Evan Washburn of CBS Sports has been moving up the ladder at a pretty fast pace over the last couple of years. After working as a reporter for CBS Sports Network, Washburn joined CBS’s team of NFL reporters for the 2014 season, working as the sideline reporter with the Greg Gumbel/Trent Green duo. He then worked the NCAA Tournament in March for CBS/Turner, serving as the sideline reporter for the Ian Eagle/Doug Gottlieb team. This fall, Washburn received a promotion of sorts, working with Eagle and Dan Fouts as part of what was in effect CBS’s #2 NFL broadcasting unit.
Washburn was also involved with the NFL playoffs on CBS, working the sideline with Eagle and Fouts for the Chiefs/Patriots Divisional Round game and working as the second sideline reporter for the Patriots/Broncos AFC Championship game with Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, and Tracy Wolfson. His NFL season concludes on Sunday, as he will again be working with Nantz, Simms, and Wolfson, covering the Panthers on the sideline. And while this may be the first time he’s actually on the field covering the Super Bowl during the game, it’s not his first rodeo covering the game itself.
“For the last two years, CBS Sports Network has sent me out to be the reporter,” Washburn told AA. “When it was in New York, we had a show every night so I got to cover both teams. And last year, it was pretty unique – I would provide little elements and inserts for the radio shows because that was really the only programming we had from Arizona. So I have a pretty good understanding of how the week works in terms of lead-up to the game itself, but as for gameday, this will be my first experience.”
And while Washburn has worked the NCAA Tournament in the past, these NFL playoffs have been the biggest event he’s worked, leading up to the biggest event of them all for nearly any reporter – Sunday’s Super Bowl.
“Each successive week over the past couple weeks has been the biggest game I’ve done, starting with the divisional round, and then the AFC title game. This will be a whole new beast on Sunday. The last month or so has seemed to be a step up in the type of game because it’s the playoffs, and it’s my first year doing the playoffs,” said Washburn.
Washburn also isn’t taking this opportunity for granted.
“I’ve always had good opportunities, but they’ve always been ‘you get one shot, and what you do with that provides the next opportunity’. I didn’t have a full-time job with CBS until two years ago, and I kind of worked in a freelance capacity. They kept giving me chances on [CBS] Sports Network and things like that, and it’s kind of what I’ve been used to. And this year, it’s been like that on a much bigger stage, obviously.”
And while the Super Bowl is a massive event that will be watched by over 100 million people in this country, Washburn isn’t treating it differently than any other game he’s worked this season after the opening kickoff.
“Once kickoff happens, I’ll approach it like I do every Sunday. In terms of prep this week, it’s unique for me because Carolina is a team I’m familiar with, but I didn’t get a chance to cover this year on their sideline. I had them last year so I know some the staff and a lot of the big name players are still there so there’s a little continuity, but I don’t have those production meeting notes I can go back to. I feel like I’ve got to dive in harder to get every back story that’s led up to where they are now.”
His role this week with CBS Sports Network is also forcing him to deviate from his usual pregame prep plans.
“Tracy [Wolfson] and I are covering the teams this week for CBS Sports Network, so I still have those responsibilities on a day to day basis, which will help me on Sunday, but it’s different from the way I usually approach a week when I’m alone in my office pouring over clips, watching press conferences, making the calls I need to make. This week, I’m at those press conferences, but the Super Bowl is so much different.
“It’s a unique week of prep for me for various reasons, but I do think come Saturday and Sunday, I’ll be in a good spot just because we’re immersed in it and not back in Baltimore doing it remotely. We’ll still get our production meeting time with the coaches and players, we’ll get to go to practice. After that is when I usually feel like I’m ready to roll in this, but come Friday and Saturday, we’ll be in a good spot.”
He also spoke highly of Eagle, Fouts, and the rest of his team from the 2015 season.
“Being with the crew I was this year with Ian [Eagle], Dan [Fouts], Mark Wolf, Bob Fischman, it provided me with a platform. It’s one of these things where you look better because you’re around so many talented people, and I learned so much from them that I think that helped me and gave the trust to some of the people at CBS to give me some of these opportunities over the last couple months.”
But Washburn is still keeping a level head on his shoulders, and isn’t shooting for another promotion once the 2016 NFL season comes along – he wants to keep working with Eagle and Fouts.
“I’d like to be in the same position, just doing a better job. I try to segment my goals into short-term and long-term, and short-term considering the week that we’re in, I want to do the best job as I can with the Super Bowl.
“What I’m looking forward to next year in terms of a goal is building on the chemistry that I got from year one with Ian, Dan, Mark, and Bob, and making next year even better. You kind of learn along the way what works and what doesn’t, so I’m pumped for next year that we can hit Week 1 rolling like we did in about Week 8 this year.
“My goal is about to take the reporting side, the access I was able to gain, and the trust I was able to gain with teams and players to another level in year three, because I feel that will show on the broadcast and in the pregame show hits.
“I love covering the NFL, and my goal beyond the years is to become more ingrained. It’s a league that’s very close to the vest, and it takes awhile to gain trust. It’s been interesting to experience this – you really have to put in years to gain the trust of teams and coaches and players, and I’ve started to break down that barrier. I feel like this year was a big step in that regard, so my goal for next year and the years to come is to keep breaking down those walls so that the information I’m getting throughout the week and on Sundays most importantly is deeper and provides more context to our broadcast.”
And while the Super Bowl will obviously be a huge event for Washburn, it’s probably not going to be as eventful to him personally as the AFC Championship Game. Why? Because while he was in Denver covering the Patriots and Broncos, his pregnant wife’s water broke a few weeks early…just as a massive snowstorm was about to hit Baltimore.
“I arrived in Denver on Thursday, and my wife was scheduled to have a C-section on February 22nd for our first child. It was going to be great – Super Bowl would be over. I had a week off where I had a couple of hoops games on [CBS] Sports Network that I was going to do, but I had a window where I would be there, and it was going to work out really well. It was right before March Madness, and I would have a couple weeks to be home.
“So Friday I’m in Denver, and I get a text from her in between meeting with the Broncos in the morning and we were heading to meet the Patriots. She says ‘can you give me a call?’, so I called and she says ‘I think my water just broke’. I’m immediately in shock and I said, ‘what do you mean? We still have a month’, and she said, ‘I’m pretty sure this is happening’.
“We live in Baltimore so the blizzard had just sort of arrived. We live right downtown, my parents live in the area, her parents do not, there was no one around, so I said ‘I’ll call my dad, he’ll come pick you up’. He doesn’t answer his phone, so she ends up having to Uber to the hospital which thankfully was just a few miles away. This is about 4:30 Eastern, and by 6:30 Eastern, she’s at the hospital and they’re immediately taking her back. I’m kind of getting updates, but I’m now heading to the Patriots production meeting, and within a half hour of being at the hospital, they take her back. Because of prior health stuff, she still had to get a C-section.
“I’m literally in the meeting, wrapping up Bill Belichick and Tom Brady is coming into the room, and my phone starts buzzing off the hook. It’s from my dad who ended up making it to the hospital, getting texts from my son literally after being born while Bill is wrapping up and Tom is coming in. I don’t want to make a thing so as we finish, I quickly jump out of the room as everyone is shaking hands, call my wife to tell her how proud I am of her and how sorry I am I missed it, then hustle back in the room as Tom’s sitting down to start.
“It was an unbelievable experience, and I was in so many different places. Thankfully, my wife is a rock star and is so behind what I do for a living and there was no ‘I can’t believe you missed it!’ and obviously there was no way I could get home. We were thinking if I was here, there was a chance it could happen during Super Bowl week, but it happened AFC Title weekend.
“I kept it somewhat close to the vest and only told a few people on the crew, but since its a new crew for me, having not worked with everybody, I just wanted to focus on the game and not make it about me. And then I told everybody after the game, and everyone’s been awesome about it. It’ll be a great story to tell him when he’s ready, and I do hope next time I have Coach Belichick next year, I can’t wait to tell him that story because I think he’ll get a kick out of it.”
Photo credit: CBS Sports