Before she made headlines by snapping back at Andy Rooney's 2002 sputterings about how women had "no business" talking about football, and long before Joe Namath — drunk and slurry, in a sideline moment preserved for all time by thousands of YouTube downloads — declared that he wanted to kiss her, Suzy Kolber was a little girl in love with football. She remembers being 8 years old, in suburban Philadelphia, mesmerized by Howard Cosell's Monday-night halftime highlights. She made national headlines when she was 10, one of the first girls to make a boy's football team. But players' parents complained, and she was forced to leave the team. She hasn't quit anything since.
Since joining ESPN in 1993 (with a brief one-year side trip to Fox Sports), Kolber has anchored SportsCenter, hosted the X Games and covered everything from Wimbledon to motorcycle jumps at Caesar's Palace. But football, including her encyclopedic coverage of the NFL draft, is what she does best. Any inclination to dismiss her as eye candy — a perky cheerleader with a microphone in her hand — is soon washed away by her ability to ask tough questions and break down X's and O's like an offensive coordinator.
This year, she and Michele Tafoya will be the sideline reporters for ESPN's new version of Monday Night Football. Surrounded by research notes in her Minneapolis hotel room and in between conference calls and production meetings leading up to her first Monday-night telecast (a preseason game between the Vikings and Raiders), she spoke to TV Guide about football, family and what it's like being one of the few females in a jockstrap-dominant world.
TV Guide: When you were a little girl watching Monday Night Football, did you have fantasies about growing up and being part of the telecast?
Suzy Kolber: No, I never could have conceived of that. I think my dream then would have been, "I wish I could be the quarterback."
TV Guide: You played basketball and tennis. You ran track. But you've always said football is your favorite sport. Why is that?
Kolber: There's just something about the way football looks and feels. It's like gladiators. There's a masculinity about it, the way the guys look in their uniforms, the toughness, the ruggedness.
TV Guide: When you went out for that boys' team, did you realize it was going to cause such a commotion?
Kolber: I had no idea. I just wanted to play. I hated all the cameras, the attention, the interviews.... I just wanted to play football. It was tough enough for me just to be there as a little girl. But it didn't take very long for the boys to accept me. I was tough. I didn't cry. And I could play. The coaches had no problems with me being out there. It was the parents who had a problem.
TV Guide: So you've been around football — and guys — your whole life. Have you ever felt that players, coaches or even other broadcasters take you less seriously because you're a woman? Are they dismissive in any way?
Kolber: On my way up, as a woman, I certainly was conscious of not being allowed to make any mistakes. But I wasn't working harder because I was a woman. I wouldn't have wanted to make any mistakes anyway, because I'm my own worst critic. And I don't think I've had one moment of disrespect my entire career. If you walk in the locker room prepared and knowledgeable, there aren't any problems. I believe it's the way you carry yourself. If you command respect, you'll get respect. I can be very feminine and I loved getting dressed up and all that stuff, but when it comes to my job, I'm just one of the guys. I love being part of that guys' world. I always have. There's going to be dirty jokes and horsing around and you've got to be able to roll with that and stand up for yourself. That's why I think being in sports is invaluable for little girls, because it gives you confidence and strength and power.
TV Guide: In the past few years there have been a number of women popping up on sports broadcasts who seem to be there more for their looks than their journalistic skills. Considering how hard you've worked to establish your reputation, doesn't that make you crazy?
Kolber: Without naming any names, it's sort of taken care of itself, hasn't it? Those people don't last very long. I think that's all that needs to be said. I believe, you know, in live and let live. The reason why someone else is hired or not hired doesn't affect how I do my job or how I'm accepted. Everyone's an individual.
TV Guide: Where do you see yourself five or 10 years down the road? Still doing this?
Kolber: In five years, I hope I'll still be doing this. Eventually, I'd like to be married, with kids and still doing this. I'd like to have a little more balance in my life.
TV Guide: Can we talk about the  Joe Namath incident? For a lot of people who don't necessarily watch ESPN, it was the thing that made you famous. There's even a sports website, Kissing Suzy Kolber, named after it.
Kolber: First of all, I've never really discussed this in public before. I didn't want to infringe on Joe's privacy. When it happened, I just wanted the whole thing to go away. I was asked by every talk show, every radio show, every interviewer you could imagine — and I said no to them all.
TV Guide: Out of deference to Namath?
Kolber: Yeah, because he was a good guy just having a bad moment. Since then he's talked about it publicly and he says it helped turn his life around. He went to rehab, he's stopped drinking, he's got a girlfriend.... It turned out to be a huge moment for him.
TV Guide: Were you surprised that it got so much attention, and that it's lasted this long?
Kolber: To me, it was just one of those goofy moments that happens and nothing more. When it happened, I remember turning to the photographer and stage manager and just kind of rolling my eyes. For me, it would have been over [then]. I never would have thought about it again. That [happened] on a Saturday night. We flew to Indianapolis, where we had a Sunday-night game, got a couple of hours' sleep, and [the ESPN] newsroom called me at 9 am and said, "You're not gonna believe it, this is everywhere." I walked into the stadium that night and everybody I met said something about it — the security people, the fans, the officials, the players were talking about it. It felt like every single person said something to me that night.
TV Guide: Like what?
Kolber: Like, "Where's Joe?" And, "Hey, Suzy. I want to kiss you, too."
TV Guide: The impressive thing about it was that you handled it so smoothly, that you just wrapped up the interview like nothing weird had happened.
Kolber: I didn't handle it differently because it happened on TV. If I was in a bar and a guy who was older than me — and who I wasn't necessarily interested in — was hitting on me, I would have done the same thing: politely dismissed him.
TV Guide: If nothing else, your reputation for being unflappable is secure for all time.
Kolber: The whole thing about being on the sidelines is that it's not a glamour job. You are in the trenches. Everything happens fast and it's fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants. You're keeping your eye on so many things at once, including the game. If you're not comfortable with that, then you can't thrive out there. But I'm very comfortable in that environment.
For more, much more coverage of the new football season, pick up TV Guide's NFL Preview issue.
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