, all of it is part of the process of learning to be comfortable and just be yourself.”

Erin Andrews may be the only one on this crew with experience broadcasting the Super Bowl, but Olsen has been here before. He had four catches in Super Bowl L, which the Panthers lost to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.

“The last time I walked off a Super Bowl field, I had to watch another team celebrate with confetti after one of the best years in NFL history. We were 17-1. It’s nice to know I don’t have that level of pressure to deal with. This is a different type of pressure.”

The pressure he’s referring to is about delivery. Can you be relatable and fun, yet sound smart? Can you offer insight without getting in the way? Can you let the pictures speak for themselves while recognizing what they aren’t saying that the audience may want to know?

You may not realize how much work that takes, because Olsen makes it look easy. Anyone in this industry knows that even if our audience isn’t aware of it, they are tuning in for the story. That is where this crew sets itself apart.

Who in the sports world is a better storyteller than Tom Rinaldi? He told me that he came to FOX in order to tell the stories around two major events – the Super Bowl and the World Cup. He did the latter in November. Now, he gets set to take on the former.

“I was floored by the passion, the reach and the scope of the World Cup,” Rinaldi says. “Even though it was during a time of year it has never been done before and it was largely a one city World Cup, right? It was Doha and then everything was within an hour of Doha. I loved the experience there, but at the end of the day, you can’t compete with the NFL, not if you’re American.”

Not only can they tell a great story, there are great stories on FOX’s Super Bowl crew. It wasn’t so long ago that Kevin Burkhardt was calling high school football games for whoever would let him. Just fifteen years ago, this was still a second job.

He knows it can be discouraging for guys in their 30s still calling those high school games to see men and women eight, nine or ten years younger than them getting network opportunities. Those are the people that will be on his mind Sunday.

“I hope I’m proof to keep going,” said Burkhardt. “I grew up in North Jersey, went to a small college and had a hard time for a long time getting any traction. Hopefully, I’m inspiration to people hitting the wall and not getting anywhere thinking ‘should I give this up?’”.

This team isn’t just fueled by stories. It is fueled by relationships. Burkhardt cites Olsen’s dad, Chris, as one of the greatest influences on his career when he was calling those high school football games. Rinaldi and Andrews worked together at ESPN and on College GameDay. Andrews also said she had an incredibly comfortable relationship with Olsen when she was covering him as a player.

“Greg was the one I would go up to in pregame warm-ups and half the questions I had we wouldn’t even talk about because we would just joke around and make fun of people. So, we just picked right up where we left off,” explained Andrews.

Be fun, be trustworthy, and be interesting. That is the challenge in front of Andrews and a group of Super Bowl rookies. FOX trusts this group and believes that individually and collectively they’re ready to rise to the occasion.

Demetri Ravanos
Demetri Ravanos
Demetri Ravanos is a columnist and features writer for Barrett Media. He is also the creator of The Sports Podcast Festival, and a previous host on the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas in addition to hosting Panthers and College Football podcasts. His radio resume includes stops at WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC.You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos or reach him by email at [email protected].

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