Metro’s Matt Burke caught up with CBS Sports’ Tracy Wolfson ahead of the upcoming 2019 NFL season as the two discussed Wolfson’s career reporting on some of the biggest games in college and pro football this decade.
Burke: You have to interview many gruff personalities, like Bill Belichick, and you often have to talk to coaches and players that just lost a huge game. What’s your approach to interviewing these personalities when you basically know ahead of time that they really don’t want to talk with you?
Wolfson: Good question. I mean Bill Belichick is certainly one of the more difficult interviews. He usually doesn’t want to do the interview, and it’s at halftime, and it’s off camera. With him I approach it as short, and simple, and sweet. Ya know? Get in, and get out. He doesn’t want to take the time. He’s focused on the game. It’s ‘just have your questions ready and follow up if need be.’
Overall, in these tough situations after a loss or maybe a team is down 24 points going into halftime – I had to talk with Nick Saban when I was doing college games as well – but overall these coaches understand that it’s your job. So you have to ask the right question, you have to know what you’re talking about. Make it simple, direct and to the point. Then they’ll be fine and you’ll get the right response.
And after a loss, you have to be careful with the right question and you have to use the right tone. How you craft those questions is really important.
Super Bowl 50 was the perfect example, where I had to interview Peyton Manning after the game. You know you have to ask him ‘was this your last game?’ But you just have to craft it the right way. There are times that you need to really lead up to it so that the right timing is there for that question.
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Burke: What are some of the top NFL storylines you’re most excited for this season?
Wolfson: There are so many great ones, and I’ll just look at the first four games that I’m doing. My first game kicks off with Cleveland against Tennessee. When you talk about Cleveland and the Browns and with Freddie Kitchens taking over, Baker being back, you have OBJ, you have Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt – who knows what happens when he gets back. So all of the personalities in Cleveland to see how they all gell and perform on the field together – I think all eyes are certainly going to be on them.
And we go in after that with Oakland and Kansas City. You think about Oakland with AB and helmet gate, and what they will be able to do, and can they take the next step? I think that’s going to be an exciting story.
Then we have New Orleans and Seattle. That’s a huge NFC rivalry. Both of those teams people predict to have success so that’ll be a tremendous game.
And then we have Minnesota – Chicago. You have the Bears and Mitchell Trubisky and can he take that next step? Can they build on what they did last season?
So those first four games really set the tone for the season, I think.
Burke: You’ve been the lead sideline reporter for two Super Bowls (Super Bowl 50 and 53), do you ever just think to yourself, ‘Oh my God, 100 million people are going to be watching this, I hope I don’t screw this up!?’
Wolfson: [Laughs] Well it certainly makes you more nervous, I can tell ya that. I just make sure I’m prepared and that I know what I need to get done. And then there are also the few minutes where I look around and say to myself, ‘Wow, I’m really lucky to be able to do this.’ So if I go in with that attitude and then treat it like a regular game … my report that I do right before the Super Bowl, is the same report that I do every single week. So yeah, there’s 10 times the amount of people watching, but if I treat it like any other game that I do, usually that’s the best routine.
Burke: What are some of the best stories – or incidents, I guess – from either media scrums following a game, or the broadcast meetings with players and coaches, you could share?
Wolfson: I really have two notable situations. I have the ‘Kick Six’ from Auburn – Alabama in 2013. Just having that return for a touchdown. When you’re in college, not only does the media storm the field at the end of the game, but the whole entire stadium basically storms the field. So you need to navigate that.
I was positioned on the wrong sideline, on the Alabama sideline and Auburn winds up winning. I’m trying to get the interview. Chris Davis is on someone’s shoulder … producers are yelling ‘Get him, we need to do this!’
You’re trying not to get stepped on.
I had this in this past season’s Super Bowl too. It’s my job to get Tom Brady. I was positioned perfectly, exactly how you do after any game. And the game runs, I run directly to him … and I’m there. I’m the first person there in the middle. I’m latching on to Brady and I’m saying ‘Are you ready to do the interview?’ But he wanted to take his time and congratulate his teammates, and hug them and high five them, and really let that moment soak in.
My job was to just stay patient. I just had to stay next to him and not let him go. You have your producers in your ear. ‘Are you ready?!, are you ready?!’
There’s just a lot that can happen … someone stepping on a cord and you can’t get the microphone up … audio guys handing you a wireless microphone … it’s very hectic.
And I think the one thing I learned through all of that is … just be patient. Patient and calm.
If you’re in the right place at the right time, it will happen. Eventually it will get to you.
I gotta be honest, I had no idea everyone was watching [that moment with Brady] at that moment … and I have not looked at that footage, but my job was to do one thing and it was to get that interview with Tom Brady. And in the end I was able to do that.
Burke: Your broadcast partner Tony Romo has made a habit out of predicting plays that are about to be run. What was the reaction from you and the people at CBS when he first started doing it, and do you know if he’ll still be doing it this season? Most people like it, but with most anything there’s some level of backlash.
Wolfson: Well I can only speak for myself and I absolutely love it. It just shows how prepared Tony is and really how smart he is about the game. Being right out of the game, it was all just so fresh in his mind. He can see something, read it, and predict it. That’s what he did as a quarterback.
And he didn’t spend all of his time on the offensive side of the ball when he was with the Cowboys. He spent a lot of time on the defensive side, and it’s something that he embraces and that he loves. We’ll be in meetings talking with coaches and players, and he’ll always be asking more about the defense.
Him and Bill Belichick can sit and talk for hours. He picks the coaches’ brains, and he watches film. So it’s not really about predicting … he knows.
So, I absolutely love it. Ya know, he’s going to pick and choose his spots. But he doesn’t think of it as ‘predicting’ either. He’s only going to say it when he believes that it’s true and could happen.
I’m sure we’ll see more of it this year, because he’s just as prepared going into this season.
Burke: Tell me about Sleep Number and the keys to getting better rest.
Wolfson: I’m so excited to be partnered with Sleep Number because it affects me in so many ways, being a mother – I have three boys. So getting that sleep schedule down, getting good routines, making sure they limit the amount of light before bed, and XBox time, and phone time.
Being around athletes, they talk about their sleep habits all of the time.
And also for me just in my job, I need a good night’s sleep to be ready for the day. When I’m away on the weekends in hotel rooms, I know I have to be at the top of my game the next day.
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