College football officially begins this Saturday (as if we could ever forget), and we chatted with ESPN reporter Samantha Ponder on all things pigskin. Ponder appears on ESPN College GameDay and College Football Primetime games on Thursday nights.
1. Who’s one athlete you’d really love to interview?
“Charles Barkley is always a good interview because he’s honest. I also have a lot of things I’d want to talk about with Vince Young … and Aaron Hernandez … and my husband [Christian Ponder]. All for different reasons, of course. (My husband made me say that.)”
2. Describe your game-day prep.
“Game-day prep is an ongoing process. It’s everything from reading articles to going to practices, watching film, calling coaches/trainers/equipment managers, and meeting with coworkers to discuss topics and show formats. The three most important things to me are to know myself, know the game, and serve the audience. Knowing and being secure in yourself keeps you from being held hostage by the approval of others; knowing the game makes you natural, genuine, and comfortable when unexpected things happen; and serving the audience is, well, the whole point of this TV thing.”
3. Do you still get nervous before a big interview?
“I still get a rush of adrenaline after a big game, but the older I get, the more I laugh at the days when I was nervous to interview an athlete or coach. We have such a weird celebrity culture in our country where we elevate talented, successful, or beautiful people to a level of perceived greater value. That’s what creates the nerves most of the time. “Oh this guy is important or cool so I better not screw it up.” The truth is we all have insecurities, and we all have equal, God-given value. Nick Saban asked me if his hair was okay one time on set. (He was about to go on camera and I think his wife texted him to check with me.) People are people. Some are packaged in more intimidating wrapping paper, but once you tear some of that away, your nerves about impressing them/others fade.”
4. What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
“For years I said my only talent was being able to launch a tight spiral. Then I realized that shouldn’t be a big deal for someone who is constantly around football. That renders me talentless. As far as surprises go, it’s a toss-up between my parents living in the Middle East and me living in my car for a few weeks when I first started working for ESPN. I wasn’t starving or forced to be homeless… I was just cheap.”
5. Who’s someone you really enjoyed interviewing?
“My first interview ever was Dennis Rodman. I was 18. Since then, in comparison, most interviews have been enjoyable. In the college football world, Steve Spurrier and Les Miles are about as entertaining as they come. The first thing Coach Miles said when I met him was that he had a name idea for my first-born son…”
6. Do you have a favorite tailgate food and drink?
“Can I tell you a secret? I’ve never been to a tailgate as a fan. I worked all the football games in college and then started covering games as soon as I graduated, so it’s an experience that will have to wait until Saturdays aren’t workdays. Fortunately, college football fans are very generous with tailgate food, so I’ve been offered everything from gator to pig ear. When it comes to free food, I don’t discriminate.”
7. What’s your favorite way to watch a game? At home, at the stadium, at the tailgate?
“Despite how pretentious it sounds to say, the field/sideline is one of the worst places to watch a game if you really want to see formations, coverages, and how a play breaks down. Still, there’s nothing like the environment at a big-time college football game. I’ve been to big NFL, NBA, and MLB games and, in my opinion, nothing compares. The smell of the grass, the traditions, the pageantry of it all … all right now I sound like I’m singin’ a country song. Actually, the best way to watch is on ESPN. Yeah, do that.”