Washburn Lands Gig as Super Bowl 50 Sideline Reporter
In June 2014, the former All-CAA defenseman at Delaware who went to the final four in 2007, was named a reporter for the NFL on CBS while also serving as a NCAA basketball reporter, studio host and lacrosse analyst for CBS Sports Network.
Not even two years have passed and Evan Washburn has quickly ascended in his profession to become a sideline reporter for the AFC championship game between the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos, followed by Super Bowl 50 between the Broncos and Carolina Panthers. On Sunday, he will be joined by Tracy Wolfson on the sidelines to complement play-by-play commentator Jim Nantz and analyst Phil Simms calling the game.
Washburn, also a Lacrosse Magazine contributor, shared how he's accomplished such a meteoric rise in sports broadcasting since graduating as a Blue Hen in 2008.
"All I wanted to do was prove I could play in the MLL," Washburn said. "I quickly got bit by the TV bug."
What inspired you to get into sports broadcasting?
I have loved sports as long as I can remember. I was not really a fan of any specific team, but I would watch any game that was on television. It was one way I could always convince my parents I could watch TV. Playing sports was always my first passion, but I knew that road would eventually end, most likely after college. So I figured I would combine my two favorite things – television and sports. Truth is when I decided to pursue broadcasting, I had no idea if I would like it, but I quickly was hooked because I could translate a lot of processes I used as an athlete to the industry.
How have you been able to progress so quickly in your career to become an NFL sideline reporter for CBS?
I have been very fortunate that people in positions of power have been willing to take a chance on me because on paper, there were times I was not qualified for the position I may have been holding. I have also made a point since starting this career that I would put myself in as many situations to get lucky. The best way to do that is to say "yes" to everything from the smallest opportunity to the biggest. I have also had a ton of support from my parents and wife. This job provides a very unique set of circumstances, especially when you are starting out and if you don't have support, it can be really difficult to navigate and sustain. As for the craft itself, I have immersed myself in how to be the best reporter, host and analyst I can be and having that approach has helped me feel more comfortable in any situation I'm thrown in.
How did you land the sideline reporting gig for Super Bowl 50?
The management at CBS decided to add another sideline reporter for the AFC title game and Super Bowl and based of my work the past two years covering the league, I was given the opportunity. I cannot be more thankful for their trust that I can do this job and also the crew that I will be joining for having me on board. The work that went into getting into this position again goes back to being completely devoted to trying to be as informed and prepared every Sunday throughout the season, along with understanding the mechanics of how to be most effective on these bigger events. By no means do have that mastered, but I do feel comfortable that I can do my part effectively.
How do you approach covering such a large event?
After the "open" to our broadcast, I feel like things get much easier, because I love the unpredictable nature that follows. That is where your preparation comes into play and your knowledge will add context to anything that happens, but by no means will you be able to script anything you say. I don't plan on approaching such a large event any different than I approach a normal Sunday. Now I'm absolutely aware of the magnitude of the broadcast and how the attention to detail must be heightened, but I'm at my best when I'm relaxed, and the only way I know how to achieve that is to keep things simple and within my normal routine.
How nervous are you?
I'm nervous before every broadcast and that is one of the reasons I love this job so much – and yes, it does resemble the nerves I would feel as a player. That was one of the goals I had when looking for a career after athletics – find something that gives me that similar rush. Now it is important that I keep those nerves and excitement in check, because beyond the content of my information, the way in which I deliver it is most important and you cannot look nervous or it becomes distracting. So it is a delicate balance you must play and it just gets easier with time and repetition.
What are you looking forward to most about covering the Super Bowl?
There is so much that I am looking forward, but I think the moments right before and after kickoff will be pretty special. I'm sure I will take a moment to look around and think about where I am and what I'm doing. In this job, if you can't appreciate some of the moments, places and events we get to experience, then in my opinion you are not doing the job justice.
How huge is this opportunity for you personally and professionally?
It's huge on both fronts, but I'm doing my best to keep it in perspective. It's gratifying to have earned the trust of my bosses to give me this opportunity, but now I know I have to prove them right. Professionally speaking I've only been in the business seven years, so despite being part of the sport's biggest game, I know I have a long way to go and that's exciting.
What will it be like to be reporting alongside some of the big names others have looked up to?
That is really one of the coolest parts of this entire experience and it really goes beyond the Super Bowl and more so the last two years. I was a fan of players and teams, but also a fan of the voices and faces that brought us the action. To now be able to work with a lot of those same people I grew up watching and admiring has been as rewarding as anything.
While Washburn has become well-known for his NFL coverage, he still reports on the sport he once played. "I've been asked a lot recently why I still do lacrosse games, and my answer is always because I love the sport and I get a lot of satisfaction out of explaining the nuances of the game each week on television."
Super Bowl 50 is in the San Francisco Bay Area for the first time since 1985. What is like to cover a milestone Super Bowl?
Being a part of Super Bowl 50 is incredibly special. Now being a part of any Super Bowl would be great, but it is no secret that 50 stands alone in so many ways. I can't wait to see how the game lives up to the buildup to one of the biggest games in NFL history.
Professional football has been on the west coast for quite some time, but how long do you think it will take for pro lacrosse to come back to the west?
As for professional lacrosse on the west coast, I think a lot of same factors are in play that we see on the east coast. Attendance and fan commitment has to be a priority. My hope is that we have professional lacrosse back on the west coast in the next five years, but that may be a bit unrealistic.
What advice can you give to aspiring journalists who are dreaming of covering the Super Bowl?
My best advice is something I touched on earlier. Say "yes" to everything. No experience is bad experience when it comes to the television business. I learned so much from just being at the station for hours watching people work and asking questions. Also, always keep your goals both short term and long term in mind. It is easy especially starting out to get comfortable with a role or job you have and not want to push for those bigger opportunities because it's risky.
Covering the NFL is a dream come true for you, but how much have you appreciated having the opportunity to also cover the sport you once played?
I want to cover lacrosse for the rest of my career, so hopefully that lets you know how much I appreciate the chance to do it currently. I've been asked a lot recently why I still do lacrosse games, and my answer is always because I love the sport and I get a lot of satisfaction out of explaining the nuances of the game each week on television. Also, the community of lacrosse both in Baltimore and beyond is one that I'm very familiar and comfortable in, so each year to reconnect with it is refreshing. The timing of the season also works out perfectly. Late spring and summer can be slow months in sports if you're not covering baseball or the NBA and I like to work as much as possible.
What was your favorite moment in your college lacrosse career?
That's easy. Beating UMBC in the 2007 NCAA Quarterfinals at Navy Marine Corps Stadium, two miles from where I grew up in downtown Annapolis.
How did your ACL tear in the final game at Delaware influence your change in heart from making a career of playing in the MLL to focusing full time on broadcasting?
I was devastated. I was planning on giving sports broadcasting a shot, but the truth is at the time, all I wanted to do was prove that I could play in the MLL. It took me about five months to snap out of a real funk and realize I had to start working toward my next career. I had a chance to tryout the following year for the Bayhawks and decided to turn it down. I quickly got bit by the TV bug and knew that in order to be successful, I had to throw myself at it full force.
What have been your favorite games to cover, in both football and lacrosse?
I will stay recent and say the AFC title game, but hopefully the Super Bowl trumps that. When it comes to lacrosse, two games come to mind. Last year's MLL semifinal between New York and Boston was the most entertaining game I have ever witnessed in person. A close second would be the Hopkins-Loyola game in 2014. It was probably the biggest college game I had been a part of at CBSSN and I thought from top to bottom, we put on a great show and the teams delivered on the field.
How have you witnessed lacrosse grow since your college career?
The biggest thing I have noticed in lacrosse's growth since my days playing to now is the quality of the athlete. This is not just in the MLL, but college and high school players are bigger, stronger and faster. Also, the specialization has grown, which is disappointing. The best lacrosse players I know played three sports in high school and I don't see why that can't still be the case. My hope is that the sport continues to get better on all fronts, but truthfully, I think the product on the field is in a pretty good place.
Where do you see the TV coverage of lacrosse going?
That's a tough thing to predict. There are more people playing lacrosse than ever, but not necessarily more people watching it on television or tablets. My hope is that as this generation of young players get older, those numbers will grow.
How have you managed to stay on top of all the sports you cover (NFL, MLL, NCAA basketball/lacrosse)?
I try to not waste too many days not doing something that can help my knowledge base on any sport. Now the beauty of this is that I love watching and reading about all those sports so it's never really work. If you can immerse yourself in things you are covering, it just becomes part of your thought process and then your commentary or reporting will resemble a conversation, which is always the most effective.
What was the most unique event you've ever covered?
The US Open of Surfing in 2014. I hosted two separate hour long shows live from the Pier in Huntington Beach, Calif. It was an awesome experience that I would love to do again someday.
Any Super Bowl predictions?
Unfortunately, I cannot put a prediction in, but I do think it will come down to how effective Denver's defense will be against Cam Newton and the Panthers' offense.
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