CHRIS MCCLOSKEY: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining us today for ourFootball Night in America call that’s previewing the 2016 NFL season. Today we’ll be joined byFootball Night analysts Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison, hosts Dan Patrick and Mike Tirico, and executive producer Sam Flood. We’ll have opening statements from our speakers and then questions from the press. As always, there will be a transcript available of today’s call in a few hours after the call concludes. It will be on our media dedicated website at NBCSportsgrouppressbox.com.
Quickly, before we begin with opening remarks, Rodney Harrison wanted to address the apology he made yesterday regarding his comments on Colin Kaepernick. Rodney?
RODNEY HARRISON: Thank you, Chris. I tweeted out an apology yesterday, but I really wanted to use this call as an opportunity to formally apologize to Colin Kaepernick. I made a mistake. I should have never brought up his race, and I really humbly apologize to him.
And now I want to shift all my attention and my focus on talking football, so I’m going to send it back to you, Chris. Thank you.
CHRIS McCLOSKEY: Thank you, Rodney, very much.
We’ll begin now with opening statements starting with our executive producer of NBC Sports, Sam Flood.
SAM FLOOD: Thanks, Chris. Glad we could get the band back together again, and we’ve got some new toys to play with this year and some new excitement for this season. Obviously, the addition of Thursday Night Football has given us another platform to help grow the NFL and give us an opportunity to showcase the way we like to tell the story of the NFL and the players that play the game. So for Thursday Night Football, we’ve got Bob Costas heading out to be with Tony and Rodney on site every week, and that will be our Thursday Night gang.
And that opens up the road position for Mike Tirico, and Mike being the new member of the team, will be hosting the Football Night in America show from the stadium each week. This first week game in Arizona, Mike will get the handoff from Bob as they will share the set in Arizona as Bob shows them where the buttons are and shows them where the desk is and shows him his way around the field and how Football Night in America works. Then Mike will be in that position.
We think it’s a great combination of opportunities. One, for Mike to be a part of that show every week and get back in the studio with Dan, Tony and Rodney, the three of them together, I believe it’s their eighth season together as a trio, which is fun for me as the guy that gets to sit in the chair and produce those three men in the studio each week. And then for Bob, to signify to everyone who tunes in on Thursday night how important that property is to NBC. When we put Bob on a property, it tells you it is critical to our network and to our partners, and that’s why Bob will be there each week hosting Thursday Night Football.
So with that, I hand it off to the guy who runs the show in in the studio each week and makes Tony and Rodney better and challenges them to have opinions and analysis on why things are happening each night. So Dan, here you go.
DAN PATRICK: Yeah, I’m still surprised that it’s been eight years, but I do remember when we first started and Sam told me what we wanted and what we needed out of that studio show, with Bob going out in the field, and Rodney and Tony came in and said, ‘We’re rookies, teach us what we need to learn,’ and that willingness to learn has not stopped. So it’s been enjoyable. The product is great. We’re lucky to have that great schedule not only on Sunday but also on Thursday. I’m glad that Bob is still involved in it, as somebody who was a mentor to me when I first got into the NBC family.
I look forward to the upcoming season. To be able to bridge, not me personally, but hopefully I had a word in bringing Mike in, that I’ve had an opportunity to work with him — I’m not sure how many years it was, I think 15 years I worked with him at the mothership. But to have him there, there was a moment we had on the beach in Rio when we were doing the Olympics and there’s probably 30 seconds before we’re going live on TV and I looked at Mike and I said, we’re doing the freaking Olympics together, and we just had this big laugh because who would have thought all these years later we’d be working together, working an Olympics and now on Football Night in America.
So with that, I welcome in with Mike.
MIKE TIRICO: Thank you, Dan. It’s funny I shared that with my family when I came back. It was fun for me and struck a special chord as well, given our friendship. And getting to know and covering Tony and Rodney over the years and the League, it’s great to be a part of the team that’s really worked so well together.
This Sunday Night Football franchise is, as everyone knows, the number one show in primetime, and to be a significant part of the top pre-game show in football is an absolute treat. And for me, someone who started in the studio, but loves the atmosphere and energy you get at a game site, there’s no better role that you could have as part of the NFL every week on a Sunday than doing exactly this job. So I look forward to being at the stadium, spending some time with Chris there in the pregame and then interacting with the guys back in the studio.
The job, I guess the job requirement is for an under 6-foot Syracuse alum to have this job. So I’m glad I fit both requirements there and sit in the chair that Bob has elevated to such a great level.
Needless to say, between this and the Olympics and Notre Dame and Ryder Cup and the other golf stuff, it’s been a great start to my NBC life, and I’m just looking forward to being a huge part of this. One of us was doing the preseason games this week, and it was great to spend the second half of one of those games with Coach Dungy in the booth as Chris and I called the second half of that game in Orlando. And Coach, I’ll turn it over to you, the Hall of Famer. Go ahead, sir.
TONY DUNGY: Thank you, Mike, and I’d like to welcome Mike as well. It’s great — [Disconnected].
RODNEY HARRISON: I’m really excited about welcoming Mike Tirico to the family. This is, like we all talked about, eighth season. I’m really excited about it. I appreciate Dan for all his patience and hard work, just the patience that he’s shown with Tony and myself over the years.
I’m really excited about continuing my work with Tony Dungy. I mean, when I went to the Patriots, I had an opportunity to play under Bill Belichick, and I just thought he was the smartest man in football. Then I got a chance to learn next to Tony, and I still think Bill Belichick is the smartest man in football (laughing).
But really, really truly a blessing to be part of Football Night in America. I thank Sam Flood for the opportunity, and really a blessing to be a football fan. I don’t remember the last time we get a chance to sit back and watch a Super Bowl rematch on opening night.
I’m really excited about the Carolina Panthers. I knew I was a person that really wasn’t sold on the Carolina Panthers, but what a terrific season they had last year, and I feel like with the talent that they have, Kelvin Benjamin coming back, they have a chance to play in a big game this year.
I’m also excited about the Denver Broncos. I mean, the team lost their starting quarterback, starting linebacker, defensive tackle in Malik Jackson. I had an opportunity to play in two of these games. And I tell you, the emotion is absolutely like a Super Bowl. So I’m really pumped up about the season, and the opportunity we have for Thursday Night Football.
So with that, Chris, I appreciate the time. Thank you.
CHRIS McCLOSKEY: My understanding is that Tony is back on. So, Tony, if you can hear us, go ahead with your opening remarks.
TONY DUNGY: Yes, I can. Excuse me, we are having some tremendous storms down here in Tampa. They actually moved the Buccaneers game to tonight trying to get through this. But I was saying when I lost you, I welcome Mike and just happy to have him with our family.
I’m so excited to be on our eighth year of Sunday Night Football and looking forward to being a part of it. I don’t know that we’ve ever had an opening weekend like this where we’ve got the top four teams from last year on Thursday and Sunday. We’ll get a chance to see where they are right away as they go against each other. It should be just a tremendous weekend for us being in Denver for Denver-Carolina, and then being in Arizona for Arizona and New England. So it should be great. Looking forward to it and excited to start off the year.
Mike, I’m glad, with the news over the last couple days, we’ve learned you will have things to do this fall because all of your fans wondered after the news of 11 days ago if that would be the case. I don’t know how forthcoming you want to be on this, but how upset were you when you found out you would not be able to do Thursday night play-by-play for reasons beyond your control, obviously? And also, how did Sunday night hosting come about? Did Sam or Mark reach out to you? Did Costas call you and say I don’t feel like I need to keep doing Sunday night, this would be ideal for you? If you could talk about that process?
MIKE TIRICO: Sure. I’ll try to keep it quick so everybody can get to the guys with football questions. But the reports of what I was going to do regarding the NFL at NBC were all assumptions. There was never anything stated about what I was going to do, and I had to make the decision.
I had a couple of things to deal with, and one of them was how much opportunity was there going to be to not just stay involved in the NFL but do other things at NBC. And as I got into the conversations with the folks here, there are plenty of things to do. So I decided to make the jump and figure it out once we got here.
Sunday nights has always been a part of the equation from the get-go in this. This didn’t just come up in the last 10 or 15 days. That has been part of the plan here all the time as we’ve gone through. So as you’ve seen with a couple of preseason games, there were a couple games during the year I’ll be involved with, Notre Dame, Ryder Cup, the Olympics, The Open Championship. There is plenty, plenty for me to do. I’ve done more high-profile stuff already than I would have in an entire year at ESPN, and it’s only going to increase with Football Night and working with these guys.
Don’t worry. My fall is plenty busy, and I’m super happy to be part of the number one pregame show on NBC in terms of the NFL.
Coach Dungy, if you’re one of these teams like Arizona who has to face the Patriots in week one or maybe Miami in week two, how do you prepare to face a quarterback with Jimmy Garoppolo who hasn’t put much real tape out there?
TONY DUNGY: That’s really tough. You have to prepare for what you do know and the things that New England is going to do. But you don’t know exactly what they’re going to do, what they’re going to feature with this quarterback. And that’s one of the great things about the Patriots. Bill Belichick can shift his attack based on who is there. He’s done it with running backs and the receivers and tight ends. He did it with Matt Cassel several years ago when Tom was hurt, and he’s going to play to Garoppolo’s strengths. Now we don’t know exactly what that is, and that’s going to be something that’s as much of a disadvantage as it is for the Patriots not to have Tom Brady in there. There’s a little disadvantage to Arizona as well, because they aren’t going to know exactly what to prepare for.
RODNEY HARRISON: For me to jump in on that, if I’m Arizona and I’ve got a chance to meet their defensive coordinator this summer, and basically if you’re playing against the Patriots, you want to take away what they do best. Well, they have the best tight end in all of football, so they’re going to have to find a way, whether it’s Tyrann Mathieu, whether it’s a double team, whether it’s Buchanan, to try to stop Rob Gronkowski. And we know about Julian Edelman and what he did do in the slot.
So I don’t think it’s necessarily them going into the game saying, ‘Hey, we want to stop Jimmy Garoppolo.’ But I think it’s them saying these are the guys we need to focus on number one. As much of as Tom Brady and Belichick and that offense is known for passing the ball, they come into a game, their number one priority the majority of time is they want to run. They want to establish the run and set up the pass.
So I think you’ll see a lot of focus and attention on Rob Gronkowski and making sure he doesn’t have a big game.
Bill and Tom are entering year 16 or year 17 together. It’s one of the longest runs with a quarterback and coach we’ve ever seen in the NFL, four Super Bowl titles, all kinds of accolades and awards. What about their personalities and their relationship together that has allowed them to thrive for so long together?
RODNEY HARRISON: I think, first and foremost, they’re both stubborn. They’re both stubborn to the point they really want to win. They think their way is the best way, and Coach Belichick has proven that his way is a lot more effective than Tom Brady’s way.
So I think at times Tom wants to do certain things his way and it’s part of him being a competitor. But the one common denominator is mutual respect. I’ve seen these guys for six years. They’ve had an opportunity to be there and watch him interact and communicate. They have such a mutual respect for one another. I think ultimately Tom understands that it was Bill Belichick that gave him an opportunity when no one else saw the potential that Bill Belichick saw in Tom Brady. So if I’m Tom, I’m always going back to the guy that gave me the opportunity. It’s the respect factor.
But I also think you have to include Josh McDaniel. I think he’s done a fine job. He’ll be a heck of a head coach one day. But I think he’s the neutralizer. I think he’s the guy that’s really that buffer between Tom and Bill when they’re bumping heads at times.
Dan, as the elder statesman in Football Night, can this show get any bigger? Is there still room for this show to grow?
DAN PATRICK: I think we take our cue from Fred Gaudelli, who is producing Sunday Night Football, and Drew Esocoff who is directing it. They continue to reinvent themselves every year in how they present a football game, which is pretty amazing. And that’s our job. That’s my job. What do I tap into with Tony and Rodney to get out of them that I didn’t get the previous year?
Mike Florio, what kind of information are we getting? How are we getting it? What kind of highlights are we showing? I think we set out to do this for the educated football fan. It wasn’t about laughs. It wasn’t about — if there was humor, then it was in the course of what was part of the programming. It wasn’t something we set out to do. We sort of fit, I think, the show to fit Tony’s personality, and we try to bring out other things with that.
Rodney has complimented Coach. I push him, they allow me to push him. Those are things we continue to dissect every week. It almost feels like you’re reviewing game film when you’re done with the show is I immediately want to dissect what we did and didn’t do. And these guys have been great at taking the criticism and myself as well.
I say to Sam Flood, tell me what we’re doing and not doing. Is the energy there? Are we doing the highlights the way we should do it? There’s a lot involved in it. It’s not something we take for granted that we just have a great game and you’re going to go out there and have a big number. It’s more to it than that. But it really starts with those guys out on the field and how they put together a football game and they continue to do it at the highest level of anybody, and that’s our goal every week for the studio show as well.
Tony, how has Mike Tomlin evolved as a coach since you had him down in Tampa on your staff? And knowing the Steelers as well as you do, why is he such a good fit for them?
TONY DUNGY: Well, Mike, in my opinion, has developed into a great football coach, and you could see that coming from the first day he stepped into my office as a 29-year-old. He had a command of the game. He had a confidence in himself, but he had a way to communicate with players. They understood he knew what he was talking about without coming across like a know-it-all. I think that’s just his personality.
I think he’s meshed perfectly with the Steelers, because that’s what the Rooney family wants. They want a very self confident guy, but not someone who feels like they are the entire show. It’s been that way with Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher, and will continue with Mike Tomlin. I think Mike fits the personality of the city, and he definitely fits what Mr. Rooney wants to run the team. He’s developed. He’s doing a great job. People wouldn’t believe it, but he’s had a higher winning percentage than Coach Noll or Bill Cowher did. It’s a pretty awesome job what he’s done, and I’m really proud of him.
Coach Dungy and Rodney, I was wondering what you guys think about the Panthers and their abilities to bounce back after the Super Bowl and can they make another run? Will they get caught in that Super Bowl hangover? Also, how big a deal is this first game in Denver to try to get revenge quote-unquote for what happened in the Super Bowl?
RODNEY HARRISON: Well, I can jump in and talk about the Super Bowl hangover. For the Carolina Panthers, to me, I’m not even concerned about that. They have their core group of guys, a bunch of young guys that are very hungry, that are very excited. Guys that, as you watch them on tape, they love playing the game of football. It’s not about playing to the level, getting a big paycheck and shutting it down. I don’t see that happening with these guys.
You see Luke Kuechly signing a $50 million contract and still out there doing the little things it takes, the leadership, all the little things it takes to be a great player. Thomas Davis, a guy that had so many knee surgeries. I think he’s gained perspective like no one else. All those knee surgeries could have easily ended his career, his season, and he keeps coming back.
I think the other thing that’s challenging for them and it’s really an opportunity as people say, hey, there is going to be a Super Bowl hangover. What about the departure of Josh Norman? Can you guys survive without him? I think these guys — and if I’m in that locker room, I say the same thing, hey, let’s prove to these guys, to the media, to the world that we’re going to be fine, no matter if our All-Pro cornerback left.
So I think Coach Ron Rivera has really done a good job of keeping things right in front of this team, and these guys have a lot of young players, they have tremendous leadership. And I think it only gets better. I really do. I’m not going to sit here and say I think they’re going to go 15-1 this season. But I do believe that the hunger, the thirst, the enthusiasm, everything is there. I just believe Cam Newton has that deep down inside of him. A lot of people have doubted him. I’ve doubted this team last year. What did they do? They just proved me wrong. Went 15-1 and ended up in the Super Bowl.
So I look forward to seeing this team, and I don’t think whatsoever there is going to be any Super Bowl hangover. Coach?
TONY DUNGY: I agree with Rodney. Having spent some time with those guys, Thomas Davis, Kuechly, they’re great leaders. Young team, fired up. I think they’re going to come back with a determination to get back. But the problem and part of the Super Bowl hangover is not the fact that you’re not doing everything the same way, it’s the fact that everybody else is pointing at you.
Now Carolina is the team to beat in the NFC. Everybody has studied them. Everybody has watched them. Everybody’s pointing at them. You’re getting everybody’s best shot. So I think that the conference is going to come after them. And I don’t think they’ll go 15-1 again, but I don’t think it’s going to be because of a lack of effort, a lack of intensity or a lack of focus on their part. They’ve got too much leadership there.
MIKE TIRICO: I’m going to jump in for 15 seconds because I spoke to Ron Rivera about that topic yesterday for about 15 minutes. Of the coaches I’ve seen that have to deal with, ‘We lost the Super Bowl, how do we come back the next year?’ he’s been very proactive in reaching out and canvassing other people, not just limited to the football world, of how to deal with a team that came so close, but get them ready to try to go that next step this year. I applaud him. He’s taken such a cerebral and in-depth approach to trying to get over that “Super Bowl hangover.”
Tony, Rodney, I was hoping you could talk about the Broncos turning the keys of a Super Bowl champion over to Trevor Siemian, a guy that’s never thrown an NFL pass. How risky is that and do you have to lean on the defense again? And secondly, do you think Thursday night comes down to whether Von Miller can disrupt Cam Newton like he did in the Super Bowl?
TONY DUNGY: I’ll start off with that. It’s an unusual move, as we all know. One thing you have to hang your hat on is John Elway knowing what quarterbacking is all about, and obviously he feels good about this move.
I’ve watched Trevor Siemian in the preseason, and it certainly wouldn’t be what a coach would desire, that, ‘Hey, we’re going in with an untested player at the key position.’ But Siemian’s been there. They know him. They believe in him. I do think they made that move in part based on who they are as a team. They feel like, hey, we’ve got good running backs. We’ve got a tough offensive line. We’ve got a great defense. We can do this with a young, untested quarterback. We’ll see what happens. I think the game is going to come down to which defense wins the game.
Yes, Von Miller will be a part of it on the other side, but I think Kuechly and Thomas Davis, some of those guys Rodney mentioned, it will be the same approach on their side. We want to take T.J. Anderson and that running game away, put the ball in Siemian’s hands and see if he can win the game.
RODNEY HARRISON: And what he has to do is he has to understand he doesn’t have to do it all by himself. He’s got, like Coach talked about, he’s got tremendous playmakers. I mean, Emmanuel Sanders is one of the most underrated wide receivers in this league. And he’s actually a lot tougher to defend than Demaryius Thomas after talking to some defensive backs. But Demaryius Thomas is a big, physical receiver who has had some issues with drops.
So when I look at this team, I mean, they’ve got a tight end, Virgil Green, who has really had a really good preseason. So I look at other guys making contributions, running the football obviously. What better situation for him to be in? To have such a great offensive mind calling plays, mentoring him and really teaching him the game of football.
So really for me, I look at the defense. Coach talked about the defense and this defense is going to be one of the top two or three defenses in the league. I don’t think they’re going to hold the level that they held last year, but it will still be one of the top two or three defenses in the league.
But, yes, when you talk about Carolina, I think the biggest thing for them is don’t underestimate this young kid. Because Gary Kubiak, in order to make this kid a little bit more relaxed, I expect him to come out and take some shots early and maybe loosen Trevor up and say, hey, we have confidence in you. They no longer have Josh Norman. We’re going to take some shots. We’re going to try to soften the defense and let them know they’re going to be in a game. It’s not like we’re just going to run the ball 50 times and not pass the ball.
Dan and Mike, I know you touched on it a little at the top of the call, but when was the first time you guys worked together at ESPN, and did you ever envision not only being reunited but working together on television’s number one show?
DAN PATRICK: Did we do a SportsCenter together?
MIKE TIRICO: I started in ’91 and then I graduated, quote-unquote, to the shows you were on. So it would be late summer or fall, probably 1991, somewhere in that neighborhood, I would say.
And did I envision working with Dan? I remember there were nights where Dan was primarily on the 11:00 at that point or 11:30. I was primarily on the 2:30 SportsCenter. So there were times we’d have a double-header game in baseball or some night where there was one show where they would blend our two crews and those were the times you’d work with Dan or during vacations you’d move up one slot to work the 11:00, and I’d do that dozens of times, I would say, at least.
Still to this day and on Football Night you see it and you’re reminded of it, Dan does highlights in a different and a better and a more humorous, yet informed way than almost anyone on TV. A lot of people get a lot of credit for clichés and catch phrases and Dan is informative. It’s simple, and smart and it’s an art form. To get the chance to be on the same team with Dan again, I was reminded watching him work in Rio as we’d exchanged shifts, how great he is. And he’s been this great for 25 years or so.
Is that what I was supposed to say, Dan?
DAN PATRICK: I thought there was another paragraph, but that’s fine, you can cut that off right there.
MIKE TIRICO: I’ll save that for some other time.
DAN PATRICK: If you would have told me that Mike was going to evolve into this, I wouldn’t have thought that. I just didn’t know it. Mike was so young when he got there. And Steve Young in that room, and it’s a tough room that we were in. There were a lot of people back then, Berman who was doing SportsCenter, Chris Fowler was, John Saunders was in there, Chris Myers. There were a lot of names in there. And Mike had to come in, and the fact that he survived and then all of a sudden realized that he was really a play-by-play guy. And it just dawned on me that there’s an expiration date for what we do. You don’t know what that is. And I just was there on stage with him on that beach in Rio, and I just said, we did it. You know? We’re doing it again.
There was just something that, it’s like when I got a chance to be around Al Michaels in London. I never thought I’d get that opportunity, and he couldn’t have been a nicer, greater mentor for me. Hopefully I can play that role with Mike at NBC if he needs that. But, yeah, it was one of those honest moments that I’m surprised I didn’t say it on the air. It’s just we had fun with it, and I’m very appreciative of what he’s done. And to add him to this group, I think it’s the best talent assembled, and that’s a credit to Sam Flood and Mark Lazarus to bring in Tirico. Because I worked hard behind the scenes saying, it would be nice to have Mike. It would be nice to have Mike. And through osmosis, we ended up getting him. So it’s great. Look forward to many, many more years to come.
Got a little heavy on that, Mike, sorry.
MIKE TIRICO: I’m a little choked up, Dan. Sorry. I need a moment, thank you (laughing).