Michele Tafoya’s career as an NFL sideline reporter has run almost parallel to the sustained Patriots dynasty, so she has witnessed many of the franchise’s milestone moments.
They’ve been there for many of her milestones too, including this weekend when she’ll be the sideline reporter for NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” broadcast of the Patriots-Ravens matchup. The game will mark her 300th NFL game as a sideline reporter.
“It came as kind of a shock to me that this will be my 300th game,’’ said Tafoya, who has had the role for “Sunday Night Football” since the 2011 season. “The 200th doesn’t feel like that long ago.”
Her 200th game was also a Patriots game on “Sunday Night Football” – a 27-6 Patriots win over the Texans in Week 14 of the 2015 season. Her first game as a sideline reporter, on Sept. 9, 2004, when she was with ABC’s “Monday Night Football” broadcast team for the Thursday night season-opener, also involved the Patriots.
Tafoya said her best memory of covering a Patriots game came in the chaotic final moments of their Super Bowl XLIV win over the Seahawks.
”I was standing behind Bill Belichick when Malcolm Butler intercepted Russell Wilson,’’ she said. “I just remember watching his arms shoot up in the air victoriously, just incredibly fast. That’s an image that’s front and center in my brain.’’
Tafoya flagged down Butler, the barely known rookie cornerback who had made one of the greatest players in NFL history, for the postgame interview. But she had to show some recovery speed of her own when Butler nearly bolted just as the interview was to begin.
“He was standing there patiently and right when it was time to talk he took off and decided he was going to go celebrate with his teammates,’’ she said. “I had to chase him down again. I still have not looked at that. I should do that at some point, because it’s kind of funny.”
Tafoya, who is hosting the NBC Sports podcast “Sports Uncovered” this season (Jon Gruden is the most recent guest), acknowledged that social distancing requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic have forced some adjustments to the way sideline reporters do their jobs.
“There are pros and cons,’’ she said. “One of the pros is when you’re standing up in that ‘moat’” – the area at the front of the stands where she is situated during the games – “as opposed to field level, I see a lot more stuff going on. You’ve got kind of that broader view.
“But the interviews, the halftime talk with the coach over a wall because I’m standing up in the moat and I’m looking down and they’re on field level, and we’re trying to hear each other through masks, that can be a challenge.
“You don’t get to walk with the coach like I normally would. And when you walk with the coach off of the field at half time, you can get a lot out of their body language. Maybe if they’re talking to a rest, maybe if they’re talking to a player just before they get to you, something you just get a sense for where their head is at. But you just have to make the most of what you can.”
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