Interview with Michelle Tafoya
by Eric Nelson
Phots by Gary Anders

Fall/Winter 2004

ABC's Michelle Tafoya reached the pinnacle of sportscasting when she was named the sideline reporter for this season’s Monday Night Football telecasts. Tafoya, who resides in the Twin Cities and once worked at WCCO-TV, is part of the longest running prime-time sports show in television history. She is also part of ABC's NBA broadcasts.

Generally I do my work thinking, “Okay, just as long as I'm serving the broadcast well.”

EN: Because of the scope and visibility of Monday Night Football, did you have butterflies before your first game?
MT: The very first game that we did was the Canton game, the Hall of Fame game. I remember the first hit (live sideline report) that I did, yeah I had major butterflies and I hadn't had those in a long time. It was different, in this case it was like “Holy mackerel! There are a lot more people watching.” Then, when we got into the regular season and it (the butterflies) started over again. Generally I do my work thinking, “Okay, just as long as I'm serving the broadcast well.” That's what I care about. But in this case for some reason I am more cognizant of the amount of people watching–the environment is so different. It's night time, the lights are on, the place is packed and everyone knows that (John) Madden and Al Michaels are there. It's just a much more energized environment. You have to keep yourself together.

EN: What is Al Michaels like?
MT: This guy couldn't have been more inclusive and more welcoming and more tremendous to work with. One thing that I like to say about Al is that he takes the sideline reporter's report and makes it better and that's a generous thing to do. Not every play-by-play announcer really cares as much as he does about what the sideline reporter says and then really takes it, and advances it. He's done that so well. He and his family have been great. His family is very involved in the whole Monday Night thing.

EN: What is John Madden like?
MT: I have really come to like this guy so much. He's taught me how to throw a football better. He's taught me how to run routes. He actually coaches me. We'll go and hang out, a handful of us after somebody practices, and we'll take over their practice field, and he will say, “Here's how you run an out.” Then he will teach us how to do it. It’s a blast.

EN: When the Madden cruiser bus pulls into a stadium parking lot there is a circus atmosphere surrounding John. He's got bodyguards, a posse and is as popular as any player. Are you amazed by this?
MT: (In Washington) we were driving along down this residential street and these people are coming out of their houses and waving at the cruiser because they know Madden is in it. I thought, “This is just remarkable.” When the bus pulls into the stadium all the tailgaters come around to see Madden come out. It's something. There's just an everyman quality about him that resonates with everyone. When you're listening to him and Al call a game, you feel like they could just as easily be sitting in your house with you. When we show up at practice all the players want to say “Hi,” to coach. They couldn't care less about the rest of us and that's just fine. But they have a great time playing with him, “You didn't list my speed right on your video game this year,” and that kind of stuff.

EN: ABC is based in New York and you grew up in Southern California, yet you live in the Twin Cities. Have you ever thought of relocating to New York or Los Angeles?
MT: I really like being here. I have layed down my roots here. I still love my home state of California, but I don't think I want to go back there to live. I've just found that the standard of living and quality of life here is more than I ever expected. I got married and settled down here. It would take a lot for anyone to make us move—it almost doesn't matter where you live as long as you can get to your assignment. Living smack dab in the middle of the country serves me very well. I don't have to make those long 5 1/2 hour flights from L.A. to New York.

EN: Are the Timberwolves a threat to win the NBA title?
MT: I think they are a legitimate contender to win it all. I still look at San Antonio and Sacramento, and now I look at Houston as legitimate threats.

EN: What do you think of the Twin Cities as a sports market?
MT: I think the fans are as good as they are anywhere. I wish that this market could capitalize on its great summer weather and gave us the Twins outdoors as much as possible. I think you'd see the Twins crowds skyrocket. This is definitely, I think, a Vikings-first town. It’s a good football market. That's why I can't imagine an owner ever wanting to move a team out of this market—it is just one of the best of its size. I think Kevin Garnett has really made the NBA in this city more enjoyable to watch. He's one of the few—and there are just a handful of athletes I can talk about—that every performance gives every drop that they have. He defines the NBA in this market.

EN: ABC has the Christmas Day telecast between Miami and the LA Lakers. How much hype will there be surrounding the Shaq-Kobe showdown?
MT: The hype will be enormous. Enormous. I can't imagine a more hyped Christmas Day game and it's sort of ironic that on Christmas Day, one of the most sacred holidays in our country, some very nasty stuff will be going on in Los Angeles. All of those things: Shaq's rap song, now the (Kobe) transcripts, their past relationship, whose team it was, all of that. It's going to be so much stuff just bubbling over.

EN: How hard are you are you working?
MT: I'm working harder than I've ever worked. I feel really challenged, I'm tired a lot, but I feel like I'm being pushed to give my very best in every single report that I do. There's just a natural tendency when it's on such a big scale and you are working with the kind of people you're working with, to try to raise your game.

EN: What is your typical work week like for a Monday Night Football telecast?
MT: I try to start a little bit of the work on Tuesday to get a handle on what I’m doing the following week. Wednesday I have a conference call with two producers and we talk about everything we want to highlight during that game. We put together a list for each team, then I start hammering the P.R. directors from each team on Wednesday, telling them the people I want to talk to. Generally it's anywhere from five to eight people per team. Then I get on the phone with each of these people and try to spend as much time as I can with them, getting the information I want and trying to get fresh stuff that hasn't been out there before. That means doing my research. Friday night I fly to the city I'm going to. Saturday I'm with the home team. Sunday with the visiting team. Monday we start with a 9:00 a.m. meeting and go until the wee hours. Tuesday, we start all over again.