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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Al Michaels

Cris Collinsworth

Michele Tafoya

Fred Gaudelli

MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to today’s Sunday Night Football conference call to preview Packers versus Patriots, featuring quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. Kickoff on Sunday is 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC with Football Night in America’s coverage beginning at 7:00 p.m. ET.

Joining us on today’s call are the executive producer Fred Gaudelli in his 29th season as the lead producer of NFL’s primetime package.

Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth in the booth. In ten seasons together, this is their 28th time calling a Patriots game, their 28th time calling a Packers game, but their first time calling [Aaron Rodgers vs. Tom Brady].

And our sideline reporter Michele Tafoya, who had an extensive interview with Aaron Rodgers for Artful Living magazine. It’s her 37th Packers game and 36th Patriots game on the sideline.

With that, I’ll turn it over to executive producer Fred Gaudelli.

FRED GAUDELLI: Thanks. Every year there’s a game or two that you hope the schedule maker will drop onto your schedule. This was the game this year for obvious reasons, not only Brady and Rodgers, but Brady and Rodgers for only the second time.

We had a Green Bay-New England game, I believe it was back in 2010, that Aaron had a concussion the week before and couldn’t play. So we were looking forward to doing this one, and thankfully the National Football League put it on Sunday Night Football.

AL MICHAELS: Fred, you and I had talked during the off-season, knowing this was a game that could pop up. You know your schedule for the following year... We’re covering games that, boy, we’ve got to get to those games. One in New Orleans last week.

I think back to the song with the lyrics “been waiting all day for Sunday night.” It’s that Sunday night. We’ve been waiting all season for it.

We’re very lucky to the extent we go back to the opening game this year, and we are in Green Bay for Chicago against Green Bay, and we’re watching Aaron Rodgers go to the locker room on a cart. If you go to the locker room on a cart, you’re normally done for the whole season or most of it. I remember Cris and I looked at each other and went, oh, we can’t believe this. The number one game on our schedule is now going to perhaps go away.

We know what happened. Aaron came out of the locker room and led them to a big come-from-behind victory, and here we are. So this is about as exciting as it gets on a Sunday night. Can’t wait to get there, and I know my partner feels the same way.

CRIS COLLINSWORTH: Absolutely. Thanks for everybody joining us on the call. We’re excited just for everybody to talk about this game. It’s the first time we’ve kind of gotten together as a group to talk about this game. And as much as I love talking about offensive line play and blitzes and pass rushes and coverage, we might be talking a little bit about these two quarterbacks. I know Al feels the same way about this.

There are certain relationships that you build over time, and these two quarterbacks are about as interesting a people to talk about and talk with before the ball games as we get to see. Their depth of understanding of what defenses are trying to do to them, their depth of understanding of how they’re going to operate their own system, how they read motion and what that means to them, how they can redirect offensive line play based on blitzes they see -- there’s a million different things that we love talking with these guys about and watching them play.

We’re certainly hoping that, during the course of the game, that you’ll have a much better understanding of just how in-depth their knowledge is. I’m 100 percent certain I will not see everything that they see, but we have a good time watching this highest level of quarterback play that there really is in the National Football League, and when they’re on the same field at the same time, it’s pretty amazing stuff.

So looking forward to it. Michele will be closest to the action. Let’s turn it over to her.

MICHELE TAFOYA: Well, I just remember this whole week producer Fred Gaudelli saying, all I care about is that Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers stay healthy for our game. So he was watching with great interest at both of them in the previous week to make sure they were going to come into this game healthy and in one piece. We’re going to get that.

The Packers made a couple interesting trades heading into this game. It should be interesting to see how the changes impact that, but it’s just of interest to me. Yeah, these quarterbacks are similar, yet distinct from one another. I think similar just in the level of confidence. They’re cool on the field. The way that they see the game, like both Cris and Al said.

If the Patriots win, we’ll be sure to get a “Hi Mom” from Tom, and if the Packers win, in the post-game, we’ll be sure to get something very clever from Aaron. So I’m looking forward to this game just as much as all of us are.

Q. My question is a little bit of a just for fun counter factual, and I’d love to hear you guys’ thoughts on what might have happened if these two quarterbacks switched places or had been drafted to the opposite teams. What their careers would have looked like and just what we might think of them today.

AL MICHAELS: I’ll start with the hypothetical. Let’s put it this way. I don’t know exactly what would have happened, but I think as has been the case over the past 10, 12 -- and in Brady’s case, 19 years -- both teams would have had a tremendous amount of success.

CRIS COLLINSWORTH: It definitely is an interesting question from the standpoint of meshing of personalities and all the different combinations that comes out of that, but I think at the end of it, the one thing that all -- that both of these quarterbacks want is they have a thirst for new knowledge. I can remember talking with Peyton Manning, and they used to love it whenever they signed a new quarterback from a different organization or a new coach or a new offensive coordinator from a different organization because he wanted fresh ideas, and that is what these two quarterbacks are all about.

MICHELE TAFOYA: You know, you got to wonder if Tom would have met Gisele and she would have been willing to live in Green Bay. That’s about all I got.

I think what Cris and Al said is absolutely true. Yeah, I mean, it’s a fun thing to think about and how their images and how Bill Belichick would have worked with Aaron. But I think both coaches would have been happy either way.

Q. My question is actually for Fred. What with that being a rare sight, Brady-Rodgers, only the second time ever, do you guys have anything special planned for the broadcast on Sunday night?

FRED GAUDELLI: Obviously, we’ve done a lot of research about where these two fit in the history of the game, and it’s pretty obvious they fit at the very top of the position. But I think one of the notions that we’re going to try to put out there is that this is, as Cris was saying, this is quarterback mastery. This is quarterback play at the very highest level. While you know they can throw it, and in Rodgers’ case really throw it on the run and extend plays, there’s so much more that these guys do that can be brought out hopefully into this telecast, and just try to work around that word, mastery.

The one thing, having spoken to both guys already this season -- and Tom twice already -- is that they really dig deep to find the very smallest of edges to improve themselves. Whether it’s what they do in the off-season, whether it’s how they practice, what they do at practice, just reading Michele’s interview with Aaron Rodgers, the mind exercises he does before the game. So we look to try to expose some of that as well.

Then I think -- I had this discussion with my team this morning: People are tuning in for two reasons Sunday night, and that’s to watch each guy play quarterback, and nothing we do should interfere with that. Hopefully, we’ll do a great job on that and be able to surround the edges with a lot of good information and insights and hopefully a little bit of a pulling back of the curtain on what makes these guys great.

Q. And before the schedule came out in April -- I know the league works on it for months -- was this matchup the number one must have matchup for you guys?

FRED GAUDELLI: It was for us definitely. It was the game we targeted that we really wanted to have. I’m sure it had to be 1 or 1A on Fox’s list, and I’m sure it was 1 or 1A on ESPN’s list, but we were fortunate enough that it ended up on the Sunday Night Football schedule.

Q. I know you all have recently done a lot of Sunday night games at Gillette, and I was curious, I guess maybe now for all three of you, how the overall experience of visiting and doing a game in New England is different compared to other locations, if there are -- I don’t know if there are any like -- if there are challenges or things that you really enjoy.

FRED GAUDELLI: I’ll just start out and say that the great thing about Gillette is it’s a fairly new stadium that they seem to make improvements on every single year. So from a broadcast technical standpoint, it has everything that you want, and obviously, it has a really passionate fan base with all the success the team has had. So it’s a great environment for a game.

I think the temperature is going to be right around 50, so like perfect football weather. It’s always great to go to Foxboro.

AL MICHAELS: I’ll tell you something great about Gillette. We get there 3, 3 1/2 hours before the game. We don’t come in on the main entrance. We come in through the neighborhood through the back door of Gillette. And John Madden and I, in those years we were together, we used to come in through that neighborhood. It’s always bucolic. You got pumpkins and all the rest from Halloween out there, the foliage.

And we always used to say, here we are in this neighborhood. You’ve got the houses. You’ve got signs up for parking. People are walking to the game, and you look like you’re in the middle of the country. And all of a sudden, as John once said, a stadium pops up. So it’s the only one I can think of where a stadium pops up as opposed to most of them, which you can see for miles and miles away.

AT&T and Dallas, you can see from five, six miles away. The others in the middle of the city. You see them from -- they’re a landmark. But that makes Gillette kind of distinct, and it’s a really good place for us to call the game too. I love it.

MICHELE TAFOYA: Cris, can I just jump in? I have to dove tale on what Al said. The first time I drove in there with John Madden on the Maddencruiser, I said, wow, this is a really pretty approach. And Madden looked at me and said approach? And I said, yes, it’s a beautiful approach. Yeah, that’s all I had. It was a beautiful approach, and John made fun of me for saying that, and I always remember that.

But it is. It’s a really cool place to drive into, and we’ve just gotten to know it so well because we’ve been there so often. So I’d just piggy-back on what Al said.

CRIS COLLINSWORTH: For me, I just expect greatness there. We’ve seen so many unbelievable games there. Not just in Super Bowls, but in that stadium, and it almost seems like every time they shoot off the muskets, I’m reminded of not just the play that just happened, but of something else great that I’ve seen in that stadium. We’ve seen so many up and down games, Peyton Manning, Colin Kaepernick. Just memorable, memorable moments in that stadium.

That, and the booth is actually close enough to the fans where you don’t have to guess what they think about you on occasion (laughter). I’ve had a few fun interactions over the years, and I enjoy that part too.

Q. Cris, this is for you, and this isn’t about the Packers-Patriots game. As a former player, I kind of wanted to get your thoughts on the trade deadline yesterday. Obviously, a lot of action, and specifically what the Lions did moving their leading receiver. After, I guess, making a big move the week before, it seems like this move is counteractive to what they want to get done the rest of the year. As a former player, how would you react to a move like that in the locker room?

CRIS COLLINSWORTH: They obviously have pretty good receivers there anyway. I think Golden’s contract situation was such that they kind of thought they weren’t going to be able to re-sign him anyway. He’s in that 30-year-old category. So that didn’t totally stun me.

But for the second year in a row, the Philadelphia Eagles have pulled off a pretty good coup here. You know what Golden Tate is. He’s a quarterback’s best friend. He’s one of those guys that you throw a little check-down, and he makes four people miss, and all of a sudden, you’re off and running. For Carson Wentz, it is a huge deal. That one would have made me extremely uncomfortable in that division if you were coming into the division, and extremely happy if you were going out of my division.

I get it. I know that there’s a longer term play here, and we’re seeing that with more and more teams all the time. Certainly, we’re seeing it with the Raiders right now. I think Detroit is transitioning to wanting to be a little more physical kind of team. So it didn’t completely stun me, but it definitely shifts a little of the power in the NFC by throwing him back on the Eagles.

Q. I have a question because we saw it so often. How is this rivalry and the presentation of it, or this matchup, different from Peyton Manning and Tom Brady?

AL MICHAELS: Well, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady seemed to be every year. I don’t know how many times they faced each other. We did most of those games either on Monday or Sunday, and it was just the way the schedule worked out for the most part. There’s a formula, and the way the formula exists right now, these two teams will only meet every four years, but when Peyton was in the AFC and Tom was in the AFC, they would meet a lot more on that. It was kind of like Green Bay and Dallas. Despite not being in the same division, would meet very regularly just because of the way the schedule broke.

So we saw a lot of Peyton against Tom. We haven’t seen very much of Tom and Aaron, and that to me is the most significant difference.

CRIS COLLINSWORTH: Yeah, and you get that whole “greatest of all time” question, right? And this is a really interesting one because, in the case of Peyton Manning against Tom Brady, it was more MVPs as opposed to Super Bowls, right? That was always the debate. And now you get this greatest athlete, greatest arm, all that kind of stuff against Tom Brady and the Super Bowls and the championships and all of the above.

I bet you, if I added them up, this argument, the Aaron Rodgers versus Tom Brady argument is starting to draw equal with the Tom Brady-Peyton Manning argument that took place over time. And this one is so unique because of the physical skills of Aaron, and, of course, Aaron is coming into this with a limited physical ability because of the knee and how that plays into this game at this point.

But guys are competitors. In every level, in every sport, when you start talking about who is not just the greatest at this time, but potentially the greatest of all time, and you have two of the guys in that conversation, that makes for a special night of football.

FRED GAUDELLI: The only thing I would just say too, when Tom and Peyton met, it usually meant home field for the playoffs no matter what time of the year it was. And obviously, Aaron and Tom are in two different conferences, so it’s not going to mean that. But that’s one of the ways it’s a little bit different.

Q. I was wondering if you could touch on what you saw out of these two teams last week, the Packers playing the Rams as well as they could have without getting the win, and then the Patriots taking care of their business in Buffalo on Monday night.

CRIS COLLINSWORTH: I’ll start with the Packers. It was one of the most interesting defensive days I’ve ever seen out of the Packers. They made some mistakes, but there were times in that game that they changed defenses every play. I mean, every play. And Jared Goff got confused, and he got pressured, and he made some mistakes, and that’s a great thing, right? You go, okay, the Packers have cracked the code.

But they also this week have let go of one of their veteran safeties, and they made some mistakes in that game. They had some troubles with crossing routes and leaving people running wide open that Goff didn’t see that you’ve got to think Tom Brady is going to see.

So if you’re making comparisons between the two, do you come back to that formula now with one of your veterans no longer there and Brady had a chance to see it? So that’s going to be a really fun one for me to watch because they still play the dime defense. They played it last week. They did a great job on a relative scale stopping the run and Todd Gurley with all of that out of there. And, of course, the Patriots are a little light at the running back position, depending how their health comes out in this one. So that was interesting.

And the flip side of that was watching the Bills playing the Patriots because the Bills went almost ultra conservative, playing just zone defenses, almost waiting for a good first-down play and then jumping into some pressure and some things to try and win the down and get to third down. They held Tom Brady and the Patriots to kicking field goals, winning in the red zone and things like that. So is that now the formula of the week to try and slow down?

It’s almost like a concession that we’re not going to be able to stop you between the 20s, but we hope you make a mistake or we hope we can stop you in the red zone or we force you to kick a field goal, you know, that kind of mentality. So will that one come into play here. When you have great quarterbacks, how much does it change the script on a defense that works that you’ve seen on tape and what you’re trying to game plan for?

I’ll be as interested to see and hear what these defensive coordinators do as I am to watch these two quarterbacks.

Q. Question for Michele. Can you talk about working a game like this, the electric atmosphere that must be on the sidelines. Do you do anything differently to prepare for a game like this?

MICHELE TAFOYA: No, not really. I think we prepare the same for just about every week. One thing I do know is this game is going to be chockful of a lot of action on the field, and it’s probably going to be a tight game. We may see a good amount of no huddle. And that, to a certain extent, limits the opportunities for the sideline reporter, which is fine.

But as far as the environment or anything changing the way that I approach it, no, I’m still going to prepare exactly the same way and I’m just really grateful -- I’m going to knock on wood here -- that it looks like it’s not going to rain. That would require a different preparation.

Q. Going back to the trade deadline question from earlier. The Texans have done well since you had their game here against the Cowboys. Curious about your thoughts on their performance the last two, three weeks, and also what they might have done involving -- with the acquisition of Demaryius Thomas although that was to basically fill an injury hole that they have at wide receiver.

AL MICHAELS: Dallas and Houston, it’s so funny -- just to digress for one second. The league is so full of offensive explosiveness these days, the points per game, the highest it’s been since the ‘50s, and it’s great once in a while to have a game like that Dallas-Houston game, which was very exciting.

We look at that team, Watson, tremendous. The guy is playing -- has to be playing through a lot of pain and the suffering, whatever, trying to get him ready for each week. All he did the other night, of course, was throw the five touchdown passes. The trade, we totally understand because you lose a key receiver and you want to pick one up to go with Hopkins. They’ve been a fun team to watch. People can’t discount them. You start 0-3. Now you’re 5-3. Who knows what the future holds.

CRIS COLLINSWORTH: What makes it interesting for me is you go out and you make that bold move that maybe they don’t make if they’re not on this winning streak. I’m not sure you go get a veteran receiver. I think they are beginning to look at this thing like, okay, we got off to a slow start. We may never have the best record this year to get home field or whatever, but defense travels pretty well, and these guys -- and J.J. Watt, was he really going to be able to come back? Was Watson going to come back? They just looked like a middle of the road Texans team.

And then all of a sudden that defense starts exploding with J.J. Watt leading the way. Watson is unbelievable. Hawkins, the game we did -- Antonio Brown, Julio Jones were always 1, 2, who’s the greatest receiver ever in the game? And Hopkins in the game we did was as phenomenal as I’ve seen, and he continues to make plays like that. So I think that’s why you make the trade.

You see enough around you to where you say, “Why not us? What is there now? We have the quarterback. We have the defense. We have the ability now, if we have two play makers outside, to do some things that maybe we couldn’t have done in the beginning.”

I think there’s a real sense of that right now in Houston, and I tend to agree with that. There’s a possibility. You could put together some scenarios now where that team has a deep run in the playoffs.

MODERATOR: Thanks, everybody, for joining us. Packers-Patriots, 8:20 eastern on Sunday. Have a good day.