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NBC Saying Goodbye to Two of Its Best, Al Michaels and Michele Tafoya

Tafoya will be missed because she’s pretty much perfected the craft. She makes it look easy. Her skill comes from a lot of hard work.

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The old saying in sports and I guess life in general is, “Go big or go home.” NBC is taking that message to heart in quite a large way. The network that is currently airing some 2,800 hours of Olympics coverage from Beijing over its on-air and streaming platforms, will also be airing the Super Bowl this Sunday in Los Angeles. The folks at NBC are certainly hoping they haven’t bitten off more than they can chew in this case.

There are multiple storylines for the game broadcast, and I’m not talking about stories generated about the Los Angeles Rams or Cincinnati Bengals. NBC is saying goodbye to one important on-air talent and may be saying the same to a major part of its coverage of the NFL over the last decade-plus. There is a lot to digest here, so let’s start with the actual task of doing justice to both the Super Bowl and the Olympics simultaneously.

NBC is no stranger to either big event. The network has broadcast the Winter Olympics for years and has been the home for 19 previous Super Bowl telecasts. But this time around, the rarity of televising both huge events will prove to be a challenge, but one that NBC is looking forward to.

Fred Gaudelli is the executive producer of NBC’s Sunday Night Football and will be the game producer for Super Bowl LVI. This is the seventh Super Bowl for Gaudelli in this role. While the Olympics telecasts focus on not just the action, but the stories surrounding Team USA and others, the Super Bowl telecast will focus on Southern California.

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“We had this idea to do an open that kind of merged Hollywood and the Super Bowl, and we were able to get Halle Berry to be the host of this open, and it’s a lot of movie clips of famous football movies. It’s obviously some Super Bowl clips and some really great cameos by Hollywood actors and Super Bowl luminaries,” Gaudelli said in a video conference.

“SoFi is a magnificent architectural structure and we show that off. If you want to say L.A. proper, I believe the last Super Bowl in L.A. proper would have been Miami and Washington when Miami completed the perfect season back in 1973.”

Gaudelli added that there will be a Los Angeles flavor in the look of the graphics and it will be “sprinkled in throughout the broadcast of the game.” The network will unveil new graphics and a new scorebug for the telecast.

There will be one face/voice tying both the Olympic coverage and Super Bowl coverage together for NBC: Mike Tirico. He is serving as the host for both the Winter Olympics and Super Bowl telecasts. Tirico will leave China and then return to Los Angeles for Super Bowl programming.

THE FINAL HURRAH?

Super Bowl LVI could be the last time on NBC for two of the network’s sports stars. One is leaving for sure. It has been announced that Michele Tafoya leave as sideline reporter after Sunday’s game. The other is Al Michaels, who is in the final year of his contract.

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Zade Rosenthal

Michaels has been the voice of the NFL on NBC since the network got back into the football business in 2006. The 77-year-old hasn’t stated his future plans publicly, but said it was exciting to be a “free agent” for one of the few times in his career.

“I don’t know what I’ll be doing, but I do know I will have the opportunity to continue and I want to,” Michaels said earlier this week in an interview with The Associated Press. “The time is coming now after the Super Bowl where I will think about a lot of things. I’ve got a couple of people very close to me who I trust their judgment, insight, and what they’ll say in terms of what is next.”

This is Michaels’ fifth Super Bowl for NBC and his 11th overall, tying him with Pat Summerall for the most ever by a lead announcer.

“Pretty much before the season began, I knew that I wanted to just enjoy this year because it was the end of this particular deal,” Michaels said to the AP’s Joe Reedy. “I knew if I got distracted by other things, it would take away from just enjoying the people I work with and just having a hell of a time. And I’ve been able to do that.”

Both Super Bowl teams, the Rams and Bengals, tie into the life and career of Michaels. He rose to prominence in Cincinnati in 1971 when he was the Reds announcer for three seasons. On the other hand, Michaels lives within 10 miles of the Super Bowl location in Los Angeles. Thankfully, this will not be the last time we see Michaels on a football broadcast. He’s one of the best ever in the business and I’m glad to know we’ll see him somewhere next season.

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The same may not be said for Tafoya. Her fifth Super Bowl assignment may be the last one for the veteran sideline reporter. In early January, the network announced she was leaving. The Super Bowl game will be her 327th NFL game.

“Some may consider me crazy to walk away from one of the more coveted roles in sports television, and I do not doubt that I will miss many aspects of the job,” Tafoya said in NBC’s press release.

“But for some time, I have been considering other areas I would like to explore both personally and professionally. I couldn’t ignore that little voice anymore after what we have all endured over the last few years. There’s no better way to walk away from covering the NFL than with one more Super Bowl!”

Tafoya’s media career began in 1993, and she started her current role with NBC Sports and Sunday Night Football in 2011. Tafoya has evolved into one of the top, if not the top, sideline reporter in the NFL. For those that may think the role of reporter isn’t an important one to a broadcast, well, you should probably think again. The stories told through her lens are powerful and meaningful to the broadcast.

If you don’t believe me, take the words of Michaels, who’s worked with Tafoya on ABC and NBC, with the NFL and the NBA. When he found out Tafoya was retiring, he described her in this way.

“Michele Tafoya is the perfect broadcast partner. I’ve worked with Michele on close to 350 telecasts and she always hits it out of the park. Her preparation is unmatched and her ability to convey what she’s addressing in the moment is flawless. And she does it in the snow or rain or heat or any element you can think of,” Michaels said to Bleacher Report.

“What she does on the air speaks for itself but what she does behind the scenes in fleshing out stories through the years has been invaluable to me and to John Madden, Cris Collinsworth, Doc Rivers, Hubie Brown, and every production unit she’s been a part of. And on top of all this is who she is—brilliant, funny, compassionate, understanding and a mom who just happens to have raised, along with husband Mark, two beautiful children. Working with Michele has been pure joy.”

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Michaels hit on the key to Tafoya’s success over the years. Preparation. Putting in the work, well before the game she’ll be reporting on. The best of the best truly are ready to perform by the time the lights go on. Storylines before a game are critical and not just the obvious low-hanging fruit. Whichever team she is covering, you can be sure that her reports will be well-researched and presented in an upbeat and professional manner.

The importance of her position can’t be understated either. The viewer relies on the on-air reporter to provided updated information as the game goes forward. We want to know what the mood is on the sideline. What did the coach think of the first half and what does he plan to change or continue in the second half? What is the injury update on my favorite player? We lean on our sideline reporters for all of that information.

I preach that to my students at the Illinois Media School when they perform sideline reporting at basketball games. Be ready to go right when you get to the arena. In other words, come with a plan and be ready to execute it. Don’t give me stats, don’t give me information that will intrude on what the broadcasters in the booth are going to give the audience. Be a complimentary piece. Notice things, pay attention, and be ready at all times.

Tafoya will be missed because she’s pretty much perfected the craft. She makes it look easy. I know that it’s not, because I’ve tried my hand at it a few times. Her skill comes from a lot of hard work. Earning trust and forming relationships is paramount in her pursuit of information. The well-respected journalist isn’t afraid of the tough questions, but athletes know they’re going to get a fair shake with her.

Much respect to Tafoya and the NBC broadcast crew. Have a great show!

DID YOU KNOW?

For the first time, the NFL did not move the big game to avoid conflicting with the Olympics.
NBC actually swapped seasons with CBS so that it could air the two major sporting events together. CBS was originally scheduled to air the Super Bowl in 2022, but changed to 2021 instead. That allowed CBS to coordinate ad deals with its NCAA Basketball Tournament coverage, which the network only holds rights to in odd-numbered years, thanks to the deal with Turner Sports.

Normally Super Bowl broadcast rights rotate among NFL rights holders CBS, NBC and Fox in a set order, which was upset due to the CBS-NBC swap. As part of a new broadcast agreement, ABC will also gain a Super Bowl in 2026 for the first time since the 2005 season.

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