Michael Smith was an entire ocean away from New England Patriots training camp and that made him unhappy.
It didn't matter that Smith, then in his mid-20s and covering the NFL for the Boston Globe, was on assignment at the 2003 World Track and Field Championships in Paris, France, with his girlfriend (now wife) alongside him.
"She’s like, 'Are you serious?'" Smith told USA TODAY Sports on a video call.
The NFL was his first love in this business. His thing. Always has been. Still is.
That's especially true in this moment – 19 years later – with Amazon's Prime Video hiring Smith as a news analyst for its "Thursday Night Football" studio coverage. Smith will be part of the pregame, halftime and postgame shows hosted by Charissa Thompson with Tony Gonzalez, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Richard Sherman as analysts.
"It’s a full-circle moment. It’s back to my roots in many respects. I always wanted to be a part of a national telecast … and here I am," said Smith, who spent 15 years (2004-2019) at ESPN, first as a NFL insider and then as a commentator and host on a variety of programs.
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At ESPN, Smith worked with Prime Video vice president for global video Marie Donoghue, who said Smith "has an incredible journalistic background."
"We really think that adding a reporter with the journalism credentials that Michael Smith has is really important for viewers to contextualize stories surrounding the NFL," Donoghue told USA TODAY Sports.
Smith is no stranger to a pregame show. He was a contributor to "NFL Sunday Countdown" on ESPN, which Amina Hussein – now the head of U.S. sports on-air talent and development at Prime Video – produced. The New Orleans, Louisiana, native wanted to be the next Chris Mortensen.
That didn’t happen, and he would never suggest to be the Mortensen of Prime Video, but his point is that he’s fulfilled a dream.
"It was just a matter of convincing them that I was the guy," Smith joked.
Smith said he always pays attention to the CBS and Fox programs, and he's worked at NBC Sports since 2020 and became familiar with "Football Night in America."
"It feels like a natural progression for me," Smith, who hosts and executive produces a sports, current events and culture show "Brother From Another" on Peacock. (Smith said a "reimagined and larger" deal with NBC is being finalized.)
"I’ve worked a long time to reach this point," Smith said. "I appreciate Prime Video knowing what I bring to the table and giving me a seat at their table."
Smith gained national prominence as a panelist on the popular evening debate show "Around The Horn." He co-hosted various programs, most notably "His & Hers" alongside Jemele Hill. The pair began hosting the 6 p.m. ET edition of "SportsCenter," rebranded to "SC6" in 2017. Hill departed 12 months later and Smith hosted a solo version until May 2018 before being replaced; he and ESPN reached a buyout agreement the next year.
A streaming service exclusively airing "Thursday Night Football" is an example of how much has changed in media since Smith started covering the NFL in 2001. But that's the exciting part for him.
"I feel like being a part of this team, this company, this moment, this shift to (Prime Video) exclusively streaming the NFL on Thursday nights, the journey was leading me here the whole time," Smith said.
"This is as big of an opportunity as I’ve had in a while," Smith said. "I haven’t been this excited about anything in a while. And it’s not just how high-profile it is, it’s really the people."
Thompson and Smith previously worked together on "Numbers Never Lie" on ESPN2 (which was eventually rebranded to "His & Hers") and "nobody makes work feel less like work than Charissa,” Smith said.
At a recent summit at Prime Video studios in Los Angeles, Smith bonded with the ex-player analysts he covered at various points in their careers and has also known features reporter Taylor Rooks for a long time. Smith said nobody is more "real" than contributor Aqib Talib and called Andrew Whitworth, another contributor, one of the best teammates in football history.
"I’m telling you, and I don’t mean to set the bar too high, but I saw a glimpse of what we have ... and the chemistry is amazing," Smith said. "I think we’re going to hit the ground running and people are going to look at us and say this is one of the best teams in sports television right out of the gate. That’s what we’re looking to be."
Donoghue said there will be no restrictions on which topics Smith can commentate or report. Smith plans on blending his reporting acumen with his ability to think critically and his own opinions. Prime Video hired him for that reason.
"They know exactly who I am," he said. "They know my body of work. They know exactly what I’ve done and what I bring to the table and the versatility I bring to the table."
After decades of being on television, Smith has respect across the board and his perspective is well-regarded throughout the league. The job description, Smith said, is "Be Michael Smith."
"I’ve managed to mold those worlds as a commentator and analyst and as a reporter for about 20 years now," Smith said. "They knew exactly how I did my job and that’s exactly what they were looking for.
"It was exactly what I was looking for as well."
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Amazon Prime Video hires Michael Smith as TNF news analyst