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Bears’ struggles don’t dampen Mike Tirico’s excitement to call rivalry game vs. Packers

Tirico is filling in on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” for Al Michaels, who was taking the week off before picking up the postponed Ravens-Steelers game, which was moved to Sunday. Tirico initially was set to call that game, too, Thursday.

Mike Tirico and Tony Dungy will call the Bears-Packers game from Lambeau Field on Sunday night on NBC.
NBC Sports

After watching the Bears lose to the Vikings last week on “Monday Night Football,” some fans were hoping the game this week against the Packers on “Sunday Night Football” would be flexed out to avoid another national embarrassment.

But that was about as unlikely to happen as the Bears discovering how to run the ball. There wasn’t a bigger draw among the games available (CBS likely protected Chiefs-Buccaneers), and a Bears-Packers game is almost always prime programming.

Mike Tirico, who will call the game on NBC, couldn’t agree more.

“A thousand percent,” he said from his home in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “First off, no league does tradition like the NFL, and this is the most-played rivalry in the history of the league. Secondly, you’ve got one of the most recognizable faces in America in Aaron Rodgers, and he’s one of the best quarterbacks we’ve ever seen.

“And then, the Packers lose the game in Indianapolis, and now the Bears – albeit as frustrated as the fan base is with the offense – they have a chance. The Bears are two back with two games against the Packers. They control what they do in this division. After what you’ve seen, that may be hard to fathom, but it’s true.”

Tirico is filling in for Al Michaels, who was taking one of his bye weeks before picking up the postponed Ravens-Steelers game Sunday. Tony Dungy, Tirico’s partner on Notre Dame broadcasts, will join him in Green Bay. Kathryn Tappen, the Notre Dame sideline reporter and NHL studio host, will make her NFL sideline debut.

Tirico also was scheduled to call the Ravens-Steelers game Thanksgiving night – he had arrived in Pittsburgh on Tuesday – before it was moved because of a COVID-19 outbreak among the Ravens. He had a rare Thanksgiving at home after working the last three NFL prime-time holiday games for NBC and eight such college games at ESPN.

“That Thursday game is always a tight turnaround because you need to watch the Sunday games,” Tirico said. “It’s a warp-speed week. You get home from the studio show Monday at noon and you turn around [Tuesday] morning and head out. You try to sneak in a quick family Monday Thanksgiving dinner.”

Tirico has had several similar weeks since sports returned in full swing in August with a revamped schedule. Here’s one such stretch:

  • Sept. 10: Hosted the pregame show for the NFL’s opening night from NBC Sports’ studios in Stamford, Connecticut.
  • Sept. 12: Called Duke-Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.
  • Sept. 13: Hosted “Football Night in America” in Stamford.
  • Sept. 17-20: Hosted the U.S. Open golf tournament at Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, New York.
  • Sept. 20: Hosted “Football Night in America” in Stamford.

All that travel to and from home could be concerning during a pandemic. But Tirico said he feels safe traveling and working in this new reality.

“Nobody is 100% safe from catching the virus,” he said. “I’ve been on the road every week for the last 12 weeks. But I would say that our team has done such a thorough job trying to make sure that we are as comfortable as possible in terms of safety precautions and protocols.”

The busy lifestyle comes with being the face of a network’s sports division, which Tirico essentially is. He hosts almost all of NBC’s major properties, and he has been pegged to take over whenever Michaels retires from “Sunday Night Football.”

But a big reason Tirico left ESPN in 2016 after 25 years, which included 10 calling “Monday Night Football,” was the chance to cover the Olympics, for which NBC owns broadcast rights. He replaced Bob Costas as host of the network’s coverage for the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Tirico already has begun preparing for the postponed 2021 Summer Games in Tokyo – and the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing. He has been on network calls the last two weeks about both because they’re within six months of each other – July 23-Aug. 8 in Tokyo and Feb. 4-20 in Beijing.

Tirico was up early Sunday watching alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who was competing on the World Cup circuit in Finland. He also was following swimming in Budapest, where Caeleb Dressel broke two world records Saturday.

What I found with the Olympics is you can try to jump in and do a deep dive, but it’s so much more enjoyable if you take bite-size chunks along the way,” Tirico said. “As I’m sitting here by my desk, there’s a wicker basket that has a pile with all Summer stuff and a pile with all Winter stuff. And not more than 72 hours goes by where I’m not checking on something Olympics-related.”

Until then, though, there’s still plenty of football left. After Bears-Packers on Sunday, Tirico will call Notre Dame’s game against Syracuse (his alma mater) on Dec. 5, fill in for Michaels on another Sunday night and call one of NBC’s two NFL wild-card games, along with plenty of hosting.

“It’s been reinvigorating,” Tirico said of his time at NBC. “All of it has just worked out absolutely perfectly. It’s been a great opportunity for me. I’ve maintained friendships from those 25 years [at ESPN], but I absolutely love where I am and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”