When they heard the news, even Kevin Burkhardt’s biggest fans likely thought something along the lines of, “Holy cow! Kevin Burkhardt is going to call the Super Bowl!”
Don’t feel bad about that. It was precisely what Kevin Burkhardt thought at the time.
“I had the exact same reaction,” he said in an interview with Newsday. “It was, ’Holy [expletive]! I’m going to do a Super Bowl!’ So, I understand that . . . I mean, even when it became official, I almost couldn’t believe it.
“This kid from the playgrounds in North Jersey, throwing a Nerf football on a concrete playground at Franklin School [in Bloomfield] is going to call the Super Bowl.”
To be clear, it is not that Burkhardt, 48, doubts he is up to that job and more broadly the job of Fox’s lead NFL play-by-play man after Joe Buck left for ESPN.
On the contrary, he is ready and rarin’ to go, set to work alongside analyst Greg Olsen in calling Super Bowl LVII in February. But he is aware of the different path he traveled compared with peers such as Buck, Jim Nantz and Al Michaels, who have been on major national stages since they were in their 20s.
Burkhardt was selling cars at Pine Belt Chevrolet in New Jersey when he was pushing 30, his media career seemingly going nowhere and money tight.
But within a year, he landed a part-time gig at WCBS-AM and later found more regular work at WFAN. Then starting in 2007, he became SNY’s Mets reporter.
He left after eight seasons for a full-time job at Fox Sports, for which he began calling playoff games in 2013, and moved to southern California.
Burkhardt was the network’s No. 2 NFL play-by-play man when Troy Aikman left Fox for “Monday Night Football” over the winter and speculation began that Buck, his longtime partner, would join him.
“I didn’t think there was any way on Earth that Joe Buck was leaving,” Burkhardt said. “I just never wrapped my head around that one . . . I guess I just could never envision Fox without Joe Buck, to be completely honest.
“So I never gave it a single thought until Joe actually left, and then I was like, ‘Well, wait a second. Now there's an opening and I certainly hope I'm in the mix.’ ”
Buck spoke to Burkhardt when news broke — “He’s been great to me since I came to Fox,” Burkhardt said — and in late May, Fox made it official.
Reaction on social media from viewers was almost universally positive, and it was even more positive in the sports media world, where Burkhardt is popular both personally and professionally.
“It’s ongoing,” he said. “It’s still: ‘Wow!’ Friends and acquaintances, people in the industry, everyone, has been so beyond welcoming and [offering] congratulations. I think the cool thing is everyone's been genuinely happy.”
But Burkhardt knows the business well enough to understand that if he and Olsen stumble, the world will let them know about it.
“Some people don't react well to change, especially when it's been going on for that long [with Buck and Aikman],” he said. “And we’re not like, ‘We’re replacing Joe and Troy.’ I think that would be a silly take.”
Instead, Burkhardt and Olsen will try to chart their own course, with a wrinkle. Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady is set to join Fox when he re-retires from playing, which presumably will push Olsen to the network’s No. 2 team.
That figures to happen before Burkhardt calls his second Super Bowl in 2025.
It’s an odd situation, but one Burkhardt has no control over. He said he has exchanged texts with Brady, who has been supportive, but that for now he is focused only on Olsen and the rest of the current Fox team.
“I love Greg Olsen, I think he’s great,” Burkhardt said. “So I’m going to devote all my energy to him. And then we'll get through this year and just see where the chips fall.”
Burkhardt and his colleagues are in New York this weekend and on Friday they rang the opening bell for the NASDAQ stock market. On Saturday, Burkhardt threw out the ceremonial first pitch – to his successor, Steve Gelbs – at the Nationals-Mets game at Citi Field and visited his former colleagues in the SNY booth.
Burkhardt has seen many good and bad ceremonial first pitches at Mets games and said his goal simply was not to be the worst, or at least better than notorious flops such as Howard Stern producer Gary Dell’Abate and rapper 50 Cent. Burkhardt, operating from the mound, threw a strike to Gelbs.
“It just feels like a son coming home,” he said. “Even though a lot of the characters have changed, I always feel like that's a home game for me.
“Between growing up a Mets fan and my time there [with SNY], it’s going to be pretty special. I’m not going to lie, it’s a big deal for me.”
He has been on national television for a decade now and has no doubt about his preparedness for his new role. But he believes his circuitous path helped.
“I was not the broadcaster or the person that I was necessarily back when I was 25 now that I’m 48,” he said. “In general, quite honestly, I just wasn't as good. So I think it took all those little jobs and all those experiences or reps to get to the point where I could work at Fox and handle it.”
Burkhardt would like his story to be a lesson to others to keep at it.
“I hope,” he said, “there are younger broadcasters who are like, ‘You know what, that dude went to a D-III school [William Paterson], worked his tail off and sold cars, and now he’s calling the Super Bowl . . . I hope it does inspire some people. That would be amazing.”