Greg Olsen just finished up his first full year as an NFL broadcaster, working as Fox Sports' No. 2 NFL booth with Kevin Burkhardt. Olsen spoke to The Big Lead about the challenges he faced in Year 1, how his relationship with Burkhardt helped smooth out his rookie year, and his reaction when he found out Burkhardt would be taking over the No. 1 PBP spot after Joe Buck's departure. Olsen also spoke about his partnership with Thorne as part of their Healthy Aging Campaign.
Liam McKeone: Greg, congratulations on finishing up your first year as a broadcaster. How would you evaluate your rookie season in the booth?
Greg Olsen: I thought it was good. I thought it was a great learning experience. I got to call some really cool games. From the beginning to the end, I was surrounded by people who really wanted to help. And I think that would be the biggest thing that anybody entering this industry wants. Can you find yourself in a booth on a team with other people who are invested in your success? And from Kevin [Burkhardt] and Pam [Oliver] to my producer and director, everybody on the team, their sole purpose was to serve and elevate the performance of everybody around them. I don't think that's necessarily always the case, not just in broadcasting, but just in general in life. For that, I was super fortunate and super grateful.
The operations, that was the toughest challenge. Learning the process and learning the booth and the tech and all that. The football part, that was never really my big concern. I always enjoyed talking the game, I always enjoyed sharing what I saw and I always had a good ability to see things and single out fun and interesting aspects. It was the mechanics of it, that was always the big learning curve, at least in my early days of working and doing the games a couple of years back and then with the XFL and whatnot. That's still part of the process that I'm still working through. I sat on the talk back button one time, you know, just simple rookie stuff.
But as far as seeing the game and talking the game and the energy of the stadium and the energy of the game, that I really enjoyed and I enjoyed doing it with Kevin and we had a great time together. We've known each other for a really long time prior to just calling games together. We go way back. So it was a great experience and obviously a lot to learn and a lot to improve on. But I think when people listened to our broadcast, they came away from it being like, ‘I enjoyed that. I learned something. It had good energy. It had some insightful context. It was fun. It was maybe a little different than what I'm traditionally used to.’ If that was what people came away with, then I think that's a positive.
LM: When did you decide that you wanted to go into broadcasting once your playing days were done?
GO: I think it was little opportunities presenting themselves. I don't think it was ever any moment where I sat down and I was like, you know what, tomorrow I'm gonna pursue media. Early in my career, there were opportunities to do stuff with local radio and there were opportunities to host a show. There were offseasons where, I don't know if anyone ever saw it, but there were offseasons where I would work with the regional outlets like Fox Sports South or whoever here in Carolina is doing the draft shows and doing college football kickoff shows that were aired in our region. Then as things continued to grow and I continued to build reels, more opportunities came and I got to spend bye weeks doing pregame shows, at the time with CBS. And then of course, the big opportunity I got was after I did an audition with Fox, probably in like 2015-ish. That went well. They called back a year or two later in 2017 during a bye week and said, ‘Would you want to join and make a three man booth with Charles Davis and Kevin?’ That was really my first big opportunity on a national stage to call the game. Fresh, no practice and just do it. I got good reviews and got good feedback. They gave me an opportunity to do it again in 2019 on my bye week. And then in 2020 I did the XFL, me and Kevin called five games. We called the first five weeks and then obviously the league shut down.
Thankfully Fox was at the forefront of giving me a lot of those opportunities as time went on. I was doing local shows and radio and TV that 10 people watched. But it was all just building reps and building a reel that I could show people like, hey, if I get the opportunity, I can do this. I've always said, my box that I have to check is I’ve got to be good. I'm not a quarterback, I'm not a quarterback of the Cowboys, you know what I mean? The difference is, if I can be good and I can bring something, that's something they can't take away from you. So I've always set out to say, hey, I'm not gonna out-fame a lot of people, but I can be good and that's all I can hold. That's all I can fall back on.
LM: How big of a difference did calling games next to a veteran broadcaster like Kevin Burkhardt make for your first year in the booth?
GO: Aside from just clearly and obviously just being really good at what he does, right? That's obvious. It didn't matter who was standing next to him. He's just good at what he does. He's a professional, he's talented. He's super smart and quick and he checks every box as far as what you need. But the best thing for me, he just couldn't be a more giving and servicing person in regards to everything about the broadcast booth. It was all to make his partner look good and everything about the broadcast was to make me look good, or Charles, or whoever. He is just the ultimate listener. He's the ultimate team player. His job there is to run traffic control and make his partner, make the analyst, have a clear runway, get him in and out of a thought, get him in and out of a break and let him do what comes best, which is to talk football.
Having a guy that I could trust, that I could just follow and I knew that he would never steer me wrong, I was super comfortable. Then I could do the part that I did know which was football and talking and breaking stuff down and giving insight and perspective from my playing career and thoughts of the coach and situations. Talk to stuff that I know and knowing that he would clean up any mess and clean up any issues that we might have on the broadcast.
LM: What was your reaction when you found out Burkhardt would be replacing Joe Buck as the No. 1 NFL PBP broadcaster for Fox?
GO: I called him and I said, ‘Man, I'm so pumped for you.’ He's worked his whole adult life, scratched and clawed his way up. When I first met him, he was calling high school football games for an AM radio station in North Jersey, fresh out of college. That's when I first met him in the early 2000s and now he's calling a Super Bowl this year. Good things happen to good people and he's like the perfect example of that. I was so happy for him and he's deserving of all of it and more. So I just called him and was like, ‘Dude, are you kidding me? You're calling a Super Bowl?’ It's just something I can't even process right now, but everybody that knows him couldn't be happier for him and couldn't think he's more well deserving.
LM: Tell me about your partnership with Thorne and why you decided to team with them.
GO: It’s actually pretty interesting because I didn't officially work with Thorne when I was a current player, but for a decade, they're the only product that I ever used. For a good part of a decade, give or take. The biggest fear that all the players have is taking a substance, taking something that is supposed to be innocent and it ends up having banned substances or whatnot. The days of NSF-certified products are few and far between, so when I found Thorne 10 years ago, they had this huge lineup of NSF-certified stuff. Whether it was something as simple as multivitamins or it was a hydration or whether it was a recovery or post- or pre-workout, whatever it was. Not having to worry about what you're putting in your body was every athlete’s number one concern. Then when you factor in that the products were good and natural and all that, it was a no-brainer. I was really familiar with the company for a long time from my playing days.
Then, as part of their healthy aging campaign, which is very fitting because now I'm approaching 40 and no longer a player and no longer training to the level that I was during my playing days, it's been really eye-opening and really cool for me to see, like, alright, what changes do I need to make, not to perform at a high level, not to go run a marathon, not to go be an NFL athlete, but just be a dad and be a husband and just go play tennis with a buddy. Just to be a normal person and deal with the wear and tear of a playing career. It's been really cool now working with them on this campaign and just seeing what tools and resources can provide me and everybody else out there with the ability to live a healthy life and wake up in the morning with energy and feeling good and be able to go be active. That's what this campaign has been all about. It's kind of funny how things worked out that I'm now working with them after I did 15 years of training and using their products and all that. Now I'm using their products for an entirely different phase of my life.
LM: How did the partnership come about?
GO: I think they were just looking for an old washed up guy that I guess at some point use their products [laughs]. We had a picture of this whole big cupboard I had in the kitchen and it had all my Thorne stuff and it was like, stacks. Every Sunday night I had a tackle box with dividers and I would put my pills for the whole two weeks or whatever. It was all organized. I guess that picture got back to them over the years and they had known that I'd always used their stuff and then as they were putting together this campaign, like I said, they needed an old guy who's no longer playing, but also trying to not just become a slug, right? Looking to live a healthy, active lifestyle. I think it was a good fit, and I had used their products for a long time on my own dime and on my own accord and now I get to work with them on the back end.