Michele Tafoya spent some of the offseason following her 10th season as sideline reporter for NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” in Tokyo for the Summer Olympics.
Tafoya is now preparing to tackle another NFL season, one that should be a bit more normal than 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic altered football, journalism and the sports world in general. A longtime figure on NFL sidelines across the country, she has worked more than 250 prime-time NFL broadcasts.
Tafoya talked with USA TODAY Sports about working on “Sunday Night Football” and covering the NFL during a pandemic.
(Note: This interview has been edited for space and clarity.)
What does your preparation look like?
"When I’m flying home on Monday morning from that Sunday night’s game, I’m already working. That Monday morning I’m starting to look at film of the next two teams that I’ve got the following week. It’s seamless. It’s one to the next. There really isn’t much of a break. I try to give myself some time to sort of recover because we all need that, but it really is just starting all over again.
"There’s a lot that I don’t like to say publicly about what I do because I take some pride in doing it my own way, so I keep it to myself. You know, it’s watching film, talking to my producer. It’s developing storylines for the coming week. It’s monitoring all the news coming out of each team. It’s just not leaving any stone unturned.
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"It is a high volume of work. Some of it is really tedious, but it has to be done because you want to be that well-prepared. You want to feel that good about your preparation that you can just go on the air and let it rip."
What were the challenges of being a sideline reporter and covering the NFL during the 2020 season due to the pandemic?
Tafoya: "You were a sideline reporter who was confined to the first row of seats in the stands. You had to do the same job from a different spot, but it was one of those where you just had to deal. And we did. And we made the most of it. In some cases, it was advantageous because being up higher – I’m talking about the level of height from the ground – sometimes offered me a different vantage point and I could see things that I couldn’t normally see when I was stuck behind a bunch of 300-pound bodies.
"Some places it was a little eerie because it was empty and you’re looking around and it was just kind of strange. Some places it didn’t seem quite as eerie. I can’t really explain why some places were and some places weren’t. That part of it was really strange. You got used to it, and you just kind of put your head down and did the job, but it was definitely different."
Which matchups and storylines are you most excited to cover this season?
Tafoya: "Definitely Tom Brady going back to New England and facing his old team (Oct. 3). I think that is circled on everyone’s calendar for so many obvious reasons. When this is one that everyone’s going to want to watch, you’re fired up to be a part of it.
"Our schedule this year might be the best one that I’ve seen for 'Sunday Night Football' since I’ve been there (2011), and that’s saying a lot. It’s just got some great matchups. There are just so many exciting players. I always love covering Kansas City, Patrick Mahomes. Always love covering Green Bay with Aaron (Rodgers).
"And to have Dak Prescott back with Dallas, healthy now, I’m knocking on wood that I didn’t just jinx him. There are just a million great storylines, and then the season starts and some of those storylines change dramatically and some of them disappoint and some of them exceed expectations. It’s just phenomenal."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Michele Tafoya ready to return to NFL games after 'strange' season