I wasn’t there for the 7 a.m. start, but I’ve seen almost all of the NFL Network’s Super Bowl Sunday pre-game coverage. And as of 1 p.m. (EST), I am here to tell you it is outstanding.
Warren Sapp, elected into the Hall of Fame Saturday, brought even more energy and joy than usual to the telecast. He was inspired. Michael Irvin was stoked to Super Bowl level, and Steve Mariucci was better than he has ever been.
Deion Sanders: superb. Melissa Stark: through the roof in poise, knowledge and the 10,000 skills a show host needs to make a TV conversation seem like the easiest and most natural thing in the world. Rich Eisen never disappoints.
And they were at their best in bringing three-time NFL MVP Brett Favre, the network’s special Super Bowl guest, out of his initial shell. The former Packers quarterback came on the set looking tight and tense. Even though his expression was animated and friendly, when he spoke, he seemed borderline uncommunicative.
But by the time he left, he had done a winning on-air turn thanks to the producers, hosts and analysts putting him in a situation where he could hardly help but succeed. The producers sat Favre at sets surrounded by friends and former teammates who were willing to carry him at first, and they had all the video to illustrate the stories his colleagues told.
Sapp was brilliant in telling tales of their warfare, like the time he slammed Favre to the ground and laid on him, and the quarterback demanded to know how much Sapp weighed as they untangled. When Sapp said 307 pounds, Favre said, “The program says you’re only 276. I think I might be able to outrun you today.”
And as they talked, the screen filled with videotape of Sapp and Favre in their playing days, jawing between snaps: Favre headbutting Sapp, and Sapp headbutting him back as players pulled the two away.
“Oh, that was just him being crazy,” Sapp said of the Favre headbutt.
“But that’s me saying, ‘Hey, baby, I’ll be here all day, all day, I ain’t going nowhere.’”
And that kind of story got Favre laughing and telling stories, too, leading to exactly the kind of performance you wanted from the ex-athletes who had played in the big game.
I really admire Mariucci, who coached Favre, and Sanders, who played with the young quarterback in Atlanta, for the yeoman’s job they did in Favre’s first segment. What an outstanding broadcaster Sanders has become. He's good enough to host his own show.
Favre was struggling at one point when Mariucci said, “Hey, didn’t you have to get like 3,000 tickers for all your family members [in nearby Mississippi] when you played here at the dome.”
“Yeah, I think it was something like that,” Favre said, and left the conversation hanging there.
But before the silence could matter, Sanders jumped in with, “Hey Brett, you think some of them might have scalped some of those tickets?”
“Yeah, I think maybe they did,” he said breaking into laughter and starting to look like he enjoyed the conversation.
One of the best moments of the day came from Kurt Warner, another former quarterback, who was asked what he remembers from his Super Bowl experience.
And he told a powerful story about lying in bed with his wife the day after the game, staring at the ceiling and saying, “We made it. After all we had gone through in our lives, I felt like we finally made it.”
NFL Network made my pre-game day with stories like that.