The 2021 NFL Wild Card Game on Nickelodeon was a revelation to kids and families, becoming the network’s most-watched program among total viewers in nearly four years and winning two Sports Emmys. It’s coming back Sunday with as juicy and historically significant a matchup as possible: San Francisco 49ers-Dallas Cowboys.
CBS Sports analyst Nate Burleson, play-by-play broadcaster Noah Eagle and Nick star Gabrielle Nevaeh Green will return in the booth while Nick star Young Dylan will serve as a sideline reporter for the first time.
Last year’s NFL Wild Card Game on Nickelodeon between the New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears featured kid-focused content, on-field graphics, visual filters and, of course, tons of slime. It was the first kid-centric broadcast in NFL history.
In an exclusive interview with CBS Sports, Green said the 2022 NFL Wild Card Game on Nickelodeon will bring “so many more surprises” compared to last year while Eagle predicted it will be “truly special.” Eagle and Green expounded in our extended conversation:
CBS Sports: How does it feel to be back, getting ready to do this game once again?
NE: Feels awesome. It really does. I was just saying that I think we were all ready the second the game ended last year to get right back on the saddle and do it again – we just had so much fun during the game. And, you know, the reaction was obviously great. It was almost unexpected how fast it ended up coming. But I think we did such a great job of learning each other’s tendencies pretty quickly into that first game that now we feel like, OK, we can build on that. Now we can maybe be a little more experimental in some ways or others. So, I think we’re all just really excited to be back together as a complete total group – everyone behind the scenes, everybody on camera, et cetera. And I think we’re especially excited with the matchup that we got, going to Jerry’s World in Dallas as well. It’s going to be truly special. So, excited is probably the best word, although it doesn’t really do justice, the feeling we’ve all got.
GG: I’m just excited to be back with such wonderful people. Noah and Nate are such great guys that took me under their wing last year. And this year, we’re going to do it again. It’s going to be bigger and better. And, you know, we have Young Dylan this year, and he’s a wonderful friend of mine. So, it’s always great to work with people that you’re familiar with, and you have great chemistry with. So, it’s gonna be a blast. And I hope people really enjoy how much we’re going to enjoy it and we translate how much fun we’re having through the screen as well.
CBS Sports: With last year’s broadcast being one of Nick’s most watched programs in years, how did you process the response it got, and why do you think this kid-centric broadcast is resonating with people?
NE: I really do think we all felt pretty confident going in that it was going to hit the target demographic that we were hoping to hit – you know, kids anywhere from five to 14 years old or so. We felt pretty good based on the technology we had, based on the support we had with the graphics and the answers from the players and just all the little things that we knew going in. What we didn’t expect was the older viewers from 14 and up to respond the way that they did. And it was awesome, some of the messages that we got. I know that Nate got a message from Kurt Warner that his son for the first time in his life – and this was really cool – watched the game start to finish. I got messages from people saying that they or their siblings or their kids, nieces, nephews – they watched it for the first time start to finish. That was the most special part about the reception, and we appreciated all the positive responses we got. But the reason that it resonated with everybody was for younger viewers, you had the bells and whistles, you had things to keep your interest because it wasn’t just staring at the field and hoping for a first down; it was something popping up or SpongeBob in the goalposts or Young Sheldon describing a penalty. So, it was just different. But I think that for adults who are watching it, it took you back to why you fell in love with the sport in the first place. It was the fun, it was the excitement. It was this feeling, this energy – you can’t beat it. You’re on the football field, and you’re competing with people you love and you’re watching with people you love. And for us, we just had so much fun that I think everybody was right there with us. It was as if they were sitting in the booth right next to us. And that’s really the goal in any broadcast you do, whether it’s kid-centric, or whether it’s the Super Bowl and it’s on CBS – you want someone to feel like they’re sitting right there next to you, and they’re in on it with you, having that conversation. And we got to accomplish that last year, and now we get to build on it this year.
GG: Personally, I didn’t know the huge impact that it was going to have. I knew it was something that had never been done before. One, you have a girl up in the booth with the guys. Two, you’re having a playoff game on Nickelodeon, which is a kid’s television network – that’s never been done before. So, going into it, we knew that it was something very new and very fresh and very organic and something that people had never seen before. But, personally, I didn’t know what impact we were going to have on young kids and young families that saw their daughters in me or saw their son in Lex (Lumpkin) last year. And it’s a real honor to be a part of something that’s so groundbreaking and so impactful on just this moment and hopefully moments down the line, when these kids grow up, and they have kids and say, hey, Nickelodeon was such a big part of my life. They taught me about football, they inspired my love for the sport and they introduced their kids to the same thing.
CBS Sports: What’s going to be changing from your end from last year’s broadcast going into this one?
GG: Well, I feel like we’re all going into it knowing what to expect, more or less. Everything’s unexpected, so we all kind of just go with the flow because that’s how this goes. Because we’re doing something that is still so new, even though it’s the second time, it’s something not traditional, so we’re all kind of just bouncing around and bouncing off of each other. So, as far as being different, there’s going to be so many more surprises. There’s going to be even more vivid AR. There’s going to be more vivid visuals. The slime is going to be bigger and better. These slime zones are going to be even crazier. And I feel like we’re gonna have even more nuggets for the players to add in, and I feel like that was something that really made our broadcasts unique last year was that we humanize the players. They’re stars, they’re people that young kids look up to, but they’re also people. They have a favorite color, they have a favorite food. And I feel like that’s something that we’re also going to integrate this year, which is really going to elevate our guests as well.
NE: Everybody still has that kid inside of them. So, to Gabby’s point, the fact that we got to bring that out of the players, it’s huge. And I think she’s right. Last year, the players were great about it, and they were excited about it. But I think it takes it to a different level because they got to see it and see what it can do and see the type of perception it can get. And so not just players but coaches and fans. I think that people are excited about the next possibility, what else can we bring to the table. So, Gabby’s right – we’ve got an improvement, essentially, on all the technology. We’ve gotten improvement on all the elements. And the hope is that we can get an improvement on some of the player answers as well. But at the end of the day, for us personally, we do know exactly what to expect. And we kind of know how to prepare for it even better than we did last year, and so we can attack that head on and feel even more secure about what we’re doing before we’re going into it. Now, at the same time, you don’t want to feel structured because that’s what made it so great last year. We were just over there having a conversation about football and enjoying ourselves and just having the time of our lives. And so that part won’t change, and I think that the biggest key in all of this is can we find that same exuberance and energy? And I promise you we will.
CBS Sports: This game has so many larger-than-life players like George Kittle and Deebo Samuel. How will covering these almost Nickelodeon-level personalities be an advantage for you heading into this broadcast?
NE: The more personality the better, because it’s Nickelodeon. We have tons of players who are huge personalities, and I feel like that’s really gonna help our broadcast because we can kind of feed off of their energy and they can feed off of ours. And I feel like it’s gonna make it even more interesting and even more engaging. And it’s not just the personalities; It’s the teams themselves. These are historically great NFL franchises. So, to have that and to be able to share some of the history of the league with maybe some kids who aren’t aware of Dwight Clark’s catch or Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith, and basically the fact that these two teams were battling to win the Super Bowl in the same conference every year through the 90s is going to be great as well. But from the personality standpoint, we got pretty much a dream matchup. Dak Prescott is as personable as you’re going to find, is as well-liked and well-respected around the NFL as you’ll find. Ezekiel Elliott, high personality CeeDee lamb is like a Nickelodeon character in real life. So that’s just the Cowboys offense alone. Micah Parsons – who’s going to win Defensive Rookie of the Year this year, bar none – he is, if you had a chance to watch some of the off-field clips that he’s had already, he is very colorful, and that’s what we want. That’s what we’re looking for. You already mentioned George Kittle, Deebo Samuel. We know those guys. It’s going to be a fun game to be a part of, and the personalities only help make our job even easier.
CBS Sports: This is one of the NFL’s most signature, historic rivalries dating back decades. What’s it going to be like for you to reintroduce some of those historic moments to an audience that likely doesn’t have much history with them?
NE: For Gabby, I think it’ll be an interesting perspective. Because Gabby, last year, you came into that game in New Orleans, and you essentially were asking us questions about what’s going on on the field. Well, this year, you can kind of ask us about the history of the NFL, and we can convey some of that to maybe other kids around the country that don’t know football quite as well. And so it’s another aspect that we get to share with everybody.
GG: And just kind of bouncing off, my job last year was to be the voice of kids that are new to sports and don’t really know as much about sports because Nate and Noah are the experts. But it’s my job to kind of connect with the kids and ask questions that may seem silly but someone at home is definitely thinking. And I think – especially with this matchup – it’s going to be important for us to connect with the audience again and kind of convey the history that these two teams have. That way, kids can grow and learn the sport even better.
NE: Honestly, I think it connects people now moving forward. When you learn history, you can connect with more people of different ages. So, let’s take a Nickelodeon show that everybody loves. SpongeBob is a perfect example. SpongeBob started when I was a really young kid – that’s when I was first on the air. And it’s still going because it is legendary beyond legendary, right? SpongeBob is an all-time TV character on any network across any sort of platform. You can’t top it, in my opinion. But for someone who maybe is seven or eight years old right now, if they go back and watch old SpongeBob episodes from when I was a kid, we can connect over that. We can bond over that. So now if we’re teaching kids about the rivalry of the 90s of the Cowboys and the Niners and they’re learning about it, now they can connect with an older sibling or cousin or someone they meet. And that’s my favorite part about sports, right? In theory, it brings us all together, and it bonds us. And so now we can kind of help cultivate some of those relationships for some of those people out there.
CBS Sports: This a new experience for both of you with Gabby getting introduced to football broadcasting and you, Noah, working with Nickelodeon. What is it like for you to tackle this new challenge and go out of your comfort zone professionally while also entertaining people in the process?
GG: It’s great, it’s fresh, it’s new. It’s everything that I’m about because I don’t like to be put in a box. I don’t like to do the same thing over and over again. I love challenging myself and trying things that maybe I normally wouldn’t have. So, this is a really great exercise for me to kind of exercise a muscle that I didn’t even know I had last year.
NE: A wise man once told me if it doesn’t completely terrify you at first then don’t do it. And so this was something that, I don’t know if any of us were terrified or anything like that last year, but there was a nervous energy when we first thought about it because no one knew what this was supposed to look or sound like. And then we realized pretty quickly – and I think Gabby would agree – we went through the rehearsal the day before, and when we went through that we all kind of stepped back and said, oh, this is gonna be, it’s gonna be really good. This is going to be really easy with all of us; we’re going to have no issues whatsoever. And that’s exactly what happened. So, to me, it’s important to continue to challenge yourself. It’s important to continue to step into other realms and keep everything interesting and fresh. And something that I’ve always wanted to do in my career is add something different and new every year. And so for me, this was a great thing to add in 2021, was the Nickelodeon Wild Card game, which had never been done before. Now, can we raise that? Can we do more with it now that we’re a little bit more comfortable? How can we add to it? So, it’s exciting more than anything else, but definitely important to me. And I know, as Gabby said, it’s important to her to do something that just makes you a little bit uncomfortable and makes you question, OK, am I going to do this to the best of my ability?
The NFL Wild Card Game on Nickelodeon is slated for 4:30 p.m. ET on Sunday. The traditional broadcast will be available on CBS, Paramount+ and Amazon Prime Video.