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ESPN’s Suzy Kolber Talks Overpreparation, Super Bowl LII

Suzy Kolber has covered Super Bowls at ESPN for two decades. But Super Bowl LII will be her first as the network’s lead pregame anchor.

“I get to open and close,” Kolber says. “For me personally, in my career, that’s a little bit different and a little bit more significant.”

ESPN’s Super Bowl pregame show Sunday will be a mammoth four hours — twice the length of “Monday Night Countdown,” which Kolber hosts once a week ahead of “Monday Night Football.” The 2017 NFL season, culminating in Sunday’s championship matchup between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles in Minneapolis, was Kolber’s first in the top spot on “Countdown.” After several years as the show’s onsite anchor, she took over the lead role from the retired Chris Berman, one of ESPN’s original and best-known on-air personalities. The move made Kolber’s already busy weekly schedule busier.

Kolber began her career as an intern, then a producer at local stations in Miami — carrying equipment, logging game results. That experience informed the way she would approach her on-air work in the years to come.

“My comfort zone is probably over-preparation,” she says. “That’s what makes me feel good.”

During the season, a typical week for Kolber begins on the first flight home Tuesday, based near ESPN’s Connecticut headquarters, from whatever city the Monday-night game has taken place the evening before. She spends the flight reading up on the weekend’s games, adding to research files she keeps on every team. That afternoon, she picks up her daughter up from school.

On Wednesday, Kolber watches the entirety of Monday’s “Countdown” broadcast. “I always watch everything I do, just always trying to improve,” she says. She then begins to dig into research packets on the league and the upcoming Monday-night game prepared by producers. Before watching the Thursday-night game, she scours the internet, studying what NFL beat writers are reporting on their respective teams. On Friday, she works on writing material for “NFL Live.” When the show is done filming, she goes straight into a meeting for “Countdown.” Most Saturdays, she flies to the site of the coming Monday game, in time for meetings with players and coaches, and spends Sunday watching games and writing Monday’s show.

Kolber arrived in Minneapolis on Wednesday after anchoring ESPN’s Pro Bowl coverage in Orlando last weekend. She wanted to get to town in time for one of her favorite Super Bowl rituals: the team breakfasts. With every player and every coach in an organization available to the press, Kolber avoids the crowds around star players and head coaches, zeroing in on assistant coaches.

“These guys love to talk, and they don’t typically get to,” she says. “I get all my gritty x’s and o’s stuff from the assistant coaches and maybe some of the secondary players, and at the tail-end swing around and get some comments from the stars. I gather a good chunk of my information for the rest of the week.”

On Sunday, Kolber will be watching the Eagles defense, one of the NFL’s best, and determining whether its aggressive linemen are able to get their hands on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. “The key is always getting Brady off his spot — getting to him, hitting him.” But she will also be watching to see how the Eagles hold up as the game wears on.

“The players who haven’t been there, you can say a billion times, ‘This is still just a football game, we’re going to keep things as normal as possible,'” she says. “But there is nothing like the energy in that building.” Players who haven’t been to the Super Bowl, she adds, don’t understand that the pregame routine is different, that warm-ups are longer, and that they are expending far more energy before the game has started than they usually do.

“All of a sudden, it catches up with them in the fourth quarter,” she says. “It’s what happened to the Falcons last year,” in a historic fourth quarter Super Bowl meltdown against the Patriots, “and the Patriots know how to take advantage of that.”

Kolber and her colleagues will also have to pace themselves ahead of the pregame show. “It’s four hours,” she says. “It’s a marathon.” Doing that will require giving up a bit of her traditional over-preparation, which has become ingrained over the course of a career.

“When I first was coming up in the business, and it was me in a room with 250 guys, you have to be right,” she says. “You’re judged more harshly. And I feel like I’m my own harshest critic, but you can’t really afford to make a mistake.”

But Kolber is also a self-proclaimed perfectionist by nature. Over-preparation, she says, would likely be her standard way of working no matter the circumstances.

“I have a tremendous respect for the game and the people who work so hard,” she says. “It’s my responsibility to be right. To make sure the quotes are right, to make sure the information is right. I just think that’s how, through the years, you develop that respect and credibility — making sure you’re right.”

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