NBC's Michele Tafoya can't wait to introduce Minnesota to the rest of the world
MINNEAPOLIS — It was roughly 17 years ago that Michele Tafoya, a native Californian, went for a run. That's when, in her mind, the sideline reporter for NBC's "Sunday Night Football" truly became One of Us.
"I remember going out and I'm like, 'I'm running in 18 degrees, I have clearly turned the corner,' " Tafoya said. "I have gloves on and I'm running. ... I went home and I texted my mom, 'I am now Minnesotan, there's just no way around it.' "
And this Minnesotan, who lives in Edina with her husband and two children, can't wait to show off her state to the world this week. There are a lot of minds she feels need to be changed — or, rather, exposed to what Minnesota really is.
She sent her mother a magazine from Minnesota, to which her mom responded, "I had no idea the architecture was so nice in Minnesota."
And that's not the worst of it.
"I was going through a medical thing once, and someone said to me, 'I don't know about the doctors you have out there, do you think maybe you need to come back to L.A.?'" Tafoya said. "And I said, 'Have you heard of the Mayo Clinic?' "
When people back in California ask about the cold, Tafoya explains she has a coat. When they ask about the people, she says, "These are some of the greatest people you're ever going to want to meet." Yet they still can't understand why she wants to live in Minnesota.
"So I want them all to tune into this game so they can discover why," Tafoya said.
Although Tafoya wasn't born here, she is as Minnesotan as anyone. She loves Bud Grant, never goes to Mall of America and flies a Gophers flag in her front lawn — though that has more to do with the house of Gophers fanatics she lives with (her husband, Mark Vandersall, played baseball at the U).
So there might not be anyone better than Tafoya to help share the story of Minnesota's Super Bowl with a national audience. Tafoya will be the sideline reporter for NBC's coverage of Sunday's big game at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"There is so much richness to Minnesota that people don't know about, and in some ways, we kind of prefer it that way because we're kind of in our own place," Tafoya said. "But I am so proud about what happens here on a day-to-day, year-to-year basis, that I'm really excited people get to see more of it and see how dang beautiful the stadium is. Oh my gosh, it's beautiful."
And she enjoys being close to her closet. When Tafoya covered Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona, she fell into a panic when she realized she left a few crucial outfits at home.
"By the time I called me husband, he's like, 'You've got to be kidding,' " Tafoya said. "I'm like, 'Just FedEx them to me!' So now I don't have to worry about that."
For Tafoya, having a home Super Bowl of sorts is full of positives. She is able to sleep in her own bed and have dinner with her family. But there also are added responsibilities. She checked the time more than once during her Tuesday, Jan. 30, sit-down with the media, knowing she had to pick up her kids.
"There are a little more strains on your time, because everyone thinks you have time for them, but in fact this is a working week for me," Tafoya said. "But I'm just so proud of Minnesota and the way they've stepped up to this. I love it."
Don't expect Tafoya to be thrown off by the big moment, either. The last Super Bowl she covered was the famed Seattle-New England game. Tafoya was directly behind Patriots coach Bill Belichick when Malcolm Butler intercepted Russell Wilson at the goal line in the final minute to clinch another Patriots title. She watched as Belichick screamed as he clenched his fists and thrust his arms in the air. Moments later, she had to sprint onto the field to get an interview with Butler.
She corralled him in time for the live shot, but right as NBC sent it down to her, Butler started to run away.
"And the camera is rolling and I had to chase him down and go, 'Malcolm! Malcolm!' " Tafoya said. "So that one was kind of fun, too."
Tafoya sat down with members of the media for about 40 minutes Tuesday. Here are highlights from the conversation:
On the evolution of sideline reporting
"When I first started, their expectation was you're going to tell fluff stories. When this guy scores a touchdown, you're going to ask about his wonderful background playing violin as a high school sophomore. But now, and maybe it's because I've been part of a crew that really appreciates my role, it's all about live coverage. What is happening down there? Yes, I talk to a lot of players before games and I try to get nuggets to advance stories or show people a side of players they don't know, but it's got to be within the scheme of the game. Rather than just a separate entity down there, it's much more integrated into the game so that everything flows. Anything Al (Michaels) and Chris (Collinsworth) are talking about I can chime in on and vice versa.
"... You hope that your top-shelf stuff, the stuff no one else has that you just want to get this in, you try to make it happen, but you can't force it. I can't tell you how many times we've been like, 'OK, stand by, Michele, we're going to roll the piece on so and so,' and then somebody throws a touchdown pass. Story gone, and it's gone forever, because you're never going to get back to that moment.
On the tough questions
"I think when I had to ask (Patriots owner) Robert Kraft about 'Deflategate' right after they won the Super Bowl, because we had to. If we hadn't, we would've been derelict. And it fell on me — 'You're going to do the Bob Kraft interview.' So that one was tough.
"... I love the game, I've always loved the game. I think that the NFL is doing so much to find safer ways to play this game. I know that bothers some people because they love the speed and the hits and the sounds, I also believe that every player walking onto a football field knows what he is signing up for and has always known that this is a dangerous game from the time they played pee wee.
"I hope a lot. I know I've grown more confident and I've looked less externally, I've looked less at what does the audience think of me and more about what do I think of me, what does my producer think, what do we collaboratively think about what I'm doing? I'm not going to let Twitter bring me down, and if they don't like what I'm wearing or my hair or my teeth or whatever, that's their problem. And that just takes a thickening of your skin and an understanding of you're doing your job and you're doing the best you can. You've got one life, you've got to go live it and I'm not going to let other people take over my emotions that way.
On the Vikings
"I was disappointed for the fans, I really was. And I knew, and all along, I really felt, as we all watched this magical season unfold, that if they became the first team in NFL history to play in their home building, that would be a phenomenal story to cover, and I think we all felt that way. We didn't know it was going to happen, but we knew that there was that chance, and I think it would've been magnificent, because the state would've turned purple — every inch of it. And I thought, 'That would be a scene. That would be a great scene.' ... Disappointing for everyone, no question about it, but Philly is a good story, too, and it's going to be fun."