It's 5:45 A.M. on any given Tuesday. Outside the windows of Good Morning Football's perch in the World Trade Center, the days are getting longer. Inside, though, the dog days of the NFL offseason are unfortunately getting shorter. The show must go on. The king of American sports never steps off its throne. And there are three hours of decrees to be made.
For the next four-plus months before there are football games, the challenge is seasoning content with unique spices to make it taste delicious and fresh. This is not a shocking revelation. Our sports nation's greatest natural resource this year has been Tom Brady and Dak Prescott speculation.
“It's like the cafeteria that serves the same mystery meat every day, we have to make it taste good,” Kyle Brandt jokes.
We're sitting in a small, darkened office. There's a gray bean bag in the corner. It's quiet. Almost too quiet, considering the burst of energy looming on the horizon. Brandt, Nate Burleson, Peter Schrager, and guest host MJ Acosta have just wrapped up the the morning's editorial huddle and are running a spread offense.
The commitment to speed and space would delight Jim Harbaugh. Loose lips sink ships and ruin spontaneity, as well as true authentic reaction, so it's best not to telegraph.
“This floor is like the level in Goldeneye N64," Brandt explains. "It’s a grid you go around, there are little rooms. I’m here in this corner. I know for a fact that Peter’s in the complete opposite corner and Nate’s in a different corner. We go as far as we can away from each other because we don’t want the others to know what we’re going to say.”
All the secrecy can put a strain on the graphics department, which needs to work ahead. Talent will typically tip them off by text to ensure a more robust presentation. It's indicative of the quiet conversations that suddenly get much louder when the red light goes on.
Producer Matt Hamilton joins us. Caffeine and research is injected. It's like cramming for an exam. For as loose and conversational as GMFB tends to be, competency is essential.
Brandt and Hamilton rip through what Nick Foles in New England might be like, try to decide if Andy Dalton is one of the 12 best quarterbacks in the NFL, settle on Matt Cassel’s record during his fill-in year (11-5), ponder what the Packers need next year (muscle on the defensive line), and discuss if Jameis Winston is a cautionary tale for Jordan Love due to his many collegiate interceptions.
The table will soon be asked to weigh in on what coach they'd like to hang out with in Vegas. Brandt lands on new Giants honcho Joe Judge, who certainly knows how to win a press conference and his way around a cliche.
Along the way they bait me into a conversation about Detroit Lions fans passionately defending Matthew Stafford. Without meaning to, I passionately defend the long-suffering quarterback and am owned.
When the tension subsides, we weave through the labyrinth to the dressing room, which appropriately has the vibe of a communal living space where so many Goldeneye battles took place late last century. There's a couch, a television, and a rack of clothes.
Hamilton had predicted Schrager and Burleson would be watching Everybody Loves Raymond. Evidently Doris Roberts gets them fired up. On this morning it was Family Matters. A shoddy substitute, if you ask me, which no one does. Instead, we dive into matters of family.
"We have been together for four years," Schrager says. "These are my brothers. I had a kid, they were there. It's real. We have real love for each other and go out and do television together."
"I went to college for four years," Burleson says. "The longest I played for one team was four years. This is the longest-lasting male relationship that I've had outside of family and friends. This is the longest-lasting team I've been on, which is crazy."
There is a tremendous amount of comfort in the room and between the three of them. Viewers at home have a hard time parsing if hosts on television are truly friendly or if it's all for show. In this case, it's clearly the former.
Schrager and Burleson, who each have roles on broadcast pregames, explain that everyday reps in the morning have helped them ease into Fox and CBS gigs more smoothly.
"It's like doing stand-up during the week at clubs and then being prepared for Madison Square Garden," Burleson says.
On set, the energy is significantly different. Everyone is ready to work this particular club. An eclectic yet ill-advised soundtrack leads up to showtime. Sugar Ray, Nickelback, Smashmouth, and Train are all represented. It's explained to me that they're intentionally tanking the selections for the No. 1 groan. There's a breakfast nook tucked away in the corner with enough delicious pastries to turn a wide receiver into a tight end in a matter of weeks.
Brady's future is the predictable lead. Now certain, Brandt works Cassel's 11-5 mark into his take. The talent play Big Deal or No Deal with tablets playing the role of suitcases. Schrager offers expansive takes on the Brett Favre-Aaron Rodgers relationship, which soon dovetails into a Significant Other 101 bit played for laughs and the benefit of the newly-engaged Acosta.
GMFB is reliant on improv. In person, it's clear how much isn't rehearsed, how often people say, "Yes, and." But what could be lost is that such an approach doesn't truly work if it's not backed up by a solid foundation of acumen. Without the expertise it could devolve into wacky drive-time morning show territory.
So while it looks and is easy and light, the cumulative effect of digging into the minutiae and going in-depth on all 32 franchises is that the information is there, even if it doesn't feel near the surface. The trio mentions the common occurrence of doing local hits and at first feeling underprepared, then realizing the Bengals or Dolphins or Bills nuggets are much easier to access.
"Osmosis," Schrager calls it. "You know it because you're living it."
Says Burleson: "We don't like to do numbers-heavy on the show. We want to say something people can't Google. But because we study so much, I end up using numbers on the weekend."
Time is limited and there's not an opportunity to ask high-minded questions about the spirit of GMFB. But if it's to juggle both having fun and being informative, they're doing well. That's what comes across on the screen. In the room, there's diametric interplay between the chill and the bustling.
As I exit, the sun has come up on another morning. The once-quiet and dark streets of the Financial District are bright and bustling, much more alive than a few hours ago.
The same can be said about the studio some-50 stories up in the building behind me.