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The local northern New Jersey hamburger joint was packed to capacity on the eve of an intra-town rivalry.
Inside, an up-and-coming broadcaster previewed the game with the Wayne Hills coach, who was also the father of the team’s best player.
As Fox’s No. 2 NFL broadcasting team, Kevin Burkhardt and former NFL tight end Greg Olsen are a relatively new partnership. But it’s a relationship that started two decades ago.
“Kevin and I go way back,” Olsen told USA TODAY Sports last week.
Burkhardt worked for WGHT, a radio station based in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey. He previewed the big Saturday games by putting together shows at nearby eateries or hangouts and also covered the Friday nights lights contests in the area. That meant many interactions with legendary Wayne Hills coach, Chris Olsen.
While searching for a photo of himself and Greg Olsen from those days, Burkhardt dug up one of him interviewing Chris Olsen with the youngest Olsen brother, Kevin, sitting in his father’s lap the night before Wayne Hills faced Wayne Valley.
“(The restaurant) was like bursting out of the seams,” Burkhardt recalled to USA TODAY Sports. “Every player was there. Coaches, families, it was awesome.”
Chris Olsen remembers that whenever a big game was on the schedule for the upcoming weekend, Burkhardt would phone.
“Their office had to be eight-by-eight,” Chris Olsen told USA TODAY Sports. “It was always cold. And he would always call me, ‘Come on, Chris. You got to give me 10 minutes. Can you bring these two kids to the studio?’”
Burkhardt said he’d travel to Chris Olsen’s Wayne Hills office and the coach would discuss players on his roster, preview the opposing team’s strengths and weaknesses. The elder Olsen would sometimes toss on film.
“In hindsight, that was probably my first production meeting -- with the father of my current partner,” Burkhardt said, “which is just wild.”
Kevin Burkhardt, Greg Olsen quickly find chemistry
In 2017, Greg Olsen was coming off three straight Pro Bowl selections with the Carolina Panthers. It was that year, though, he flew to Los Angeles for a game broadcast audition with Fox.
There to meet him at the studio for the tryout was Burkhardt, who worked his way up the broadcast ranks as Olsen starred at the University of Miami, became a first-round pick by the Chicago Bears in 2007 and established himself as one of the game's most reliable tight ends.
“He’s kind of been along the (broadcast) journey with me,” Olsen said of Burkhardt.
Joining Burkhardt and his partner at the time, Charles Davis, Olsen called his first NFL game during Week 10 of the 2017 season between the Minnesota Vikings and Los Angeles Rams while sidelined with an injury.
Olsen played three more seasons in the NFL, including in 2020 after he and Burkhardt called five XFL games prior to the pandemic. He said he’s permanently at home in the booth now.
Chemistry in a broadcast takes years to build, Burkhardt said. Sometimes it never materializes. And by no means is Burkhardt insinuating he and Olsen are a finished product.
“But I think our chemistry has been there since the first minute,” he said. “That’s really fortunate.”
It’s been necessary, too. A challenge for Olsen in his first full season of broadcasting was working with three different play-by-play announcers in eight weeks, with Burkhardt on MLB playoffs hosting duty throughout October. That meant three games alongside Joe Davis and another with Adam Amin for Olsen.
Olsen has found himself treating the broadcast grind like a football seasons – making adjustments, seeking improvement.
“Sometimes I would see a lot and I would try to tell everybody everything I saw,” he said. “After a while, working with my team, they were like ‘Just take the most important thing and make that fun.’”
The “fun” part has been an exercise in finding the line when it comes to talking about football, Olsen said. For so long, football had been a serious matter to him, while joking around with teammates was second-nature. Bringing his personality into football is part of the challenge.
“I had to kind of retrain myself,” Olsen said. “When you’re talking football, you’re not talking football like you used to talk football, where it was like very granular, very detailed, you’re keyed on certain aspects. Now it’s a little like – yes, people want to learn, they want to be taught something, but they also don’t want to be bored to death with like super, super fine detail of protections and routes that could almost be like overload.”
"I've been clear on the impact [Cam Newton] has made on my career. He's the best thing to ever happen to me, on and off the field.
I am thrilled. I am jacked. I can't wait to see what he does."
- @gregolsen88 on @CameronNewton rejoining the @Panthers pic.twitter.com/1YJG43lkSa
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) November 12, 2021
That’s especially true for Olsen’s studio assignments – “a whole different animal,” he said – during "Thursday Night Football," which he will do five times by the end of the regular season. This past Thursday was a timely appearance for Olsen; he discussed quarterback Cam Newton returning to the Panthers, a subject matter he knows well.
“He’s a big talker,” Chris Olsen said. “He’s got lots of opinions on everything.”
Chris Olsen coached high school football for nearly 40 years, won eight sectional titles and was inducted into the New Jersey Scholastic Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January. Assessing his son’s broadcast chops and trying to remove his “proud papa” cap, Chris Olsen can tell his son is “very much at ease” on television.
“And you know what? He really likes doing it,” Chris Olsen said. “He may prepare during the week more doing this than he did when he played football, to be honest with you.”
Burkhardt and Olsen often text about content ideas throughout the week before they arrive on site for their production meetings and conversations with teams, not unlike the chats Burkhardt had with Olsen’s dad in the Wayne Hills offices during the early 2000s.
“His dad was always good to me when I was trying to figure it out as a broadcaster and (he) always understood what we were trying to do and helped us tremendously,” Burkhardt said. “And so, I don’t know, hopefully I can pay it back by helping his son. I don’t think he needs a lot of help. He’s pretty damn good.”
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL on Fox broadcast team Kevin Burkhardt, Greg Olsen 'go way back'