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From college lacrosse star to Super Bowl sideline reporter

From college lacrosse star to Super Bowl sideline reporter
Pictured CBS Sports sideline reporter Evan Washburn interviewing Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots. Photo courtesy of CBS Sports. (Baltimore Sun)

As one of two CBS sideline reporters for Sunday's Super Bowl, it might look like Baltimore resident Evan Washburn has enjoyed a charmed career to be on that big of a stage at age 31.

But the former University of Delaware lacrosse star who graduated with almost no broadcast experience had to grind his way into the business and up the ladder rung by rung with production assistant jobs that didn't pay much — if they paid at all. Some were at Comcast SportsNet.

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And he had do it with a couple of reconstructed knees that he blew out in his sophomore and senior years at Delaware. He still managed to make all-conference first team CAA after rehabbing the left one. (He blew out the right one on senior day of his senior year).

Even now, as he enjoys being a contract broadcaster at CBS Sports and working with the network's first-string broadcast team for the playoffs and Super Bowl, the TV gods make sure he continues to pay his dues. On Jan. 22, as a blizzard took hold of Baltimore, his wife, Kate, went into labor a month ahead of schedule while he was in Denver doing interviews with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick. More on that and how it all turned out in his own words later.

Q. Let's start with how you got into sportscasting. I'm told professional lacrosse was a real possibility despite the knee injuries.

A. After I sat out a year after my sophomore season and got healthy I was playing and everything was great. And I planned on playing in the professional league, the MLL (Major League Lacrosse). But then on senior day, yeah, I tore the right one. I rehabbed it and got healthy and had a chance to try out again that following spring with the Bayhawks. But I knew I wanted to try and dive into TV and I was interning already at Comcast SportsNet. So, I just sort of said if I want to do the broadcast sports thing, I have to give it my all. And I put the lacrosse thing behind me.

Q. Rehabbing two knees is tough. I know something about that, and when people tell you it builds character, you want to just scream.

A. Yeah, if another person came up to me and said, "You know, this happened for a reason," I was afraid I was going to lose it. "Oh, really? I'd love to know that reason, sir."

Q. So, you graduated from Delaware in 2008, and you got into sportscasting by interning at Comcast. When did that start?

A. January of 2009. I was out of college, and all of their interns were in college, and they made an exception for me. At one point, I thought I was going to have to take a graduate course at the community college to just sort of make up some way to get credit. But, thankfullly, once the guys over there realized I could work all the time because I didn't have any classes to get in the way, they had me doing a lot.

Q. And they brought you in because of your lacrosse background?

A. No, no. What happened is that I got the phone number of Joe Beninati, who does Capitals play by play for those guys. And I got on the phone with him that summer after I graduated and I told him I was interested in television and did he have any guidance or any help. And he gave me the number of somebody at Comcast about doing an internship.

Up to that point, I had zero television experience really. I didn't do anything in college. I interned at Fox45 for a couple of weeks one summer. But I didn't walk away from that ready to host "SportsCenter." But Beninati told me who to call for the internship, and they were happy enough at Comcast with what I did as an intern that they offered me a freelance PA (production assistant) job — logging games, editing stuff.

The way it kind rolled from there is that I then met Brent Harris … And the Baltimore bureau of Comcast, we used that term loosely as a kind of joke between us, was Brent Harris and Mark Fogelsong, who used to be Brent's photographer and producer. It was those two guys covering everything in Baltimore. So, once I got to know them, I just tagged along with them whenever I wasn't working at the station in Bethesda and learned a lot.

And then, once they started the digital side of Comcast, I was a one-man band, and I would just shoot and edit and try to stand in front of the camera and do stuff. That was when they were just starting digital and websites — at least, at Comcast. So they would let me put up some of the content. So, I would go to all the Ravens things. I would do all the things Brent was doing for TV, and then I'd just sort of follow another story line for whatever they were doing, and I'd put it up on the Web. And that got me the rep and resume reel I could use.

While I was doing that, I called some lacrosse games for MASN. … And I used that tape to send to CBS Sports Network, because I knew they were doing lacrosse games on their college side. And they had an opening, and they let me come in and do one game. And that one game turned into two games the next year, and five games the year after that.

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Q. Do you remember when you did your first game for CBS cable on lacrosse?

A. It was Cornell-Princeton in the spring of 2011.

Q. Sounds like Harris and Fogelsong were very generous in giving you a chance to learn the ropes.

A. If not for Brent Harris and Mark Fogelsong … I would not be where I am. They let me learn from them and just shadow them. I mean, I did a lot of stuff like setting up tripods and carrying lights and stuff. But, in return, they helped me with editing, like how to use Final Cut Pro so I could edit my resume reel so I could send it out to a TV station. It's hard when you have zero experience to get people to help you because everybody's worried about themselves. But those guys were really great.

Q. How'd you move beyond lacrosse?

A. In the fall of 2012, CBS had a last-second opening for college football for a sideline reporter, and they gave me a shot. I did 12 games and that was a big test on their part. That's where the trust started to build: "OK, Evan can do things other than lacrosse."

Q. And by 2014 you were doing sideline reporting on the NFL. That's a pretty fast track to the Super Bowl. What are your goals as sideline reporter?

A. First of all, I want to miss nothing. But I also want to weave my way into the broadcast in an appropriate way, and that's taken some time to learn. Because when I started out it was, "OK how do I make sure I can get something on air that's worthwhile?" I thought I'd just do my homework, come up with a lot a great stories and tell them during the game. But I have come to learn that's not a great way to approach it. It's good to have all that stuff. … But now I think my goal is always to be able to provide context to the conversation that's happening upstairs and context to an injury that happens that I report. …

Q. Can you tell me about the birth of your son last month?

A. So, my wife was due to have a C-section due to prior health stuff on Feb. 22, five days before the actual due date. So, it was going to be great. I was going to be able to get through the Super Bowl and all of this. … And I was going to be home for about 10 days to two weeks surrounding Feb. 22.

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So, it's Friday (Jan. 22), I'm in Denver for the AFC title game, we're in between meetings with the Broncos at their hotel, getting ready to head over to the Patriots, and my wife texts me and says, "Can you talk?" So, I call her right away, and she says, "I think my water broke." And I'm like, "What do you mean? We're not doing this for a month."

But, I said, "OK , we have to get you to the hospital." We live in Locust Point, she was headed to Mercy where everything was supposed to happen in a month. But the snow was really coming down already. I think it was about 5:30 p.m. East Coast time. So, my dad lives in Baltimore city and I say, "I'll call my dad, he'll come and pick you up." But my dad doesn't answer his phone, so she ends up taking an Uber to Mercy.

And I'm also thinking while all this going on, "I've still got to go to these meetings." For me this is a huge deal, the AFC title game. So, I do get a hold of my dad and say, "Meet Kate at the hospital and be there for whatever she needs and keep me posted."

So, I don't hear from them for a while and we head over to meet with the Patriots at their hotel. It's now about 7:30, and I haven't heard from anybody in Baltimore. We get through our meetings and we're wrapping up with Bill Belichick and he's going longer than usual and actually giving us some pretty good stuff, when all of sudden my phone just starts buzzing and blowing up with texts from my dad and everything.

It's in my pocket and we're at a pretty small table there and I don't want to get my phone out in front of Bill. He's always watching everything, and I'm trying to build a relationship. So, I'm just listening to him very intently, but thinking, "Holy hell, what's going on in Baltimore?"

So, finally, he wraps up, I pull out my phone and I see that my dad's texting me pictures of my son… In between Belichick leaving and Tom Brady coming in, I ran out of the room for a second, made a quick phone call, told my wife how proud I was of her and how much I love her, and that I have to go back and talk to Tom Brady. …

She's been a rock star. It's tough on families. And this couldn't have gone any worse in terms of timing. But she's been unbelievable.

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