The last time Melissa Stark was a regular on the sidelines, Tom Brady was a one-time Super Bowl champion and Matthew Stafford was a high school freshman.
While Stark returns to the sidelines for the first time since 2002 after starting a family, Brady still plays in the league and has added six more rings to his Super Bowl collection. Stafford is part of the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams.
Stark will cover both quarterbacks for NBC this week. The Rams begin their title defense in Thursday night’s kickoff game against the Buffalo Bills, while Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night.
“Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that my life would turn out this way,” said Stark, who replaced Michele Tafoya after she decided to leave sports broadcasting. “Being part of hosting a live show in a studio is one thing, but being part of the action and being on the sidelines in the middle of the game is completely different. And that’s what I love.”
Stark was the sideline reporter for ABC’s “Monday Night Football” from 2000-02. She spent four years with NBC News (2003-07), including stints as a national correspondent for the “Today” show and an MSNBC anchor, along with covering three Olympics for NBC Sports.
Stark left the company for a few years as her family grew to four children, including twins, before joining NFL Network in 2011. the network produced games in London.
Stark started on ‘Monday Night Football’ when she was 25 and returns to primetime at 48 with four teenagers.
“I’ve always said to my husband, ‘I’m being replaced by someone who’s younger.’ And he’s always said, “Stop thinking that. No you’re not.” To be able to come back with a family is very valid and an important message for women,” said Stark. “I think it opens up a lot of opportunities for women and shows that they can find a way to start that family, but also to have a to have a career.
“I am so honored that Fred (Gaudelli) thought of me. I feel privileged to be able to come back and do that.”
When it comes to sideline development over the past 20 years, Stark cited additional sources, including someone in the truck to relay information directly to the producer.
“Access to the storylines and research has also increased enormously. Ultimately, the sideline reporter’s job is to be the eyes and ears on the field. So we can have a story here or there,” she said.
Stark isn’t the only staff shuffle on “Sunday Night Football,” which has been the top-rated primetime show for 11 years. Mike Tirico becomes the main play-by-play announcer after Al Michaels moves to Amazon’s “Thursday Night Football” package. Rob Hyland takes over as coordinating producer after Gaudelli landed an executive role at NBC producing the Amazon games.
Cris Collinsworth returns for his 14th season as an analyst. The crew worked on the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, last month.
“If I’ve learned anything in Canton, it’s that my instincts can be trusted. We’ll be fine. Everyone communicates. Everyone connects, get along. Like-minded people,” Tirico said. “We haven’t played a regular season game together yet, but I know what (director) Drew Esocoff is thinking and doing, especially Rob. Cris, I don’t have to look back and see, ‘hmm, what is he thinking?’ I listened to Cris. I’ve worked with Cris. I know exactly where he is going and what he wants to say, and the same goes for Melissa.”
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