Bob Costas is one of television’s most thoughtful and engaging sports commentators. His essays, analyses and interviews for NBC Sports are in a league of their own.
He understands the sociology and poetry of sports like few others – and is one of the reasons NBC’s Sunday Night football package is headed for a second straight year as the highest rated show on prime-time television.
Q. In Baltimore, at least, Sunday’s matchup feels like something more than just a football game. Are Steelers-Ravens game the kinds of events that take on an extra cultural relevance to some extent? Or, is there maybe something about the way NBC packages a game like this that helps create that feeling?
A. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it takes on a cultural relevance outside of Pittsburgh and Baltimore. But I would say that it’s a bigger than average game, because of the Steelers’ standing as a national team. There are a handful of teams that have a truly national following – for better or worse. The Cowboys do. The Packers do. The Steelers do - and maybe one or two others. So, there’s that.
And then, there’s the fact that the Ravens and the Steelers have been a real tooth-and-nail rivalry for years, and with the exception of the opener this year, every game in recent years, has been very, very close. And then, the Ravens just pasted them in the opener. So now, you have the elements of evening the score. Plus, the game has significance for playoff positioning. So, you have all of that…
But I think the reason Sunday nights often feel bigger than the average game is, first of all, it stands alone. There’s no other game going on at that time. But, secondly, through the years, and Dick Ebersol [former head of NBC Sports] is to be credited largely with this, we get a tremendous schedule.
Now, does it always work out? No, Indianapolis goes to New Orleans without Peyton Manning and loses 62 to 7. But almost every game we get feels on paper like a game that would jump out at you. And this is definitely one of those…
Q. What about doing your pre-game stuff from the site?
A. I think another reason our Sunday night games might feel a little more like an event is that outside of the playoffs, the others networks do not do a pre-game show from the site. Well, Monday Night does on ESPN. But the Sunday shows don’t do a pre-game show from the site, whereas ours is a combination of from the site, which gives you a sense of the building anticipation and excitement, and then all the highlights that Dan [Patrick] handles so well from the studio.
Q. I thought you did a great interview with Ray Rice during your “Football Night in America” pre-game show from Baltimore for the first Ravens-Steelers matchup. What’s that process of selection and editing involve?
A. You want a player or coach of some significance who can have an impact on the game. It helps if they’re appealing in some way and express themselves well. Sometimes, there’s specific stuff you need to get to. Sometimes, there’s an issue there – something has happened in the previous week’s game, or someone has popped off, or someone is involved in some kind of controversy, or some coach is uniquely positioned to address and issue within the league.
In that kind of case, there’s more an element of journalism and pointed Q & A. But most of time, you’re looking to humanize the person and find out a little more about them.
With Ray Rice, most fans outside Baltimore and those who followed him at Rutgers, didn’t know the story of his mom and of the cousin, who was an inspiration and died, and what not. And he’s such a personable young guy, we let him tell that story… We had some bread-and-butter football questions, which we would have included if we had nothing better. But when he started talking about his background in such a sincere way, we tossed the questions about, you know, you haven’t fumbled in such and such many carries. We tossed all that…
Q. Who’s the interview this week?
A. Terrell Suggs.
Q. Do you think these two teams are representative of their communities? I know you don’t live here, but how do you think others see these teams?
A. …Their reputations are as hard-nosed teams. That Steelers reputation has been built over generations. The Ravens, maybe over the last decade or a little more – you know, the Ray Lewis era for lack of better way to phrase it.
If you want to get a little more technical about it, the Steelers, actually put the ball in the air a lot more than they used. It’s certainly not a grind-it-out team.
But after a while, it almost doesn’t matter what the style of play is. Once the community latches onto it, they way these two communities clearly have, it doesn’t matter. They wear the colors of the Pittsburgh Steelers. They play in that stadium in that city and they carry that history. And once again this year, they’re good enough to be a Super Bowl contender.
And it’s the same thing for the Ravens who will bring their history to the field Sunday night.