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Interview with Tracy Wolfson

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MnB sits down with CBS's very own Tracy Wolfson.

Kevin C. Cox

Maize 'n' Brew was very lucky to catch up to the great sideline reporter for CBS, who will be a part of the head team on the NFL on CBS this fall with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, as well as Thursday Night Football on the NFL Network and CBS. Tracy, who was an extension of the booth for 9 years with Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson, is probably the best in the game. And, did I mention she's a Michigan grad?

Around the country, there are certain truisms about the SEC - rabid fan bases, very competitive teams, highly paid coaches, never-ending recruiting. You've had a great, inside view from covering the SEC for 9 years. What's stood out to you the most?

Well, you hit on it, but the most is the tradition and the passion. Obviously, I went to Michigan and loved all my years there, but there's a little bit of a difference when it comes down to Southern football. First of all, the weather's gorgeous. Fans are always outside tailgating, everyone's dressed up in that Southern charm, whether it's Ole Miss and they're wearing gowns, or whether it's Georgia and Alabama, where, in Georgia the girls are wearing their red jeans and have their heels going on, walking in the stadium. It's different. I wore jean shorts and a T-shirt to games... The fraternities wear their suits, and they all come out. it just has a different feel to it, and it's that tradition and passion.

And every one of the games, I always say, there's something on the line and it's not just because the teams are good. It's because there's always been historic rivalries - I mean, you pick out LSU, they have 3 or 4 rivals and then Alabama now comes in the mix and that's one of their rivals. You name it, there's a rivalry in the SEC every week. Plus, the competition is top-notch.

So, obviously an important part of your job is getting to know the coaches, getting to know the players involved. How valuable was that for you working on the college level, and what are you going to do in the NFL?

Yeah, it's going to be a big transition. It's very different, your approach to it. The access is much more limited than in college. You can't stand behind a bench and report on what you hear. You can't go over and talk to the trainer and find out the information. You don't get to do interviews a lot during the game, which is one of the things I pride myself on and I really have come to enjoy, and I think it's sometimes some of the best television out there. But, they're rarely doing an interview after the game, maybe you are with the players, definitely not a coach. So, it's a little different in that aspect.

And the other thing you have to remember is it's national. Every story that's out there is already out there, and you have to find the stories that are not out there. I think that's the biggest challenge, in moving, is the access and trying to skirt around that issue and forming the relationships. Yeah, a lot of people might know me because they're SEC fans or they come from the SEC. But still there's a slew out there that I've never been in contact with, from players to the coaches.

This year, you'll be covering the NFL on CBS with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, and also working for the NFL Network. You already have extensive knowledge of football from covering the SEC, and you've done everything from golf to the NCAA tournament, where you've worked with Jim Nantz already for almost a decade. How is this different from anything you've done in your career?

You don't prepare any different. Some of the weekends I'll be doing two games. The preparation is going to be bigger. The amount of teams, the amount of players that you need to know and learn and study up on, are obviously on a larger scale. Every team has to appear on Thursday Night Football, so I will have covered every team in the NFL. The SEC, obviously, is a lot smaller, and having covered them for 10 years you know them. But my role will be the same. And I'm pushing for more access, I'm pushing for those interviews. I think it's good for the game, it's great for a broadcast.

And you know what, we'll see. I don't think you come in and try and make change right away. I think you come in, you do your job as best you can, you try and make those connections that make the broadcast better - that access and those stories that people don't know. When I was in the SEC, I always considered myself an extension of the booth, getting what Verne and Gary - now Jim and Phil - can't get. You're the eyes on the field, and that doesn't change whether you're covering the SEC or the NFL.

I've noticed that as well, that interviews are becoming more a part of the game. The SEC Media Days have always gotten a lot of attention, but the Big Ten Media Days are getting covered more on ESPN, it seems, and you're getting more interviews throughout the year - people are getting a more personal look at what football life is like.

That's what you want to do. You want to bring the life onto the television, whether - it could be just the reaction from Nick Saban after he made a mistake and he admits to it - or a facial expression he might happen to have [after a play].

You were on the field after the greatest game-ending moment to ever happen in a college football game. I know you were also covering the Kevin Ware incident, but the Auburn-Alabama game - what were your thoughts after that?

Wow... that was kind of my reaction. You don't realize what happened until after the fact - I remember, in the hotel afterward, watching the replays over and over again, and thinking, my god, we were there, we were a part of history. You don't realize that when you're going through it.

My mindset was, I'm on the Alabama sideline. We have a sideline producer with me and I said to her, 'We gotta get Chris Davis.' I'm heading for Chris Davis, and I see him being tackled by a million people, the crowd that stormed the field, and I said, I'm not going to get Chris Davis in time. How am I going to get this interview with everyone on top of him in a timely manner - so I said, let me go for Gus. You know where he's going to be, he's going to be at the middle of the field, I knew my camera would be there. I went directly to Gus, I pushed my way in, which I do all the time - I'm 5'0", that's where being short helps - and I get in, stick my microphone in his face, get the emotion, and the reaction from Gus Malzahn, and then I turn around and I see Chris Davis about to be lifted up onto one of his teammate's shoulders - and I go, 'NO, NO' and I knock on the guy's legs, 'you've got to put him back down, I need the interview!' And he looked at me and goes, 'oh, you're with CBS? You've got to put him down!' And they put him down and we got the interview.

And it was an amazing moment because when we finished, we all looked around at each other - and it was perfect. It doesn't always happen that way. And everyone did their job. If my cameraman was out of place, or my audio guy wasn't there with the right microphone or if it wasn't plugged in correctly or if my producer hadn't followed Chris with the throng of people - it just wouldn't have worked, and it did. Not only was it the most historic, one of the most historic college football moments in history, but for us, it was one of the best productions I think we've ever done. And that, we take away, and we're very proud of that.

That was one of my favorite moments from that, you telling Chris Davis on-air - I couldn't let you be hoisted away, I had to get this interview. That was really great.

You know, the funniest thing, I actually had my family - I don't know if you know, I'm a mother of three boys - and they're all very young, and I don't get to see them a lot, since I'm traveling a lot, so I always take them to games and that happened to be the game I decided to take them to. And my husband had my two boys on the corner of the end zone. I didn't even know this, I was working - and Chris Davis ran right past them into the end zone, he's at that corner. He was so nervous that everyone's going to topple over my kids, and in the picture of Chris Davis crossing the end zone you see my husband and my two kids in the background. It's really amazing. They got to witness it, too, alongside me. And I had no idea, I was walking off the field and there I see them, and they're like, you don't even know what just happened to us.

You've started to talk about this already, but what are some of your favorite parts about what you do?

I've always wanted to do this, since I was.... 10? watching NBA Inside Stuff, and said, why not, I love sports, I can talk sports, that's what I want to do. And the fact that I've been able to come this far and actually achieve that is one of the things that keeps you going. It's very difficult, when you're not working, to step back and watch other people do this job that you work so hard to do. It keeps you going every year.

People ask me, don't you want to stay home more and be in the studio. I think there will come a time, maybe, where I want to do that and not leave my family every week, but I think the excitement, the live aspect of it - you don't get that inside the studio. Having to think on your feet and react to a moment. It's a challenge, but it's also exciting. Those are the fun parts.

I mean, look, there is always going to be tedious aspects of the job, re-packing and unpacking of luggage, getting on a plane twice a weekend and for the NFL it's going to be four times. That's the toughest part of your job. Sleeping in hotels, in and out, I don't care how nice the hotels are, it's still... that's the hardest, hardest part of the job is being away from our family. And I think as a mom, and as a woman, it's a really good example to set for our future generation, so that's also what keeps you going.

The Big Ten has made some news this off-season, expanding to the East Coast. What are your thoughts about the expansion?

You know, expansion's a big thing. I don't think it's over. Doesn't matter what conference, there'll be some expansion and re-alignments coming in the future. But look, I understand it. It gets a whole other set of viewership. And for me, I like it, I can go to Rutgers and see Michigan play. They can get the whole New York viewership in there, and that's something we're lacking out here on the East Coast. You don't have those teams to root for, you don't have a college football passion. If adding a Rutgers and a Maryland can do that, and they can bring that back a little bit here, I'm all for it. We'll see how it works out, and how these teams can compete, how the recruiting works... I'm sure the Maryland and Rutgers fan bases are really excited to be a part of the Big Ten.

Finally, you've done some really good work with fighting diabetes. Do you want to talk about that for a little bit? What makes that important for you?

Sure. My mother-in-law has diabetes. Her sister has diabetes. It's just a big part of our family and they asked me to be a part of it. My in-laws do a big golf tournament for FDR (Foundation for Diabetes Research), and they asked me to be a part of it. Any charity work I can do in my off time, I try and get involved in, whether it's FDR, whether it's March of Dimes, whether it's Fighting for Autism, I just think that's a part of being in the public eye. If you can bring some awareness, that helps, too. So, diabetes research is really near and dear to my heart and I know my mother-in-law's heart, and anything I can do to help, I want to do.

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Obviously, a big, warm thank you to Tracy for this interview. She made me more comfortable as we went along and gave great, in-depth answers. Best of luck to her this season.