One of the big sports media stories last year was Mike Tirico moving from ESPN to NBC, but initially not calling Thursday Night Football thanks to the NFL’s insistence on TNF having “number-one broadcast teams.” Tirico made a joke about this in August with Dan Patrick during the Olympics’ closing ceremony, discussing his pocket square and saying “I could give it back to you for future use on Football Night In America if you’d like,” which seemed to imply a shot at the NFL blocking him, but he told SI’s Richard Deitsch in September there had been nothing in his deal specifying him calling NFL games this year, with it rather being “we are going to figure this out as we go through.”
Of course, Tirico did wind up calling NFL games, first on Sunday and then on Thursday. He wound up broadcasting six regular-season NFL games overall. Tirico spoke with Deitsch again this week on a variety of topics, but around the 19-minute mark here, they delved into Tirico’s move to NBC, what the assurances on calling NFL games this year were (there weren’t any), and how it worked out:
Deitsch asks “There was no agreement with you in place that you would be doing the NFL prior to you landing at NBC?”, Tirico responds, “When you say doing the NFL, you mean doing the games?”, and Deitsch replies “Doing the games, yeah, this year.” That led to this response from Tirico:
“No. I’ll stand by my word. I feel like I’m the press secretary here, this one or the last one, whichever you choose depending on your side of the aisle. No, it was one of those situations where I knew what the runway was going to be for me. Going to NBC wasn’t ‘I’m going to do a quick run over across the street and spend one or two years there.’ The plan on my end was ‘If I’m going to leave, I’m going to leave for a while, and go to some place that had confidence and that had stability, and obviously by them adding Thursday, there was so much more real estate, the games and the studio shows.
Plus, there’s the opportunity to be involved in the Super Bowl going forward, which is huge to me. That’s the biggest event we have in our country in terms of TV sports, in terms of TV period. And those guys have been proven to be the best, and people have said it time after time, so the chance to be part of that team going forward was good for me. And if it didn’t work out to be in the booth last year, that’s okay.
Now, when we pull back, what happened? I ended up calling six games, plus three Notre Dame games and two preseason games, so I ended up doing 11 games. I probably did about 65 per cent of what I normally do during football season. I ended up with one of the games of the year, Kansas City – Denver in overtime out there, I had the Packers and the Redskins, the Christmas Day game where the Steelers won the division on that touchdown pass against Baltimore, so it ended up, the games were great, and it was fun, and I was working with great people. At the end of the day, it worked out absolutely fine and I still feel the same way about it.
I got back to this hosting thing that I was doing way back when. We hosted NFL Prime Monday, which was the precursor to Monday Night Countdown. It aired in 1993—started. We did the pre-game show out of a garage because there wasn’t enough set room at ESPN. And the show was Craig James—Phil Simms actually was on it, his one year at ESPN, Joe Theismann, Craig James. We had writers that would come in, a la The Sports Reporters, and the writers were Wilbon, Mitch Albom, Skip Bayless, and the player features were done by—do you have any guess? Any memory who did the features on that show? …Couldn’t have been more opposite Tom Rinaldi. Downtown Julie Brown, from MTV “Wubba Wubba” fame, who’s still on Sirius XM as a DJ. She did, for a couple of years, the features on the show. Which meant, we kind of stumbled on this at the end of my ESPN run—at ESPN, I worked with everyone from Downtown Julie Brown to Hubie Brown, and a lot in between.
For me to get back to your point, it got me a chance to get back to doing studio work. I’d missed that, and I’d enjoyed doing it again in Rio at the Olympics. Not only was I there, but I was around Cris [Collinsworth] and Al [Michaels], and frankly, Cris and Al, and [Sunday Night Football and Thursday Night Football executive producer] Fred Gaudelli and [SNF director] Drew Esocoff and Michele Tafoya, the whole Sunday night team made me feel so welcome. I was part of the preparation all week, I was around them, so I didn’t feel like I missed the NFL, not having a game to do every week. At the end of the day, it worked out absolutely perfectly.”
It’s interesting to hear that this NBC move was so much about the long view for Tirico, and to hear him again say he made the move without any guarantee of calling NFL games this season. It’s also notable to hear that he isn’t upset about how things worked out in the end. That bodes well for the future of the NBC-Tirico relationship. He got to show off his versatility this year, and he did get to call a number of games; it’s not the full Thursday night schedule many expected when the move was announced, but if Tirico himself didn’t expect that, that’s not as bad. We’ll see where things go from here, but it certainly seems like Tirico’s pleased with where he’s at.