Mike Tirico hosted a special 90-minute edition of Football Night in America on NBC today from Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., for the NFC Divisional playoff game between the sixth-seeded Minnesota Vikings and top-seeded San Francisco 49ers.
Tirico was joined live on-site at numerous locations at Levi’s Stadium by co-host Liam McHugh, analysts Tony Dungy, Rodney Harrison, and Chris Simms, NFL Insider Mike Florio, and Sunday Night Football reporter Michele Tafoya.
Today’s special edition of FNIA was highlighted by a number of features and interviews, including:
- An interview by Mike Tirico with former NFL head coach Mike Shanahan and his wife, Peggy Shanahan, about their son, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan.
- A profile on 49ers tight end George Kittle, including comments from his parents and sister;
- A conversation between Tony Dungy and Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins;
- Interviews with legends from both teams – former Vikings Hall of Fame Head Coach Bud Grant and four-time Super Bowl Champion and Pro Football Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott.
Throughout the show, reports were provided by Simms and Florio from each team’s locker rooms, coupled with arrival interviews with Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph and 49ers GM John Lynch.
In addition to today’s Vikings-49ers game on NBC, the FNIA team also discussed the other three NFL Divisional matchups this weekend.
Following are highlights from Football Night in America on NBC:
Dungy on the Rooney Rule: “It really is not working like Dan Rooney envisioned. Dan Rooney helped get this rule started. His idea was that an owner would have a system – he would have an idea of the type of coach and then he’d research that. That’s what he did with Mike Tomlin – Dan always wanted young, defensive coaches. He didn’t know Mike Tomlin, but he investigated that and (Tomlin) blew him away in the interview. That is not happening now. I think people are using the interview to check the box, not really going after what really fits their situation…I think we have to give the owners more information. They have to understand that there’s a universe of people out there that they may not know about. It’s not necessarily racism, it’s just being ignorant of who is out there and who can help them, and I think that’s where it’s got to go. Somehow, the league office has to give more information on who these great, young coaches are.”
Click here to watch Dungy’s comments on the Rooney Rule.
Dungy on the value of playing in close games in the regular season: “I know fans get frustrated when their team isn’t blowing people out, but you’re going to play close games in the playoffs, so getting used to it is big. I thought my 2005 team in Indianapolis was the best team we had, but we won 13 straight games with no close games and then we weren’t ready for the playoffs. The next year, we had all these nail biters, but it got us to the Super Bowl.”
Harrison on the quarterbacks: “Which quarterback can handle the pressure? I look at Jimmy G – it’s his first playoff game, they’re the No. 1 seed, I think he has all of the pressure. Kirk Cousins went down to New Orleans, took care of business, got the weight off him and they won. No pressure – he can play loose and free.”
Dungy on similarities of both teams: “Both of these offenses are really the same. They run the ball and take shots off the running game. Which defensive line can penetrate, create havoc and make the other quarterback beat them?”
Simms on 49ers’ confidence: “The 49ers are so loose. They are dancing. You can feel the energy. They are not enamored with the big lights or big moment.”
Harrison on 49ers’ confidence: “When I look at them, it looks like they’re almost too loose, too confident. I played in four Super Bowls, and we were never this loose.”
Simms on 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo: “I don’t think Jimmy Garoppolo is going to be fazed by this or anything. I talked to Kyle Shanahan yesterday and he said, ‘He simply just doesn’t get nervous in these situations.’ He played in a similar atmosphere in Week 17 against the Seattle Seahawks.”
Harrison on 49ers TE George Kittle: “I just talked to George Kittle and I said, ‘What is your biggest concern with the Vikings defense?’ He said, ‘None. I trust in Shanahan.’”
Tafoya on how the Vikings prepared for the crowd at Levi’s Stadium: “I was at Vikings practice this week and saw how their sound system at their indoor practice facility prepares the offense for a hostile environment. Rather than piping in noise through speakers on the sidelines as most teams do, their sound system surrounds the entire interior, it fills the building with audio recordings from actual gameday noise produced during games at U.S. Bank Stadium.”
Dungy on the Vikings preparation: “I was at the Vikings practice on Wednesday. That group was loose, they had energy – that win in New Orleans really gave them a lot of confidence. Their game plan on defense today is to put the pressure on Jimmy Garoppolo, stop the run and make him try to beat them.”
Harrison on lack of composure shown by Vikings WR Stefon Diggs and CB Xavier Rhodes: “When you play in close games, it shows the character of your team. I was so disappointed in Stefon Diggs last week. He was upset because he wasn’t getting the ball, he came to the sideline and threw his helmet. Same thing with Xavier Rhodes each and every week. I don’t care what’s going on – at critical moments, you’ve got to keep your composure.”
Simms on 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, who was his teammate at University of Texas: “He’s a great person, he has incredible energy. We hit it off right from the get-go at 19 years old…he’s a great communicator with the team, and I never doubted that he would be in this moment…he lives it (the sport of football). He’s a psycho.”
Dungy: “Aaron Jones is the focal point of this offense. It’s a big benefit to the quarterback when he can just hand the ball off and get big plays. He doesn’t have to do it all by himself. Aaron Jones has made big play after big play all year.”
Harrison: “I actually think he’s a better wide receiver. He’s more dangerous when he’s catching a pass. I never thought I would say this. Force Aaron Rodgers to beat you and stop Aaron Jones.”
Harrison on the Titans’ plan to defend Ravens QB Lamar Jackson: “Defensive back Logan Ryan told me in order for them to win this game, they’re going to have to keep him in the pocket and not give up the big play. Good luck with that.”
Dungy on the Chiefs’ x-factor: “I really think it is defensive tackle Chris Jones. In the first game (these teams played) in October, he didn’t play and Houston dominated on the ground; they ran the ball 40 times and kept Patrick Mahomes off the field. Jones is questionable (for tomorrow), they really need him to play to help stop the run and put the ball in Deshaun Watson’s hands.”
Harrison: “I actually think Kansas City might blow them out.”
Dungy: “I like the home teams. I think you’ll see Baltimore and Kansas City in the AFC Championship.”
ON BROWNS’ COACHING SITUATION
Florio on the Browns coaching search: “(49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski) are in the same group as the rest of the candidates. They’ve interviewed all of the candidates they are going to consider, including most recently Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. My understanding is they’re going to make a hire from one of the individuals they’ve already spoken to. They’ve been more thorough than in the past, but there won’t be a second round of interviews. It’s going to be one of these guys … I’m told they could make a hire as soon as tomorrow and the outcome of today’s game won’t be a significant factor. That’s important because whoever wins today’s game, Stefanski’s Vikings or Saleh’s 49ers, that guy won’t be available until his season ends. And that guy may be left behind, because I get a feeling the Browns are ready to get this job filled and move forward building their team.”
Click here to watch Florio’s comments on the Browns coaching search.
TONY DUNGY WITH KIRK COUSINS
Dungy on last week’s game-winning TD pass to Kyle Rudolph: “How quiet was it when Kyle caught that ball?”
Cousins: “The noise was crazy. It threw us off because, we knew silence meant we had done something right, but it still didn’t feel right to be celebrating in a quiet stadium that had been loud for the past three hours.
Cousins on overcoming obstacles: “Certainly it’s nice when you can climb that mountain earlier in your career than later, but for some of us it took a little longer. I think to get that first playoff win was another achievement, a great feeling to say, ‘Okay we did that, but there’s now more mountains to climb.’ It’s about getting multiple playoff wins and ultimately about winning a Super Bowl, which you and Peyton (Manning) do have and I’m still trying to chase. That’s what it’s all about. It’s going to be an exciting adventure.”
Dungy: “You always give the image of the under-control guy. Do you think it’s good for people to know that you’ve got that kind of edge at times?”
Cousins: “Sometimes you can be misrepresented because you want to play the position of quarterback as a CEO and just as a stone-cold killer, and you don’t want to ride this emotional roller coaster. I think if I do that I can make poor decisions with the football. But really who I am is an emotional guy, an intense guy and usually after a big win, the intensity and the passion is what’s going to come out.”
Dungy: “Well if you win this week, are we going to hear ‘you like that’ or you got something else for them?”
Cousins: “I like to keep it organic when the moment arrives, but there’s a pretty good chance it’ll be those three words.”
MIKE TIRICO WITH MIKE SHANAHAN AND PEGGY SHANAHAN
Tirico: “Mom and dad – what is this like? To kind of live through it again but in a very different way with your son?”
Peggy Shanahan: “When Mike was going through this, we were just kind of growing up and just went with the flow. And it was just fun. When it’s your son, it’s not quite that easy.”
Tirico: “And dad, can you detach from Super Bowl champion coach and just be dad?”
Mike Shanahan: “Well it’s hard. But you know what kind of opportunity it is for him and at the same time you know you don’t get those chances very often. And I think Kyle feels the same way.”
Tirico: “Did I read right that in ’94 when Kyle was one of the ball boys, that he would go to school almost every day in the same Deion Sanders jersey?”
Peggy Shanahan: “Yes, it was horrible. I mean just to wash it was, oh my gosh, such a big deal.”
Mike Shanahan: “Guys like Deion, they would go to dinner and take the ball boys with them. So he got a chance to know all these guys on a personal basis and he’s around them now as well. So it was a great experience for him.”
Tirico: “It’s really hard to have that last name and go into the family business because there are extra expectations. How has he been able to handle it so well?”
Peggy Shanahan: “I just think he has the attitude and always has that he knows what he’s doing, and it’s not because of the name.”
Mike Shanahan: “He has a lot of confidence because he’s worked at the game so hard. And he understands the aspects of the game not only from a personnel standpoint, you’ve got to know offense, you’ve got to know defense, you’ve got to know the game inside out.”
Tirico: “Good and bad as parents, there’s always that moment when you see some of you in your kids. What do you see of Kyle when you look at him?”
Mike Shanahan: “He is very competitive, very what I call real. There’s no BS and players know it very quickly. Players can see through anything so they like people, at least in my opinion, that are going to shoot ‘em straight and be honest with them.”
Peggy Shanahan: “Mike’s had me listen to some of their meetings before when he’s talking to the team, and I’m like, ‘Wow, did you talk to the team like that?’ Because he’s got a lot of heart and you just pick up how much it means to him. And Mike said, ‘I did – but his is better.’”
GEORGE KITTLE FEATURE
Bruce Kittle, Kittle’s father: “He was very competitive. I think it helped him, appreciated that he was going to play people who are bigger and faster than him sometimes. I think all of the competition, roughhousing and knocking each other around had a lot to do with his comfort level getting into the mix and scrapping for it if you want it.”
Bruce coached George in various levels of youth football
George Kittle: “I did everything with a football mindset, so if I was the post man in basketball, you’re going to get a couple of elbows to the face. That was my game plan.”
Bruce Kittle: “I’ve always tried to really stress you don’t want to just be a tight end who just bumps guys, you want to be a guy who dominates people. That’s been our goal ever since he started playing football … I don’t think he fears anything.”
George Kittle on weekly letters his dad still writes to him: “My dad was definitely my best friend the entire time growing up. And in college, communication dies down a little bit. the letters are a way for him to talk with me; I’ve kept them all, they mean the world to me … helps me every single week.”
Bruce Kittle: “A lot of (the writing) is me reminding him that it’s not that big of a deal, don’t forget the weight room and to watch film, the foundation of what got him to where he is at.”