Football, Mt. Olive, Roxbury

Pair of Jersey Boys behind the mic for Super Bowl LVII

The hype machine that is Super Bowl week is here. Every angle of this matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs will be dissected, from the Andy Reid Bowl to the Kelce Family Reunion and, of course, the health of the shoulder and ankle of quarterbacks Jalen Hurts and Patrick Mahomes, respectively.

The stories extend off the field, even up to the broadcast booth, where a pair of New Jersey natives, play-by-play man Kevin Burkhardt and game analyst Greg Olsen will make their Super Bowl debut (FOX, 6:30 pm, Sunday) as they make their bid to not be one-and-done as a Super Bowl broadcast team.

Burkhardt grew up in Bloomfield and graduated from William Paterson University before embarking on a broadcasting career. Burkhardt's story has an authentic Jersey underdog twist. At 30 years old, after working locally in New Jersey as a broadcaster but making few inroads, he took a job selling cars at Pine Belt Chevrolet in Lakewood. He soon got a break and joined New York sports radio behemoth WFAN as the New York Jets reporter. From there, he moved on to SNY as the New York Mets roving reporter role now held by Steve Gelbs. Gelbs moved into his current role when Burkhardt moved on to Fox Sports full-time to handle baseball and football, relocating his family from New Jersey to California.

Olsen's path was paved on the field as a tight end. He started his career at Wayne Hills High School, then the University of Miami (some will remember he first attended Notre Dame), and then as a first-round pick of the Bears. He played 14 seasons in the NFL for Chicago, Carolina, and Seattle, amassing 742 receptions and 60 touchdowns while being named to Pro Bowl three times. Olsen dipped his toe into broadcasting while still an active player. When he retired in 2020, he was almost immediately paired with Burkhardt in 2021 as Fox's No. 2 broadcast team.

Olsen and Burkhardt had deep Jersey connections decades before being paired by Fox. Burkhardt told Richard Deitsch on a joint appearance by him and Olsen on the Sports Media Podcast on January 27 that when he was broadcasting high school football games for WGHT (Pompton Lakes), he covered several of Olsen's Wayne Hills games and got to know Greg's father, former Wayne Hills football coach Chris Olsen Sr., a 2021 NJSCA Hall of Fame Inductee.

After the 2021 NFL season, all hell broke loose in NFL broadcasting circles. Broadcasting legend Al Michaels was gently pushed out of his NBC Sports Sunday Night football chair in favor of Mike Tirico. ESPN made it clear that they would change their Monday Night Football booth, which had Steve Levy, Brian Griese, and Louis Riddick. ESPN reportedly flirted with Michaels before making the biggest splash of the NFL broadcasting offseason, snagging Fox's number one NFL team, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, for the MNF booth. Michaels joined Amazon Prime's new Thursday Night broadcast to do play-by-play alongside ESPN's college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit.

Did you follow all of that?

The long and short of it is that Fox needed a new No. 1 NFL announcing team for 2022. Before Michaels joined Amazon, it was reported that he might be headed to Fox as their lead voice. But after months of speculation, Fox named Burkhardt and Olsen its No. 1 NFL team, which meant they would do Fox's most-watched game every week leading up to Super Bowl LVII in Arizona.

There's one more thing.

Weeks before the Burkhardt/Olsen news became official, Andrew Marchand of the New York Post reported that Fox had signed Tom Brady, who had retired in February 2022 and unretired in March 2022, to a 10-year, $375 million deal. What wasn't clear then and still needs to be clarified now, as Brady retired again on February 1, is Brady's current and future role on Fox's NFL coverage. But frankly, unless there's a plan for Brady to host a primetime show on Fox News, he will earn that money as Fox's top game analyst, the seat currently occupied by Olsen, and as a highly visible part of their coverage over the next decade.

Brady announced Monday on Colin Cowherd's "The Herd" on FS1 that he will not broadcast games for Fox until 2024, leaving the Burkhardt/Olsen team seemingly intact for the 2023 season but in flux for 2024 and Super Bowl LIX.

Meanwhile, Burkhardt and Olsen received almost universal rave reviews for their work during the 2022 season as the No. 1 team. Olsen puts in the work, and it shows on game day. Burkhardt is a solid game-caller, and he's been good throughout the playoffs, rising to the occasion in the big moments.

Even though over 50 million people watched the NFC Championship game on Fox between the 49ers and Eagles, the Super Bowl is in a different orbit. In this fragmented media world, the Super Bowl is America's last communal television experience.

This Sunday is Burkhardt's time to become one of "those guys" in the pantheon of broadcasters who have worked Super Bowls, who signal "big game" with the sound of their voice. The earliest were Ray Scott, Curt Gowdy, and Jack Buck (Joe's father) and have included other legendary talents such as Pat Summerall, Dick Enberg, Michaels, Jim Nantz and the aforementioned Joe Buck.

Fox has Super Bowl LIX in two seasons and Burkhardt plans on being behind the microphone for that game. Who will be next to him in New Orleans is a complete unknown today.

TB12 casts a long shadow on Olsen's seat. No announcement has been made yet about Brady's involvement in Sunday's Super Bowl broadcast, but one can assume it is forthcoming if that contract is going to kick in. Olsen talked about his current situation with Deitsch on the podcast.

"From the very beginning, I understood the landscape. It's a matter of being realistic. Would I rather sit next to Kevin for the next 20 years? Of course. I am not going to sound stupid and say that just doing this for one year was plenty. I'd like to do this for 20 years. I'd like to call 10 Super Bowls. But the second I spend my energy worrying about what Tom does and worrying about my job security and who's going to be in my seat, I'm not going be very effective."

What will Fox Sports CEO and Executive Producer Eric Shanks do regarding the 2024 season? If Burkhardt and Olsen ace this test on Sunday, can Shanks afford to break them up and bring in a broadcasting novice, betting that Brady, the announcer is more Troy Aikman than Drew Brees? With $375 million committed, can he afford not to?

To his credit, Olsen gets it. He told Deitsch, "The situation is what it is. I've come to grips with it. I'm going to make it hard as hell on them to try to replace me. I don't know how else to do it."