NBC Sports' Michele Tafoya on the importance of sideline reporters

NBC Sports' Michele Tafoya on the importance of sideline reporters
NBC Sports reporter Michele Tafoya interviews Green Bay Packer Clay Matthews. (Paul DrinkwaterNBC, Baltimore Sun)

This has been a very busy season on the "Sunday Night Football" sidelines for NBC Sports reporter Michele Tafoya, who will be in Baltimore tonight covering the Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers matchup.

In the season opener between the Ravens and the Denver Broncos, she reported skillfully on severe weather that delayed the game.


She followed that a week later with more fine work on a lightning delay in Seattle.

Recently, in Week 9, she provided extensive coverage of Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak's collapse as he walked off the field at halftime in a game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Tafoya's consistently steady performance in such situations is one of the best arguments going for the importance of sideline reporters. We talked to her about the season and tonight's prime-time game.

How would you describe your job as a sideline reporter? And has this season been extra challenging?

I think my primary purpose of the sidelines is to cover any breaking news that our viewers would be interested in and that is relevant to the game that we're covering.

Has it been an unusual season? Yeah, it has. To start with, almost back-to-back weather delays were something we hadn't seen before. I consider it my job to ferret out information about whatever is going on. Is it an injury? Is it a weather delay? Is it the unfortunate collapse of a coach on the sideline? And all of those things come up so suddenly. …

So I've always approached it like, 'OK, I have to garner the facts. I have to organize them. And I need to iterate them in a very short amount of time, in a way that makes sense to our audience and in a way that is relevant.' And that to me is the essence of my job.

And that's journalism. You just defined journalism, whether you're covering city hall or a 50-car accident on the freeway.

Reporters enjoy covering breaking news, especially in real time. Sometimes, that news isn't good. In the case of Gary Kubiak, it was a little scary. And we were all concerned about the way we were covering it and what condition he was in — in terms of what we were actually showing and telling our viewers. But at the time, that was a massive story that was completely relevant to the game. This game was not going to be the same after that happened.

As you know, CBS does not provide sideline reporters, and it drives me especially crazy when a player gets injured and all I get from the guys in the booth is what the team is willing to release.

It's not just a matter of getting that information up in the press box. For me, watching what happens as a player comes off the field, watching the interaction with the trainers and the medical staff, looking at the player's face, sometimes reading his lips, looking at his eyes, I think there's a lot of value for the viewers in that.

How about the use of social media on the sidelines? The Baltimore Sun reporters tweet throughout the game, and it has really enriched the "viewing" experience for me.

We've also added that to what I do down there. We tweet if I see something that's noteworthy, but not noteworthy enough to break into the broadcast and interrupt [play-by-play announcer] Al [Michaels] and [analyst] Cris [Collinsworth]. … We also can tweet video reports where I can stand in front of, basically, an iPad that is being held by a social media producer, and I can videotape that report as well if there's an appropriate time when I don't have to be totally focused on the game — like in a commercial break. And we'll tweet out those video reports as well.

This is quite an East Coast swing for "Sunday Night Football" this week. Sunday in New England for the Patriots-Broncos. Thanksgiving in Baltimore. And then Sunday in D.C. You could be in for some very cold weather.


Oh, my gosh, this is going to be rough. Yeah, I had to do a lot of extra shopping before I left home for foot warmers and the right gloves and every layer of clothing imaginable.

And you'll be having Thanksgiving dinner in Baltimore this year. What's that like, to be on the road on the holiday?

Our producer and crew in the past have done a really nice job of trying to have a traditional dinner that everyone can be part of. ... It's good to come together and do that, because we are all really missing home at that point — really missing home. But at least we're all in it together and we're sharing a little kind of togetherness time, so it's good for camaraderie.