BUCPOWER.COM INTERVIEW - NEIL REYNOLDS
This interview took place in February 2012. Neil is an Honorary member of the Bucs UK and became a regular presenter on Sky Sports' coverage of the NFL in 2011. His involvement with the game in the UK stretches back two decades.
How did you get involved in American Football?
I started watching on Channel 4 with my dad in 1983. I was 11 years old at the time and kept annoyingly asking him “Why do they keep running it into that big pile up the middle.” He was a San Francisco 49ers fan and I soon became hooked on the Miami Dolphins and a young rookie by the name of Dan Marino.
Even at that early age, I was impressed by quarterbacks and the fact they were clearly the stars of the NFL show. I find it ironic now that excellent quarterback play made me a fan of the Miami Dolphins and that has resulted in me having to suffer through the likes of Brian Griese, Daunte Culpepper and Cleo Lemon under center. Dan Marino has a lot to answer for!
I became increasingly passionate about the NFL through my teenage years and spent more time studying the NFL Record and Fact Book rather than concentrating on my school work. That led to a showdown between my dad and a 15-year-old Neil Reynolds in which he stressed: “If you spent half as much time revising for exams as you do learning player numbers in the NFL, you might actually get somewhere in life.”
After enjoying the game as a viewer for many years, I began playing in the British league in 1991. I played wide receiver, tight end and kicker for 10 years for the Medway Mustangs, Invicta Eagles and Kent Exiles and loved every minute of it.
Is it true your first live NFL game saw you sitting behind Paul Stewart?
I had seen American Bowl games at Wembley Stadium but yes, my first live regular season game in the United States saw me sat just behind Paul in Tampa Stadium (although I think it might have been labelled Houlihan’s Stadium when I was there).
I was on honeymoon in September 1997 so being the old romantic that I am, I treated Mrs Reynolds to an afternoon watching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Arizona Cardinals. My over-riding memories of that steaming hot day are that the Bucs scored on the return of a blocked punt, the Cardinals missed a long field goal as time expired and Tampa won 19-18.
Of course, the highlight was bumping into Paul and having a good chat after the game! The following week I managed to keep the romantic flame burning bright by driving down to Miami to watch Marino and the Dolphins record a 17-14 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. And they say romance is dead!
Are you still a passionate Miami Dolphins fan?
To be honest, I really enjoy covering the whole league now and it doesn’t pain me too much if the Dolphins lose on a Sunday night. Maybe I have become numbed by their constant inability to put together a decent team for any length of time.
Obviously, I would like the Dolphins to do well, but I get just as much of a kick out of seeing an exciting game featuring other teams around the NFL. If we have a wild NFL Sunday filled with amazing storylines, exciting finishes and breathtaking plays, I go to bed a happy man, even if the Dolphins have lost.
Some might question if that makes me a good fan or not, but I think I have certainly become more passionate about the entire league rather than just one team. If you ask me if I want to watch the Dolphins against the Jacksonville Jaguars or Detroit Lions, or the latest instalment of the battle between Pittsburgh and Baltimore, I’d take the Ravens-Steelers clash every time.
How did you end up working for NFL UK?
I spent three years working as a reporter for First Down and then got approached by the NFL to go and run NFLEurope.com. I did that for a couple of years before being promoted to the position of Public Relations manager for Europe, where I worked mostly on the NFL Europe League as well as NFL activities in the UK.
I worked full-time for the NFL from 2000 until I got made redundant in 2006 and I helped to launch nfluk.com during that period. Fortunately, I have managed to carry on doing some work with the NFL over the years, writing for nfluk.com, providing content for the gameday programme that sells at Wembley Stadium and co-hosting their Inside the Huddle podcasts.
In recent years, I have been lucky enough to host some big NFL events, including Super Bash, the past two fan rallies in Trafalgar Square and last season’s Tailgate Party at Wembley Stadium. Those events are a lot of fun and it’s great to see so many fans enjoying the festivities around the International Series games.
What was it like this season working on Sky Sports?
I had an absolute blast and it was something I really enjoyed doing. I felt very privileged to be in the studio every Sunday night and I enjoyed being able to bring my own take on the role as the season progressed.
With the introduction of NFL Redzone to our coverage, we were able to bring more scoring and injury updates to the main show, which played into my hands as a journalist. Of course, that also meant much longer highlights roundups, which often left me gasping for breath by the end of them.
I genuinely enjoyed working regularly alongside Kevin Cadle and Cecil Martin and we had some great guests on the show this year, including Richard Dent, Brian Baldinger, Jeff Reinebold, Rocky Boiman and Zack Follett.
A memorable season for me personally was capped by being in Indianapolis for the Super Bowl. A few people commented on the fact I grinned like a Cheshire cat at the Super Bowl but I make no apology for that. We all passionately follow and love the NFL and I was certainly not afraid to show how excited I was to be at the biggest game of the season. I think it would have been far worse had I sat in such a privileged position with a face like a slapped behind.
I enjoyed every minute of working on Sky’s NFL coverage this year and cannot wait for the 2012 season to get started.
Can you tell the story of Kevin Cadle saying "score in our ball game” so often?
I do know that Kev likes to say “ball game” a lot. He knows he says it a lot and he also knows that viewers know he says it a lot. Does that make sense?
We were chatting in make-up one evening this season and I mentioned that some fans had been known to play “ball game” drinking games during the Sky coverage. Kev knew all about them and found the whole thing really funny. Later that night, during the live broadcast, Kev linked back to the game by simply saying “Ball game” for no apparent reason.
He then turned to me and laughed, knowing people playing that game were taking a drink right about then! Kev likes messing with people and that was the perfect opportunity right there.
Why does the Sky Studio smell of pizza every Sunday night?
Probably because the Sky studio is full of pizza every Sunday night. It really is that simple. Our desks may look tidy when the cameras are rolling but it is a scene of carnage on the floor behind our chairs.
The floor behind us is usually a combination of empty tea, coffee and hot chocolate cups, pizza boxes, discarded pieces of spicy sausage and pineapple, rosters, depth charts and a healthy collection of Snickers wrappers when Cecil is in town. We have asked for a bin on several occasions but it is still something that is sadly missing from our studio every weekend.
We normally get through half-time of the first game and then get fed. So if you see a run of adverts being taken or fantasy football and Wembley game promos being run between 7-8pm, you know we’re filling our faces with pizza and they’re trying to keep us out of shot. And it is pizza on 90 per cent of NFL Sundays.
Me and Kev went healthy one week and had broccoli soup and salads, but we were soon back onto the fast food after we got openly slammed and ridiculed via Twitter and our pizza-loving colleagues in the gallery!
Is it true you once threw a pass to Jerry Rice?
Yes I did. And you won’t be surprised to know he caught it.
I spent a couple of days with Jerry ahead of the 49ers game in London in 2010. We were out at Wembley Stadium and going through some media stuff. I was getting ready to interview Jerry for nfluk.com and he was being filmed by the side of the pitch for A Question of Sport.
I was sat in the first row of the stands chatting with some of the guys from Wembley Stadium when the BBC crew needed a football. There was one by my feet and I picked it up to throw it to one of the producers. But Jerry stepped forward and called for me to throw it to him.
Of course, I became nervous immediately and lofted a wobbly-looking pass to the man they call the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time). Jerry plucked the ball out of the air and I immediately joined the likes of Joe Montana and Steve Young who have thrown passes to the Hall of Fame receiver. You won’t find my completion in any record books, but I’m counting it.
I was straight on Twitter to tell the world about my throw and later that night I managed to produce a 1,000-word column for the BBC Sport website based solely around that dodgy-looking pass. When I saw Jerry at the Fan Rally in Trafalgar Square a couple of days later, he was still laughing at the fact I got so many words out of one throw.
I saw Jerry at the Super Bowl in Indianapolis and we had a good laugh about my throw again and it was great to catch up with such a legend of the sport. Then as he was leaving the Media Center a few hours later, I was on the phone to my wife back in England. Jerry came over to me, gave me a hug, waved goodbye and walked off with his entourage in tow. Call me a name-dropper, call me whatever you like – but that’s just plain cool!
Who are the most memorable people you have interviewed?
Getting a guided tour of Joe Montana’s San Francisco apartment followed by a 45-minute interview was pretty cool in the summer of 2010. I was fascinated to meet and interview Bill Belichick and Tim Tebow, although neither said anything earth-shattering, to be honest. I was more interested in the amount of nervous PR guys who surrounded Tebow and Belichick.
I’ve interviewed some true NFL greats, including legends such as Dick Butkus, Chuck Bednarik (who thought I was Australian), Mike Singletary and Y.A. Tittle.
But I’ve had the opportunity twice in the past 12 months to interview Hall of Fame head coach Marv Levy and that has been a real thrill for me personally. I found him to be the most gracious and insightful of men. I interviewed him on the telephone last summer and in person for 15 minutes at the Super Bowl.
As I was sat across from Coach Levy in Indianapolis a few weeks ago, I thought his famous pre-game question to his players most certainly applied to yours truly: “Where would you rather be than right here, right now.”
Have you enjoyed many other “pinch yourself” moments during your time covering the NFL?
I’ve been very fortunate to spend a decent chunk of time with NFL players in recent years. When I was helping the NFL build their NFL360 website, I was also able to get on the field and film educational action segments with quite a few players.
As a result, I have thrown passes to the likes of Steve Smith (Carolina Panthers) and Derrick Mason (then Baltimore Ravens), kicked field goals with Stephen Gostkowski (New England Patriots) and played the crossbar challenge with Joe Flacco (Baltimore Ravens).
Smith is an intimidating receiver to throw to because he will let you know all about your off-target passes and he won’t be kind about it, Gostkowski nearly knocked me into the back of a soccer goal as we killed some time having an impromptu penalty shootout between filming and Flacco mocked me for barely being able to throw an NFL football 30 yards.
I know which one of us is laughing now though after his disastrous attempt to grow a moustache during the 2011 season.
OK talk us through your touchdown pass from Brad Johnson!
It has to go down as one of my career highlights because I was a huge fan of Brad’s when he played for the London Monarchs. Of all the NFL players past and present I have interviewed over the years, I have just two autographs – I got Joe Montana to sign a copy of my book for my dad and I got Brad to sign my printed Fan Rally questions in Trafalgar Square last year. So I hold Brad in very high regard.
On that touchdown, I was clearly the beneficiary of the Chicago Bears Fan Club trying to take Paul Stewart out of the game. I’m not sure whether they triple-teamed him because he was such a physical threat or because they simply couldn’t bear the trash talking if he had scored. Either way, Paul took all the defense with him on his crossing pattern and I was left totally uncovered and free to race down the right sideline with my 4.4 speed burning scorch marks into the Wembley astroturf.
To be fair to Brad, he thought I was a bald, out-of-shape wide receiver-turned broadcaster from the UK and he slightly under-threw me. That’s understandable. How was he to know that I possess the kind of athletic burst and spring that only the true greats seem capable of?
Anyway, I managed to slow to something just below sprinter’s speed, reached back, secured the ball – to my overwhelming relief – and somehow made it into the end zone without tripping over my laces. It was only then that I located the Sky Sports cameras and did the first thing that entered my mind – Cam Newton’s Superman celebration.
Embarrassing, I know. But it was also fun – lots of fun! I then chest-bumped Paul as a way of thanks for taking all of the defenders away from me before being taken out by the Buccaneers mascot and lying in an exhausted heap on the floor.
It was great to be involved in that game but it did almost cost me a gig with the NFL. I literally had to sprint around the stadium and into the Tailgate Party, making it onto the field stage to begin the pre-game festivities with about a minute to spare. But it was all worth it to have produced what might very well have been the last true highlight of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 2011 season!