NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood would like to make it very clear that the Sunday Night Football booth doesn’t have an Aaron Rodgers-Jordan Love situation on its hands now that Drew Brees has signed on with the broadcast team.
Speaking on a conference call this afternoon, Flood scrambled to dispel speculation that the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yardage had been recruited to usher color commentator Cris Collinsworth out of his SNF seat. “Cris remains among the very best who’ve ever done it and the plan is to keep him in that chair for a long time,” Flood said. “The opportunity down the road is not something we’re looking at right now.”
Insiders have been actively trying to quash any loose talk about the likelihood that Brees would be groomed as the successor to Collinsworth since spring 2020, when the Canton-bound quarterback’s future with NBC began to coalesce. As the coronavirus pandemic was lurching into its second month, insiders familiar with Brees’ commitment to join NBC upon his eventual retirement from football said Collinsworth would maintain his role on the Sunday night broadcast for as long as he wanted it.
Collinsworth has called games alongside Al Michaels since 2009, when he replaced the retiring John Madden. Michaels, 76, is under contract to NBC through Super Bowl LVI, which is set to take place just a few miles down the road from his Brentwood home. The Swiss Army Knife that is Mike Tirico will take on the SNF play-by-play duties after Michaels hangs it up.
Brees’ first assignments will find him calling the action from South Bend alongside Tirico when NBC’s coverage of Notre Dame football resumes on Saturday, Sept. 11. On Sundays, Brees will hop a flight to Stamford, Conn., where he’ll take a seat in the studio alongside Tirico, Tony Dungy, Rodney Harrison and Mike Florio on NBC’s live pregame show Football Night in America.
Brees played his college ball at Purdue, which is about a two hour drive from Notre Dame. The 42-year-old said he’d noticed right away that the Boilermakers would pay a visit to the Irish on Sept. 18, which will be his second game behind the NBC mic. Notre Dame Stadium was a house of horrors for the young Brees, as Purdue lost to the home team by a 31-30 margin in 1998 and were upset 23-21 two years later.
“Both were games we should’ve won but Touchdown Jesus got us in the end,” Brees said, before going on to tip his cap to what he characterized as “one of the epicenters of college football.” Brees jokingly added that he may have a hard time silencing his inner Boilermaker next fall, telling reporters, “I will be impartial for every game, with the exception of the Purdue game. … My bloodlines run deep with the black-and-gold.”
Brees went on to say that he hopes Purdue and Notre Dame can rekindle their historic rivalry, which effectively sputtered out when the annual matchup was canceled after the 2014 season. The September game isn’t necessarily a one-off, as the two programs are committed to face one another on a yearly basis from 2024-2028.
When asked how he’d approach the game as a broadcaster, Brees said that while he admired the job Tony Romo’s done for CBS, he wasn’t going to try to imitate him or any other color commentator. “Tony … very quickly showed football fans everywhere the way an NFL quarterback can see and process a game—obviously in a much different form than what they’ve seen or heard before,” Brees said, noting that rather than sweat out style points, he would focus on articulating the nuances of the game in an educational, yet enjoyable manner.
“The best piece of advice I’ve gotten so far when stepping into this business is ‘just be yourself,’” Brees said. “I’m going to talk like you’re stetting right next to me in my living room.”
Brees announced that he’d be joining the NBC Sports team on Monday morning’s broadcast of the Today show. Just the day before, the longtime Saint brought the curtain down on his 20-year NFL career, in which he passed for a record 80,358 yards and connected on 571 touchdown throws.
While he won’t exactly be pulling down Romo money, the inevitable first-ballot Hall of Famer said he’s thrilled to have the opportunity to appear on national TV every fall weekend to luxuriate in the two highest levels of organized football. “I am as excited to be in the booth with Mike Tirico as I was to throw passes to Michael Thomas on Sundays,” Brees said. “And I’m dead serious about that.”