Super Bowl 52 Q&A: NBC’s Michele Tafoya

MINNEAPOLIS – Michele Tafoya’s commute to NBC’s Super Bowl press event Tuesday at the Mall of America was minimal. The Edina, Minnesota resident calmly arrived in heels and a glittered skirt and, along with Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth and the rest of the NBC crew, walked a red carpet strategically reminiscent of Sunday Night Football’s open.

Tafoya joined NBC in 2011 and this Sunday will mark her fourth Super Bowl as a sideline reporter (her first was with ABC in 2006). Her grace in tense moments, ability to dig for as much information on the fly as possible, and prescient questioning are some of the traits that make Tafoya the best in the business.

She took a quick break from readying for Sunday’s broadcast, which will be viewed by more than 100 million people, to talk about the intricacies of sideline reporting, whether she would want to move up to the booth, the future of football and more.

MJ: How do you judge your performance?

MT: First of all, how I feel about it. If I thought it was a good hit or standup or whatever. But then I go back and look at it with [SNF producer] Fred [Gaudelli] and with my sideline producer Michele Froman. There are times when you think ‘That was good’ and Michele might say ‘You know it would have been even better had you flip-flopped those two phrases and that phrase had come before that phrase.’ I’ll think that she’s right.

I beat myself up a lot, but in an instance like that I won’t. I’ll think it was something to think about. I think I had that gut feeling right before I did the report and I’ll take the time to do it right the next time. We evaluate every single week and pick it apart so it’s hard. I hate watching myself on camera. I hate listening to myself. But you got to do it to improve.

MJ: When you’re preparing for the Patriots who have been in the Super Bowl so frequently, how do you keep the reporting fresh?

MT: That’s incumbent upon all of us, Guys like Brady and Belichick, we’ll be in a group meeting with them. Al, Cris, Fred, [SNF director] Drew Esocoff and me in the meeting and you’re always looking for something new and fresh, like you said. But when it comes to a game like this, it’s so much what you see on the field. There will be gadget plays in this thing. How are they going to counter Fletcher Cox in this situation? I think Cris and our cameras and everyone who watches film all week long do a great job. Now how do we make it relatable to the fans so you know that this matchup at left tackle is so important in that moment? And make it real for the audience. Or pointing out that the wide receiver made the block down the field to make that TD happen. So it’s all that preparation.

MJ: No matter the final score the ending of the Super Bowl is always mass pandemonium. What’s your postgame strategy?

MT: I am preparing for a variety of interview scenarios. I’m still trying to watch the game because something crazy could happen that you want to integrate into your interview. I’m writing. I’m thinking about how I’m going to frame a question. What’s the best way to go about this? What elephant in the room do I have to acknowledge at this moment? And it’s game to game. There’s a a lot of mental gymnastics trying to figure out how to do this absolutely perfectly to make it worthy of a Super Bowl broadcast and also leave the player engaged or the coach engaged.

MJ: This week you are being celebrated by Secret as the first female to win a sports Emmy. Within the ad you talk about how you don’t want to be known by your gender. How do you massage the two?

MT: It shocks me when I hear a young woman think I’m a pioneer. I’m not the pioneer here, Lesley Visser is. Robin Roberts is. I’m just following their path. I’ve just tried to stay true to me and it’s taken me many years to learn. I don’t care if you’re a writer, on TV or whatever you’re doing. You have to like what you’re doing and how you’re presenting yourself.

If there are young ladies out there, I also hope there are young men out there that say, ‘She’s really good at this, maybe I can do it.’ I grew up learning from Bob Costas and Dan Patrick and Al Michaels and Jim Nantz and those were the guys I watched. I would hope that just because I’m a woman up there I’m not doing something that anyone can’t model.

MJ: The NFL is having a Women’s Summit on Friday and will lend voice to the accomplishment of women. When should we just allow women to be integrated as coaches and scouts without drawing attention?

MT: When there are firsts, you have to acknowledge them. When you have a first female official or a first coach, it’s historic because this one is going in the books. She will be the first. There will never be another first. But I’m not a fan of identity politics. I’m not a fan of saying, ‘I’m a women, but therefore.’ I’m a fan of saying, ‘I’m a reporter, so therefore.’ That’s the way I like to approach it and that’s the way I’ve always approached it.

I think that has worked to my advantage. Because I’ve never thought I’m just competing with the women at this table. I’m competing with every reporter in the room. Every guy should feel that way about all the smart women that are out there. You’re not competing as men and women, you’re completing as reporters. I don’t like saying, ‘I’m a Hispanic and I’m a female and look at how great this is for me.’ I say, “’I’m Michele Tafoya. My mom is Wilma, My dad was Orlando. I have a brother and three sisters. I have two kids and a husband and this is what I do for a living. This is who I want to be.’

MJ: Since we are talking female firsts, Beth Mowins became the first woman to call a nationally televised NFL game this season. Have you every thought of making the switch to the booth?

MT: Yes, I’ve thought about it. I’ve also thought that I work with the greatest play-by-play announcer in the world in Al Michaels. I’ve thought that if I can’t be the greatest in the world, I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to climb Kilimanjaro. I don’t want to jump out of a plane. I don’t want to try and be Al Michaels because I’ll never achieve it. Right now, I’m just trying to be the best at what I do.

I think it would be fun. I’ve done play-by-play for basketball, both men’s and women’s. I’d love to do an NBA game because that was the first sport I played. But now I love my crew so much. I have such high esteem for them that I just wouldn’t see myself anywhere else.

MJ: Your NBC colleague Bob Coastas is not here today after expressing his ambivalence about football. How do you feel about football?

MT: I love the game. I’ve always loved the game. The NFL is doing so much to find safer ways to play this game. I know that bothers some people because they love the hits and the speed and the sounds. I also believe that every player walking onto a football field knows what he is signing up for and has always known that this is a dangerous game from the time they played peewee. I’ve talked to players that say, ‘I don’t care, I want to play this game.’ I love that passion. I do love the game. So we’re going to present the best way we know how in this existence and I don’t have any ambivalence about doing that.

MJ: NFL ratings were down across the board this season. Why do you think that is and what needs to happen to get an upward trajectory?

MT: The landscape of viewing things is different. I have two kids and I watch the way they watch stuff and it’s completely different with how I watch things. There are all these platforms that people are going off to and that has changed the landscape dramatically. I really think that’s a big part of it. I do think there were some fans that were disgruntled with the anthem protests and the way they showed it was to turn off the TV.

I still believe it’s a great game, it’s a beautiful game, and it’s an exiting game. Television ratings are down across the bard. This is not exclusive to the NFL. I’ll tell you this, we’re still the highest rated show on television People still love football and they’re going to watch and Super Bowl is this live occasion for people to come together and you can’t replicate that anywhere else.