Q&A with ESPN’s Samantha Ponder

New Sunday NFL Countdown Host Discusses Her Move to the NFL, Following Chris Berman, Being Married to a NFL Quarterback and How She’s Preparing for This Fall

Today, ESPN announced new NFL host roles for Suzy Kolber, Samantha Ponder and Trey Wingo. The trio of commentators will now anchor ESPN’s NFL studio coverage as Chris Berman transitions into his new role in 2017.

Ponder discusses her new role in the Q&A below.

What was your reaction when you were approached about the job?

My first reaction in all honesty was ‘WHAT?’. Chris Berman is synonymous with NFL coverage. To me, that’s why it’s so important to not look at this as replacing Chris Berman, because that is an absolutely impossible task. Whenever I see my name next to his, it makes me a little uncomfortable. This is a guy who started on this show the year I was born. It’s a little bit of a daunting task to think of all that he has created. Yet, that’s what’s exciting about this opportunity – to build on what he created because it’s incredible. So, when this was all brought to my attention, I was shocked to say the least.

Have you met Berman?

I believe I met him, but it was in passing. The first big event I ever covered, I was 18 or 19, living in New York City and I got assigned to cover the 2005 NFL Draft. I walked up and introduced myself. I’m sure it was very awkward. And then I walked away.

As you make the move from college football to NFL, what are you most excited about?

First and foremost, just the continuation of the stories of the guys I have covered for the last 10 years. A majority of the guys in the league are players I covered in college. One of the tough things about covering college football is that it’s so all-consuming during the season because I was on the road all week. Once they moved to the NFL, you would lose track of their stories. So this is a chance for me to complete some of those stories and reconnect with a bunch of guys who I already had relationships with.

On top of that, it’s no secret that I’m married to an NFL guy. I grew up the daughter of a coach and both my brothers played quarterback. My perspective on guys in the NFL and athletes at this level is a little different than most. To me, the advantage to that is being able to ask better questions. I do have the opportunity to be around guys who are playing right now in a more relaxed environment – not just at home but with friends who are in the league, coaches that have made the jump from college to the NFL. So much of my job is knowing the right questions to ask. My unique position as it relates to the NFL allows me to ask better questions.

How will you approach talking about your husband, Christian – a current NFL quarterback, and his team in your new role?

A lot depends on what he decides to do, if he decides to keep playing. The main thing for me – being around him the last four or five years has given me such an appreciation for all the nuance and positive aspects, but also the negative aspects that come with being a player in the NFL, things that as a media member I had no clue about.

What I learn from him provides me with better information and insight to serve viewers so they have a better idea of what goes on in this league. So you can kind of pull back the veil a bit on this league and it’s not as mysterious as sometimes it comes across. A pregame show like ours is supposed to be fun and insightful – and create some conversation. To me, being the wife of a NFL player is a huge advantage in terms of the type of stuff you know that’s going on that maybe is not a part of public discourse, and there’s a chance to create conversation among our guys on the desk.

Now, if he ends up starting for a team and playing, am I going to remove myself from any critiques? Yes. But I’m not there to analyze players in the first place. I’m there to facilitate conversation.

Have you met any members of ESPN’s Countdown team yet?

Matt (Hasselbeck) is the only one I have really spent any time around. One of the great things about the NFL is the ways you can connect with other players and their wives. We have gone to a conference the past few years and Matt and his wife, Sarah, are part of it, so we have gotten to know them. I’ve always had a lot of respect for Matt – for his career and the way he’s carried himself. So, I’m looking forward to working with him.

All the guys we have on this show, it reminds me of our College GameDay group, and what has made that show so successful, and that’s chemistry. The opportunity to have so many personalities come together, especially when there is that mutual respect, and guys can give strong opinions and say what they really think, and there’s also a lot of fun to be had. On a Sunday morning before you are about to watch games all day, that’s what people want – some entertainment and to feel like they are talking to their friends through a TV screen.

How will you prepare for your new role this fall?

The preparation for this show for me is going to be different than it was for College GameDay. A lot of that is spending more time with our analysts and listening to what they care about so I can be a good facilitator. That really is how I see my role. And there will be times for me to offer up opinion and interject too. You have to be watching games and staying up on news, talking to coaches and GMs and all that kind of stuff, but that’s more about having a foundation and a background to challenge guys on opinions that they give, and ask them the questions that people at home on the couch are asking. That’s kind of the role I see myself in – a fan representative. For me, it’s about learning to set these guys up the right way and facilitate the kind of chemistry we had on GameDay because I was lucky enough to be part of that and it’s special. That’s what makes a show successful.

Do you have a favorite memory attending or watching an NFL game?

As a kid, I grew up a Cardinals fan, born and raised in Phoenix. Unfortunately, I don’t have many good memories from that, but I was a big Jake Plummer fan.

My favorite NFL memory up to this point is more recent. When Christian played at Lambeau a couple of years ago, I drove up there for the first time. Needless to say, I got it. Very quickly I understood what the mystique was all about. I had never gotten chills walking into a stadium at any level until that day. That’s a lot of what drew me to college football – the mystique of it all and the feelings you get when you are a part of something that’s bigger than yourself. That’s what I got to experience at Lambeau that day. It stuck with me.

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