We’ve seen more and more NFL shows on the road recently, from ESPN’s Monday Night Countdown road trips and “tailgating hours” (sometimes even involving raw fish) to Fox NFL Sunday at the Eagles-Rams game this past week. Now, ESPN’s taking their own Sunday show on the road (for just the second time in the program’s 36-year history), and they’re going to quite an interesting location. Sunday NFL Countdown will be in Pittsburgh this week ahead of the Patriots-Steelers matchup, and they’ll be broadcasting from former ESPN analyst Jerome Bettis’ restaurant:
ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown is going on the road for just the second time in the program’s 32-year history. This Sunday (Dec. 17), the three-hour NFL pregame show will originate from Jerome Bettis’ Grille 36 in Pittsburgh, down the street from Heinz Field, site of this weekend’s much-anticipated New England Patriots (10-3) vs. Steelers (11-2) AFC matchup.
…The only previous time Countdown travelled to a regular-season game was a year ago when the NFL returned to Mexico for the first time in 11 years on Monday Night Football. Countdown originated from Chapultepec Park in Mexico City the day before the game at historic Estadio Azteca.
“This is a unique opportunity to bring our signature NFL pregame show on the road for the game of the year,” said Seth Markman, ESPN senior coordinating producer, NFL studio shows. “Pittsburgh is a great NFL city filled with passionate fans, and the atmosphere surrounding this game is going to have a playoff feel to it.”
ESPN will have host Sam Ponder and analysts Matt Hasselbeck, Randy Moss, Rex Ryan ,and Charles Woodson on location, along with special guests “including former Steelers and prominent sports figures from Pittsburgh.” Adam Schefter, Chris Mortensen, Louis Riddick, and Matthew Berry will contribute from ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol. That seems like a logical way to do this, as it’s probably easier for the reporters to do their job in a familiar studio location and outside of the confines of a noisy restaurant. And if Countdown‘s going to be on-site for any game, it seems to make sense to do so for the Patriots-Steelers clash, which could play a big role in determining the top AFC playoff seed.
Even the location makes sense after you think about it a bit. Yes, it’s perhaps a little odd that ESPN’s going to a restaurant run by a guy they laid off in May, but a sports bar near the stadium feels like a logical pre-game show site. The restaurant’s also been there since 2007, so it’s decently established at this point. (The 36-ounce steaks may also be a selling point.) And presuming there aren’t too many hard feelings on either side, why not work with someone they know in Bettis instead of someone they don’t? (It’s also not clear just how much involvement Bettis has in the restaurant’s regular operations; if he isn’t actually doing much there, this may only be awkwardness in name.) It’s not like there’s an ESPN Zone in Pittsburgh (and there never was). But still, there’s the potential for a little awkwardness here. Hopefully no one refers to Bettis as “our own.”