One year ago, the Thursday Night Football team was preparing virtually for the first TNF game of a season held amidst a pandemic. Like everyone else in the world, they tried to adjust to the new normal, and did so well enough that the TNF broadcasts went off without a hitch.
As the world slowly creeps back towards normalcy, Colleen Wolfe, Steve Smith, Joe Thomas, and Michael Irving are ready. They're ready to return to in-person production meetings, to return to late-night meals with the crew. To finally be analyzing and broadcasting from the site of the night's game. To finally be back together.
Ahead of Thursday night's affair between the New York Giants and Washington Football Team, the quartet will be in Prince George's County outside of FedEx Field for NFL GameDay Kickoff. It's their first live and on-site broadcast together since 2019. Last year, Wolfe was the only member of the crew to be in a studio of some kind; everyone else called in from their homes. Playing the role of host on NFL GameDay Kickoff, she's looking forward to avoiding the technical challenges 2020 brought with it.
"I'm excited for there to be no delay. No delay will be amazing," Wolfe told The Big Lead on a conference call earlier this week. "I hate a delay and I feel like that is, it's really hard to overcome that in a lot of situations."
More than anything, Wolfe is excited to be back with everybody that makes NFL GameDay Kickoff work. It was a thought echoed by several of her coworkers. It's easy to tell when hearing them speak about the upcoming season that they legitimately enjoy working together. This might be a job, but that doesn't mean they can't have fun with it or each other. Steve Smith spoke to the bonding they'll be able to undergo without a screen dividing them in 2021.
"When you're breaking bread with someone, you're learning a lot about them. You know, when we're just having these conversations on Zoom, it's just different. It's formal. It's more business. Like, when you're sitting there having food with somebody and Joe orders like the steak that comes with the big bone, it just tells you something... Just having those dialogues and those conversations and having that camaraderie really helps it better for television."
These interactions are crucial, and not only from an interpersonal perspective. Wolfe and Smith both stressed how much recording in-person makes for better television in ways the viewer will never see. Even if it's as simple as reading each other's body language to help keep the flow of the discussion going in the right direction.
"The non-verbal cues are so important in what we do and in reading each other a lot of time, we say more when we don't use our words. It just makes the show infinitely better when we're in person," Wolfe said.
"I agree with Colleen," Smith said. "One of the things that we missed is we do a production meeting, we’re having a conversation about certain things, and seeing Irv or Joe’s body language. To be able to have that chemistry and have that ability to read each other."
Wolfe was quick to mention the benefit of being at the game itself, too.
"Being physically in the city that the game is being played, being at the stadium and having fans there, that energy, there's nothing like it. We feed off of it and it just adds such a different dimension and element to everything we do, it's so much better."
The first edition of NFL GameDay Kickoff in 2021 will begin at 6 p.m. ET on Thursday.