“In my 25 years on Sunday NFL Countdown,” Sal Paolantonio reflects, “many people have gone beyond the call of duty.”
Coming from Paolantonio, a veteran who served in the United States Navy, these words carry significant weight. Prior to his days working as a beat reporter for the Philadelphia Eagles or a National Correspondent for ESPN, Paolantonio served his country as a surface warfare officer and supervised the rescue of Vietnamese refugees from the South China Sea for which he was awarded the United Nations Meritorious Service Medal.
Front Row salutes Paolantonio for his service to our country and his 25th ESPN anniversary.
Before reporting on Eagles at Giants this Sunday, Paolantonio will host the Week 10 edition of NFL Matchup (Saturday, 8:30 a.m. ET, ESPN2; Sunday, 2:00 a.m. and 6:30 a.m., ESPN2). In the video above, the show host of 19 years describes the best matchup he’s ever seen.
In the Q&A below, Paolantonio shares what it’s like to ride to Lincoln Financial Field with Eagles head coach Doug Pederson on game day and much more.
If you were able to travel to the game with any player or coach, who would it be and why?
In 2017, the year the Philadelphia Eagles won their only Super Bowl title, I rode to Lincoln Financial Field on game day with head coach Doug Pederson. And we did it all – the ride, my Q&A with Pederson, in the team motorcade on I-95 – live on SportsCenter [watch an excerpt below]. It was a first. No NFL head coach had done that before. My intrepid producer Brian Franey was stuffed with the camera gear in the back of Pederson’s SUV like he was on the way to a Sunday picnic.
What is the first thing you’ll do when you get to the stadium?
I’ve always thought of my job on Sunday was to take the NFL fan to a place where he or she could not buy a ticket: behind the scenes. Tougher to do now [because of COVID]. So, now, I watch from my live-shot perch, usually one or two sections up from the field, to see which injured players might be working out pre-game, grab any observation or insight that I can convey to the audience. I rely more on texting and talking via phone with players and coaches. I will text Doug Pederson to get his speech to the team. If I don’t,[Sunday NFL Countdown host] Sam Ponder will not be happy!
What are the most essential items you have on hand?
I like a prop. TV is Show & Tell. So I bring the local newspaper, hopefully there will be a headline to set the tone. Or I’ll use a football to show how a quarterback might be working on something. Or helmet or cleat. I’m looking for any item that will make the viewer pay attention. It’s Sunday morning. People are at home, maybe getting ready for church, the kids are eating cereal, the dog is stepping on the remote. Maybe ESPN is on mute. I want to do anything to get them to pick up the remote and pay attention to what I have to say, even for 15 seconds.
What are the top three storylines in this game?
- The NFC East is a bad division, but it’s a great story. It’s the ultimate game of survivor. Which team can summon the energy in vacant MetLife Stadium to overcome all the demons that have plagued both teams all year?
- Carson Wentz has had one of the worst seasons of any Eagles quarterback ever. The Eagles have eight games to prove that the $128 million franchise quarterback can win the worst division in football. Wentz is on the clock.
- With [head coach] Joe Judge at the helm, the Giants are finally playing with resolve and purpose. “We still have a lot to fight for, and you can really feel the energy,” defensive tackle Leonard Williams said. Can they keep that going on Sunday?
Which players should fantasy football players consider?
- Eagles wideout Travis Fulgham. He’s gone from the practice squad to WR1, high volume, and production.
- For the Giants, it’s WR Darius Slayton – he kills the Eagles.
What is your go-to stadium snack?
WaWa coffee, extra cream, and sugar, of course! And a coffee cake junior from Tastykake. I keep a box in my car for trips up and down the Jersey Turnpike. But I always arrive at any stadium with two dozen doughnuts – one for the parking lot attendants who save me a spot up front and one for the camera crew.