Tonight’s game starts at 7:30, in just over sixty minutes. If you’ve been following on Twitter (and if not, why not?), you know that it’s been rainy, then not rainy, then rainy again, and now nice. The Redskins game will be broadcast in HD on Comcast SportsNet and in non-HD on WRC-4 in DC. (If you’re in Baltimore, the Ravens game will be on WBAL-TV and MASN .)
If you’re watching the Redskins broadcast, your announcing team is Mike Patrick and Joe Theismann, with CSN’s Kelli Johnson and WRC-4’s Lindsay Czarniak as your sideline reporters. Johnson has handled Redskins sideline duties in the past, but — despite experience in the pit with NASCAR and on the sidelines of poker tournaments — this is Czarniak’s first stint as an NFL sideline reporter. And she’s incredibly excited about it.
I caught up with her for a few minutes as she was heading down to the field to talk about the differences between the NASCAR pit and the NFL sideline, how she’s been preparing, and the … shall we say ‘negative perception’ of sideline reporters.
“All weekend as I’ve been getting ready for this,” she told me, “I’ve been comparing the differences between this and what I do for NASCAR. Like on a Friday or a Saturday, I’ll go around the garage and knock on doors and go in and talk to the crew chief, and when you walk in there are six crew members sitting around there, so you’re just like, ‘Hey, how’s your chassis?’
“You know, so you’re breaking into conversation that way. So it’s been cool to be a part of this the first week and see how it breaks down, how you do it getting a few minutes with a coach, and it’s kind of all similar.
“So I’m learning as I’m going along for this, and I’m thinking that it’s going to be a situation where I go into this with a lot of ideas and end up being able to use one or two. Which’ll be a good thing!
“It’s a different animal, though, so I think I’ll know a lot better after tonight how preparation is.”
I’m sorry, but I have to ask: what does one do on the poker sidelines?
Czarniak: “It was the first year of NBC’s Heads Up poker, and I was a sideline reporter at the Heads Up Championship in Vegas. And I would interview the poker players when they would come off the table, and we would go around and interview folks in the audience, too.
“It got dramatic, too! Phil Helmuth — a famous poker player — got so ticked off after one round that he ended up leaving, we had to chase him down in the hallway. So that was everything from what had just happened in the competition to what these guys bring with them as good luck toys.”
So what are you most worried about tonight?
Czarniak: “I feel very confident and excited, actually. My biggest question is just to make Joe Theismann happy. That’s what i want to do. I’m curious as to how much interaction between everyone — that’s the thing I really like when you’re covering live events. It’s really cool when it feels like a family, like when you get a conversation going between us on and the sidelines and the booth, or even me and Kelli on the sidelines — I’m hoping that we can do that back and forth a little bit too. So I can’t say I’m worried, but that’s one of the biggest questions that I have, is how much of that I’ll be able to do.
“I just want my stories to come off well. I was thinking about it this morning while I was running, and I wanna just pretend in my head that everyone I’m doing a story on could get cut tomorrow but it’s really cool that we should hear this fact about them tonight, even though we know that some of the veterans have solidified on the team.”
You’ve been preparing all week, then?
Czarniak: “Really for the past two years. I’m kidding. But half of what I do for my job too — the live shots that I do from the game and the anchoring that I’ve been doing for the last week — it becomes organic, because it can be some of the same stuff. For example, Jeremy Jarmon is an actor as well; we’ve been telling that story this week, so I brought video to use with that tonight. Hopefully, if it works, I can play the video and show the people watching this game what he would be doing if he weren’t playing football.”
There’s this perception that sideline reporters don’t do much, that they’re–
Czarniak: “Dumb blondes?”
Yeah. How do you handle — and even combat — that perception?
Czarniak: “I look at my job as having the best access that you could ever have. So if I ever think about that or get frustrated or competitive in that regard — because I do, and I think everybody does — I reset my buttons and think, ‘You’re given this amazing access, and it’s your job to go out there and convey really cool [stuff] that other people would have no way of finding out about. And that’s how I justify to myself that you’re really doing something that’s a valuable service as a sideline reporter.
“I know a lot of these guys from the access that I have, and everyone has a story tell. So I think if you do it the right way, it doesn’t matter if it’s a woman or a man. I mean, I think that [Tony] Siragusa does a great job of doing it, and I would honestly like to emulate that style, because he looks like he’s having so much fun, he’s really passionate about what he’s talking about, and it’s just like a conversation between him and the booth.
“I think that’s one thing I’ve learned from NASCAR: pit reporters in NASCAR are vital, because you’re the only ones that hear the communication between everybody — the drivers, the crew chief, everybody. You can see the body language ’cause you’re there in their pits. So that’s taught me a lot in that regard, because in that sport you really do learn how to be the eyes and the ears of what’s going on on the track. You’re their only link.
“And I think that in football — I’m hoping! — my thought is that it can be pretty much the same. There is stuff that you see there on the sideline, and you’re called a sideline reporter for a reason. Greg Blache told me that I’m gonna learn a lot of new words tonight from watching him, and I think that’s probably true. I’m wondering if I should say that in my report, and I think I will.”
You mentioned being competitive, and your co-sideline reporter is Kelli Johnson. Is it strange to be working alongside her?
Czarniak: “Honestly, I’m excited about it, because I think she does a hell of a job. I think she’s really good at what she does. I’ve picked her brain a little bit, and that’s something that I hope to do more as far as making the transition to football sideline reporting. In fact, I’m hoping that we ahve a couple of those situations that I talked about where we’ll toss to each other, because I think that can be a really cool kind of dynamic.”
Check back here and on Twitter throughout the game for updates.
Tags: lindsay czarniak, LindsayCzarniak, Media, nfl preseason week 1, NflPreseasonWeek1, Ravens
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