Baltimore Ravens

Q&A: ‘Sunday Night Football’ reporter Melissa Stark on her Baltimore roots, working with John Madden and Ravens vs. Bengals

Baltimore native and NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” sideline reporter Melissa Stark’s career has taken her around the world. She worked alongside the legendary duo of Al Michaels and John Madden on ABC’s “Monday Night Football,” covered three Olympics and Super Bowl XXXVII and even ventured into news, serving as a national correspondent for the “Today Show.”

Ahead of Sunday night’s wild-card round playoff game between the Ravens and host Cincinnati Bengals, Stark spoke with The Baltimore Sun about her career, changes she has seen in the industry over the years, former Baltimore Colts quarterback Bert Jones teaching her how to throw a football as a child and her expectations for Sunday’s game.


Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

This year marked the first time since 2002 that you were a sideline reporter full-time. What has it been like getting back to sideline reporting?


It’s been great. Sort of like riding a bike. But so much has changed in 20 years. The standard was high back then. But now, we treat each week like a mini Super Bowl. We have more cameras, you’ve got social media [and] all of that. There’s a heightened awareness of everything we do, and we strive for perfection every week. While it’s fun to be back, I work so hard every week to make sure that we have the most unique and best content coming from the sideline.

I love the sideline position. I come in with stories of guys that I’ve talked to throughout the week. I talked to their college coach, high school coach or their parents. I bring in different perspectives on star players, but also observations during the game are key. For this game, in particular, last week got heated and chippy. It’s unique to play the same team back-to-back weeks because all the bad blood carries into the next week. It’s not like you forget about it. I’ll certainly have my eye on that on the sidelines.

"Sunday Night Football" sideline reporter Melissa Stark interviews Packers coach Matt LaFleur during halftime of Sunday's game against the Lions in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

How important is it to be unique in storytelling especially when so many people are covering the NFL?

It’s so important. For example, last week, we had the Lions at Packers and Jamaal Williams was two touchdowns short of breaking Barry Sanders’ franchise record. So I called Barry and talked to him about what he thought about Jamaal and how he would feel if Jamaal broke that record. That’s one of the beauties of having covered the sport for so long. I have all those connections. If somebody says [a quarterback] reminds [them] of Kurt Warner, I can call Kurt and say “What do you think of this quarterback?” or [call] [former running back] LaDainian Tomlinson and [say] “What do you think of this running back?” Those types of connections are incredible resources, and they provide a unique perspective on current players.

Covering the league for over 25 years, what have you learned and how much has the coverage grown?

The coverage has grown because there are games almost every day of the week. The NFL also has become year-round. There really is no offseason. The NFL has turned the scouting combine, the draft and everything into an event. One of my favorite things is interviewing these players on stage as they [begin] their NFL careers. I remember when Tom Brady came into the league. Then he retires and comes back. It’s fun to follow the path of these players’ careers.

What were the early stages of your career like?

I started in high school at the local Baltimore affiliate [WBAL-TV], and we had something called an externship. So you could spend every Wednesday learning about a future career. I learned so much. I learned how the assignment desk works, how they prioritize what stories lead the evening news, how to get an interview, how persistent you need to be in calling and finding a phone number, and you stop at nothing. I was amazed. The power that you have as someone in the media to try and find a story or the digging you had to do. That was incredible to learn at such a young age. I’ve always been interested in talking to people, finding stories and asking questions. I knew this was a path that I wanted to go down.


I went to [college at] the University of Virginia, and I did a show. When I graduated, I came back to the area and worked at Home Team Sports based in Bethesda, and that [was] a regional cable network. But I could cover the Orioles. The Ravens had just come to town [before] I got the job at ESPN.

I wanted to tell people’s stories, and that’s what I love about the NFL. I always say sports is the ultimate reality television because you never know how the game is going to end. There’s nothing more fun than doing a postgame interview and getting that immediate reaction from players. Their journeys and what they’ve gone through and what they’ve overcome. So many players have incredible stories and then give back to the community. These guys are an integral part of shaping and helping their communities.

Did you ever envision your career playing out the way it has?

I wanted to get into the news. I majored in political science in college. I saw Christiane Amanpour, and she was in war zones. She was covering news, and I thought I wanted to be the White House spokesperson or cover news. I eventually did cover the news. I started in sports then went to the “Today Show.” But I knew I wanted to have a family and I have four teenagers now. I quickly learned as a mother, covering news was very difficult because the news is always breaking. You cannot plan for it. That was too difficult as a mother. I needed a schedule.

I remember doing an [summer] internship in [college] at “CBS Evening News” with Dan Rather and Connie Chung, and Dan said this is the type of career you have to give up your life for. While I’m incredibly passionate about my career, I couldn’t give up my life, and I felt like with news that I would have had to do that.

"Sunday Night Football" sideline reporter Melissa Stark interviews Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady after the team's win over the Cowboys in Arlington, Texas, on Sept. 11, 2022.

I read that your dad, Walter Stark, who is an eye surgeon at Johns Hopkins, worked for the Baltimore Colts when you were a child. How much did being around the players at a young age spark your interest in football?


I loved it. I’ve always liked playing sports myself. I play a lot of tennis and golf. And I’ve always been a very competitive person. I enjoy competition and seeing people compete. My dad would take us to the Baltimore Colts games as kids. We had four season tickets, and we would go with him. My dad would go down to the locker room. So the first time I was in an NFL locker room, I was probably 7 or 8 years old. [Former Colts quarterback] Bert Jones taught me how to throw a spiral in my front yard. That was my first exposure to it, and I think I was hooked.

I want to take you back to your days at ESPN and doing ABC’s “Monday Night Football.” What was that experience like working alongside John Madden and Al Michaels?

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John and Al were the best of the best. John brought me under his wing. John was an icon in football but treated me like an equal. He was a mentor, but he was also a great friend. He taught me how to watch the film, and we spent so much time together just laughing [and] talking about life. The fact that he encouraged me and respected what I did meant everything. There were few women covering sports [at that time], and I was young. I was 26 when I got the “Monday Night Football” job.

You have told many stories and covered so many events, from three Olympics to a Super Bowl. Is there a particular moment that stands out to you?

I love live television. You never know what’s going to happen on live television. When interviewing Jamaal Williams postgame after Detroit beat the Packers, no one knew that his great-grandfather had died. He had broken Barry Sanders’ record and broke down in tears, but then he flipped. I think that postgame interviews are where people are real. I enjoy interviewing people because you never know what you’re going to get. That’s what makes my job worthwhile, capturing authentic [and] genuine moments.

I can’t point to one thing in particular, but when I was young and working for Home Team Sports, they said [former President Bill] Clinton was coming to the Orioles game on Opening Day. I went to my boss, and said “Do you think I can interview the president?” He said “I don’t think so. I mean, he’s going to be with the secret service.” Well, sure enough. I’m up in the booth and [Clinton] walks in. I just asked somebody, and they said “sure,” and I interviewed him. What that proved to me is that you have to believe in yourself, you have to take chances and go for it.


Sunday will mark the third meeting between the Ravens and Bengals. How do you see this game playing out?

I know this is going to be a very physical game. It’s the AFC North.

There is bad blood between these teams. I’m looking forward to it. I think Cincinnati has come on strong. It just comes down to whether or not Baltimore can find a way to win without [Lamar Jackson].