CBS Sports' lead NFL sideline reporter talks to PEOPLE about what goes into prepping for the biggest day in sports — and how she always dreamed of this day
Tracy Wolfson, 48, has a packed week ahead of her, as she prepares to be the eyes and ears on the sidelines of Super Bowl LVIII Sunday when the San Francisco 49ers play the Kansas City Chiefs.
Wolfson, CBS Sports' lead NFL sideline reporter (as well as the lead reporter for NCAA Men’s Basketball and host of the all-women sports show We Need to Talk), is a pro at high-octane sports coverage, but the Super Bowl — one of the biggest sporting events on the planet — requires next-level prep.
Ahead of the big game, she's meeting with coaches and players — as well as doing intensive research and Navy SEAL levels of packing ("I need a spreadsheet," she jokes) — but she took a moment to talk to PEOPLE about the art of sideline reporting, her love of the game, and what goes into preparing to cover "the epitome of all games," as she calls it.
Read on for our Q&A with one of the most prominent voices you'll hear from on Sunday night.
PEOPLE: You're going to be calling the game from the sidelines, is that right?
Tracy Wolfson: Yes. I’m the lead sideline reporter. There are two guys in the booth, Jim Nantz and Tony Romo, they call it from the booth. I'll be on one sideline during the Super Bowl. They add another sideline reporter to work on the other opposite side — so I take one team and he takes the other. But normally, during the whole year, I'm by myself down there.
PEOPLE: How many Super Bowls have you covered?
Tracy Wolfson: This is my fifth Super Bowl, my fourth as the lead sideline reporter. The story is that when I first started, I was doing college football, and they had me do pre-game and post-game for the Super Bowl. That first Super Bowl, in 2013, it was the Harbaugh Bowl in New Orleans, and the lights went out. The joke was that they told me, ‘You're only getting on the air if the lights go out,’ and sure enough, the lights went out. And so I wound up on the Super Bowl, but I wasn't supposed to be.
PEOPLE: What's it like to be the sideline reporter for the Super Bowl?
Tracy Wolfson: It's actually your dream, or at least my dream when getting into this business. It's the epitome of all games. It's the biggest event on television. It is watched by millions. It's a worldwide event.
It's something I dreamed of doing when I was a kid. I wanted to be a sideline reporter since I was 8 years old. I just love talking sports ... I took a very long road to get here, but I felt like as long as I was surrounded by sports doing something in the sports world, I'd be happy. So to have the opportunity to cover Super Bowl, be front and center in the world on Super Bowl Sunday, that's an all-time high, no doubt.
PEOPLE: It's also just so inspirational for other little girls, like the 8-year-old that you were, to see a woman on the sidelines doing this job.
Tracy Wolfson: I do hope that, and that's something I take really seriously. I mentor a lot of young women who want to get into this field or just want to break into an industry that's a male-dominated industry. To show that you can do it — I really pride myself on that. I try and pay it forward as much as possible. And I really hope I do pave the way for others. Certainly, those that have come before me have paved the way for me; I wouldn't be here without them, and I take that really seriously.
PEOPLE: Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re doing this week to prepare for the game?
Tracy Wolfson: This is a unique week because you're busy with so many different obligations than during a regular football week. But I approach this week in terms of my game prep really the same way I would any other game; it's still two teams. It's just the stakes are higher.
In terms of my preparation, I'm going to get as much research as possible. We get it sent from CBS. I follow beat reporters on Twitter. I use social media to find interesting stories. I read up on them, I call coaches and players. We have meetings with each of the teams, meetings with the head coach, the coordinators, the star players. And we will do that when we get on-site in Las Vegas on Wednesday and Thursday.
I'm going to be doing a sit down with Travis Kelce that's going to air in our pregame, I'm going to be doing a press conference with [NFL Commissioner] Roger Goodell that week. There are a lot of extra events and activities you're involved with during Super Bowl. But for the most part, you're just prepping the game like you are any other game. Hopefully we get a really good game. I mean, that's really what you look for in the end.
PEOPLE: Tell me more about the art of sideline reporting for a big game like this. What do you think people don't know or should know about the work that you're putting into this?
Tracy Wolfson: People think a lot of it is scripted. They think that someone else gives you the information, or that it's prepared for you. ... But you are the eyes and ears down on the field. So you're trying to find and get whatever Jim Nantz and Tony Romo, who are in the booth, are not able to see or hear. You are kind of the investigative reporter, whether it's following up on injuries, or listening in to what the quarterback's telling his offensive line, or watching for some malfunction on the field, or you're just trying to get a sense of what the game is, and then you're adding in whatever reports you can get.
During a regular season game, you want to bring stories to light that maybe the fans don't know. But during a big game like this, we have tons of extra cameras, extra graphics, extra replays. We have three people on the sideline. I mean, there's a lot going into it. And people just want to watch the game, so you don't want to fill them with too much information. You just want to bring to the broadcast what people can't see or hear, that's really relevant to what's being played at that moment.
PEOPLE: It sounds really stressful to be down there on the field.
Tracy Wolfson: I embrace it! I love that. People say, "Do you want to go in the booth and commentate?" And no, I love being front and center in the moment. You really feel the energy. You get a good vibe, you feel like you're part of the game. And yeah, I mean, one step next to you could be three guys being tackled out of bounds — and you're running just to make sure you don't get hit.
PEOPLE: Have you ever gotten hit?
Tracy Wolfson: I did get hit by a defensive player during pre-game. They were doing their warmups, and one pushed another guy right into me and knocked me on my ass. And I got up so quickly because I was so embarrassed — I jumped up because I didn't want anyone to see me. I was fine. The next morning, I woke up and I'm like, "I'm sore. What happened?" And then I realized I had a big bruise down my leg, and I was like, “Oh my God, that's what it's from.”
But it's so fun being down there because you really do feel the energy. You feel like you're right in it. And I love thinking on my feet, finding out what's really important down there. And then the other thing you get to do, which I really pride myself on, is I love doing the interviews, whether it's with a player, or a coach, halftime or after the game or pregame — trying to elicit a really good response from that player or coach.
PEOPLE: How do you do that? So many sports players and coaches don't say a lot!
Tracy Wolfson: It's a challenge! This is my 10th year covering the NFL, and you learn what players are good with the media, who gives good responses and what they're like as players. There might be one who's a little chippy, one who has a little edge on him, one who's very dry, one who has a personality, one who just [does] "coach speak." And you kind of learn that. And then sometimes, honestly, if they're not great, you're not going to interview them — unless it's a quarterback.
And I think the trust factor, I think when you've covered these same teams over and over again, they get to know you and they feel comfortable with you and they open up more. And the same with them being in the business for longer, right? As they play longer and longer, they feel more comfortable as well. You can really get some good responses, but you have to be prepared for the curt answers — certainly frustration, from a coach, if they're down at halftime and you're asking them a question, putting them on the spot. You have to be ready for all of that.
PEOPLE: What are you most excited about covering this Super Bowl?
Tracy Wolfson: Out of the Super Bowl games I've covered as the lead sideline reporter, we haven't had a competitive game. So I'm looking forward to something that kind of comes down to the wire between two teams that are really at the top of their game. I love the fact Kansas City wasn't expected to be here; a lot of people doubted them, and they thrive on that. And then you can throw in, of course, the Travis and Taylor storyline, which is always hilarious and really fun as a fan.
The biggest thing is it's the first Super Bowl ever held Las Vegas — the bright lights, synonymous with big events. I can't wait to see what the strip is going to be like, what the stadium's going to be and the fans and the crowd and these teams. It's certainly a unique experience. I think those are the things I'm looking forward to.
When you think about the lead-up to the game, certainly that's at the top of the list: a Super Bowl in Vegas, just unimaginable. And I'm going to get the chance to cover that.
I can't wait!
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