A Really Good Sport

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 1.31.17 PM.png

Fox NFL Sideline Reporter Pam Oliver keeps a positive outlook on her job and people could learn a thing or two from her.  

The Charlotte Business Journal writes that sideline reporters spend their workdays trying to get inside the mindset of football players. This season, Pam Oliver came very close to living the life of an NFL player. Including time on the injury list.

Consider the ups and downs of the  52-year-old NFL on Fox sideline reporter’s season:

  • During a preseason game Aug. 18,  an errant warm-up pass thrown by Chandler Harnish of the Indianapolis Colts hit Oliver in the head. She finished the broadcast but was later diagnosed with a concussion and spent six weeks recovering.
  • In October,  she made a few off-the-cuff remarks at the expense of New York Jets and Giants executives while speaking at a Super Bowl XLVIII organizing event for the championship game to be played next month at Met Life Stadium, the teams’ shared home field. Some in the New York media and in attendance took offense to Oliver’s jokes about rude New Yorkers and the trials of the Jets and Giants on the field.
  • And, since 2012, when Fox hired former ESPN college football sideline reporter Erin Andrews, Oliver has become even more familiar with what starting quarterbacks endure: speculation about whether the top job will soon belong to someone else. Andrews and Oliver  shared the sideline duties last Sunday in Green Bay for Fox’s coverage of the Ice Bowl II in freezing temperatures (San Francisco won, 23-20). This weekend, Andrews worked the Seattle-New Orleans playoff and Oliver is in Charlotte today for the 49ers against the Carolina Panthers. Media and bloggers fueled the speculation, not Oliver and Andrews. Whether it is Andrews or any of the other recent additions to the Fox Sports reporting crew, Oliver knows everyone would love to have her job with the top crew.

Oliver, part of the top Fox NFL crew with play-by-play voice Joe Buck and analyst Troy Aikman, deflects scrutiny, criticism and speculation with equanimity. Echoing something Buck  told me a few days earlier, Oliver said it comes with the territory.

And she makes it clear people should have such problems.

“I practice gratitude,” she said. “I try to never take it for granted. Television, any job, you try to be as in the moment as you can. You don’t know how long it’s going to last. People constantly stop and (tell) me, ‘You’ve got the best job.’ And I say, ‘I sure do — and you can’t have it.’ ”

That job entails relaying information to the booth for use by Buck and Aikman (reactions on the sidelines, injury reports, the mood of coaches and players) and filing reports on-air as they fit the context of the game.

She refers to the network NFL sideline reporters such as close friend Lisa Salters (ESPN’s Monday Night Football) and Michele Tafoya ( Sunday Night Football on NBC) as members of a small, select sorority.

Oliver and Salters text each other during games, critiquing and supporting one another. Buck, among others, said those sideline perspectives become crucial on game day, when the TV play-by-play and analysts watch from the press box high above the field.

“Once we go to the game, we might as well be sitting in a suite or in the upper deck,” Buck said. “When you’ve got somebody down there (on the field) who’s in a position to see and hear things, gauge a mood, feel her feet on the field, check out which the way the wind is blowing, little things like that, that’s invaluable to us.”

Oliver mentioned when we spoke Saturday that she already had five reports in mind for the game today, but quickly added that the direction of the game dictates what makes it on the air. 

That means much of Oliver’s preparation winds up on the cutting-room floor, something producer Richie Zyontz told me is part of the challenge of having the sideline role.

Oliver must be ready for a range of scenarios and have material, no matter which way the game flows. She and Zyontz stressed the importance of a seamless narrative. Translation: Any item can be cut, no matter how intriguing, if it fails to meet that standard. At the same time, the producer wants something different.