When the Ravens host the “Monday Night Football” crew for the first time in more than five years, ESPN sideline reporter Lisa Salters will be playing a rare home game.
She’ll also be returning to the scene of her very first MNF broadcast, during which the Ravens blew out the Cincinnati Bengals in the previous Monday night game played at M&T Bank Stadium in 2012.
Salters, who grew up in the Philadelphia area and got her start in television here at WBAL-TV in the early 1990s, moved back to Baltimore not long after getting the MNF gig five years ago. She lives bicycle distance from the Inner Harbor sports complex, not that she’s got a lot of time for that sort of thing during her 4 1/2 months of commuting the continent with play-by-play guy Sean McDonough and analyst Jon Gruden.
So, she was multitasking on a day off Tuesday, which wasn’t really a day off at all, since she had just come back on a red-eye flight from Seattle early that morning and was roped into a dinner-time interview that interrupted a very important task.
“Hope you don’t mind,’’ she said, “but I’m going to be putting together a Lego toy for my 4-year-old while we talk.”
That’s what you do when you’re a mom and also one of the most accomplished women in sports broadcasting.
MNF was not her first rodeo, of course. Her role as a sideline reporter for the NBA on ABC dates to 2006 and she has covered major sporting events all over the world since moving on from WBAL-TV in 1995. Her work on very diverse topics was celebrated in last month’s 10th anniversary edition of E:60 – ESPN’s Emmy-winning sports magazine show.
Obviously, Charm City made quite an impression.
“I was young,’’ she said. “I was right out of college. Didn’t know any better. Wanted to do everything. Wanted to suck up everything. They threw me on the night shift because nobody wanted to work the night shift, and for me it couldn’t have been any better, getting that experience doing live television and flying by the seat of your pants.
“I didn’t start on the air right away. I was hired as a reporter/trainee. My first salary was $13,800, but I was so happy to be in a newsroom and to be around professionals. I was there with Jayne Miller. Rich Hollander. It was just a great experience for me. It was a good time.”
She said this week that she doesn’t have a lot of clear recollections of the Ravens’ 44-13 trouncing of the Bengals five years ago, but she’s looking forward to Monday’s broadcast for some of the same reasons that native Baltimoreans welcome the opportunity for their embattled city to make a positive impression on a national stage.
“When I tell people, ‘I live in Baltimore,’ they immediately think of “The Wire,” Salters said. “They think that’s all there is to Baltimore. I tell them, ‘Are you kidding me? We have the Inner Harbor. Where I live, Fells Point, is like the Georgetown of Baltimore. This is a great place to come visit. Great museums. The Aquarium. What you saw on television…that’s television. Of course there are bad parts. There are bad parts of every city that we go to.’ ”
It has been quite a journey for a woman whose love of sports was first embodied in an amateur basketball career that took her to Penn State, where she played two seasons at point guard for the Lady Lions and, according to Wikipedia, still “holds the distinction of being the shortest basketball player in school history at 5’2”.”
Of all the places she has gone and sports she has covered, it’s pretty clear that she’s most proud of her body of work for E:60.
“The 10th anniversary of E:60, that was really was a big deal,’’ she said. “It meant a lot to me. Just watching the show — the two-hour show — was kind of like ‘This is Your Life.’ When they presented me with a list of the stories that I had done over the last 10 years, it was amazing to me. The variety. The scope. The impact. The stories themselves. The people, many of whom I’m still in contact with. People that we interviewed. Families touched by tragedy or who overcame great odds or whatever the case may be.
“It just made me realize what the E:60 has meant to me in my career. I am a sideline reporter for ‘Monday Night Football’ but I also get to wear a different hat when I work for E:60. I get to be a storyteller. I get to dig deep and become much more expertly involved and educated about the people that I’m covering. And that’s nice. It’s nice to be able to do.”
Salters spends much of each week this time of year immersing herself in the fortunes of the two teams that face each other on the ensuing Monday night, but Tuesday was too early to press her for an opinion on the Ravens’ roller-coaster season.
“I know they’ve been having success despite themselves,’’ she said. “My friends are big Ravens fans. I kind of know what’s going on, but I really won’t start my studying until [Wednesday]. I don’t know much about the Ravens yet, but I know that if the season were to end today, they’d be in the playoffs.”