In Super Bowl 51, the Broadcast Talent Tries to Play Forever
At a time of political acrimony that just won’t quit, the Super Bowl still brings the country together. Last year, 112 million people watched the game, according to Nielsen. The next-biggest TV event, the first presidential debate, drew 84 million viewers, an audience differential that’s literally the size of the population of Texas. Whether you come for the game, the ads, or the nachos, the Super Bowl is one of the last truly mainstream cultural events on the calendar.
And unlike the political debates, when America sits down to watch TV together on Sunday, it will see nothing jarring. Just a bunch of familiar faces, mostly men of grandfather age. The average age of the Fox broadcast crew is almost 55, the second-oldest ever to handle the big game. Former coach Jimmy Johnson, now 73, will become the oldest person to cover a Super Bowl on television, besting John Madden by a few months 1 Johnson was a 23-year-old assistant coach when the Green Bay Packers prevailed in Super Bowl I. . Here’s a look at every person ever to mic up for the Big Game.
Sideline reporter Erin Andrews, at 38, will be the only broadcaster on the squad this Sunday under the age of 45. Of the nine people Fox will put on camera, Andrews is the only woman. This is also a Super Bowl tradition. When NBC and CBS air the game, the only on-screen role for women is the sideline reporter. In the 1970s and ’80s, women occasionally appeared as analysts and pregame hosts, but no woman has had a nonsideline role on the broadcast since 1992, when Lesley Visser was a trophy presenter.
Donna de Varona, an Olympic gold medalist in swimming, was a TV broadcaster for 14 years before she did a live opening segment at the Steelers-Cowboys Super Bowl in 1979. She worked two Super Bowls over a 35-year broadcasting career. “Getting the assignment was always the problem," she said. “But that was competitive for everyone, not just women.”
Thirty-eight years after de Varona’s first game, the MVP from that game, Terry Bradshaw, will be part of the in-studio crew. He’s 68 years old, and this will be his 17th Super Bowl out of uniform. Men on screen are, on average, eight years older than their female counterparts, though that gap has narrowed over the years.
It’s perhaps unsurprising that the people paid to talk about football are mostly men. The players are all men, as are the coaches, and retirees from these two groups supply most of football's on-air talent. Of course, having first-hand on-field experience has never been a prerequisite. On-air talent who have never coached or suited up generally make up about 40 percent of the broadcast crew.