The last year has been one of ups-and-downs for former Florida Gators dazzler and ESPN reporter Erin Andrews. From having to deal with an unfathomable episode regarding her privacy to performing on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars and just recently signing a new two-year deal to remain a featured member of the ESPN broadcast team, Andrews has appeared strong, resilient and unrelenting. On the brink of the greatest undertaking of her career – hosting the first hour of College GameDay live on ESPNU and joining the cast of Good Morning America – she took time out of her schedule to speak exclusively with OGGOA about her career as a Gators dazzler, recent trials and tribulations, perspective on her own fame and love for the University of Florida.
ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Growing up in Tampa, was the University of Florida always at the top of your list for college? How did you wind up there?
ERIN ANDREWS: “Growing up in Tampa, there are three schools: Florida State, Miami and Florida. Obviously because Florida was closest to Tampa, Tampa is really like Gator haven. I made the comment one day to my dad, which he’ll never let me live down…because I was such a sports fan growing up, I said to him, ‘Dad, I really want to go to a college that has a good football team.’ And he was like, ‘Oh, that’s a great thing to live by Erin. I’m glad that’s what you’re choosing your education by.’ At the time it sounded really stupid, but actually it was kind of funny that it worked out that way because by going to Florida, I knew they had a great journalism program, but also because Florida has such a good football team, we were exposed to TBS, we were exposed to ESPN, we were exposed to all the national sports media coming to the campus to see the team, to see [head coach Steve] Spurrier. That was really good for me to kind of be around that at the time. Actually, that wasn’t a stupid comment.
AS: How much of an influence did your father’s [six-time Emmy Award-winner Steve Andrews] profession have on your major and eventual career?
EA: “My dad played a huge part in it. I grew up with my father being on TV. It just wasn’t a big deal to me. We’d turn on the TV at 6:00 and there was my dad. I grew up at the TV station; I played around on the TV set. So that just wasn’t a big deal – being in front of the camera – because I was so used to [watching] my dad. He was a giant sports fan, so that’s where I got my passion for sports and watching it and becoming familiar with the broadcasters and announcers that I liked – and the athletes. That’s where it all just kind of snowballed. I decided that I wanted to be a broadcaster. I loved the stories with coaches and athletes. I told my dad when I was young, ‘I want to do this for a living.’ He also laughed at me and said, ‘You know, everybody wants to do this for a living.’ I went to Florida, we checked out the journalism school. I really liked it. I just enrolled and it began – the whole process. The first couple years at Florida you don’t really get a taste of your major until probably your junior and senior year – that’s when I was very serious about it.
AS: You obviously spent a good amount of time at Weimer Hall but some of your most exciting times were likely at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. While at Florida, you were famously a member of the Dazzlers for four years. Was that something you had planned on doing from the beginning?
EA: “I grew up dancing my whole life with my little sister [Kendra Andrews]. That was just something I knew that Florida had – a dance team. I loved mine growing up and the experience that I had. I actually auditioned my senior year of high school and didn’t make the team and then went back out my sophomore year and I was on the team my sophomore, junior and senior season[s].”
Read the rest of our exclusive interview with Erin Andrews…after the break!
AS: So it was almost like a little bit of a Michael Jordan story…
EA: “[Laughing] Well, I don’t know if I ended up being Michael Jordan of the dance world. The competition my senior year going into my freshman year of college – there wasn’t many spots available. My shot wasn’t that great to make it – it was a whole different level of dance. There was really only like two spaces open. I still tried and made it to the final cuts. I’ll never forgive them for not picking me…[Laughing]…no, I’m just kidding! It worked out just great because I trained all year with the dance team behind the scenes and then I was on it the next three years.”
AS: Being at the O’Connell Center for all those games, I’m sure there had to be some interesting or memorable moments. Anything in particular come to mind?
EA: “Being there right away when Billy Donovan took the team over and bringing in guys like Jason Williams – the whole class of Mike Miller and UD[onis Haslem] and Teddy Dupay and Brett Nelson. I think it was my senior season or my senior year when those guys really started to gel. And that was the year they went to the National Championship. I think it was a triple-overtime game against Tennessee on a Tuesday night at the O’Connell Center…ESPN was there. We’re dancing, and I have goosebumps now actually thinking about it. That was like one of those games where we were like, ‘Wow, we actually may be really good heading into the postseason.’ Billy did a great job with the guys. That was very memorable.
“Because I was a senior, I got to go to all the games for the tournament that year. I don’t think I’ll ever, ever forget the Butler buzzer beater. That was just the most unbelievable thing. We were sitting there the whole time. My girlfriends are really into it – the other dancers on the team – are really into the basketball team. They knew how into it I was. I was really depressed that second half because it just didn’t look like Florida had it. It looked like we were going home early. I was just so bummed out. And when [Miller] nailed that shot, it was just like, “Oh – my – god!” It was just unbelievable. Something I’ll never forget.”
AS: You began your career doing a lot of regional work. What was it like when you got the call from ESPN?
EA: “It was a dream come true because I had just been told by TBS that they weren’t going to renew my contract. I had done a two-year deal with TBS, and I had come to the end of it. They let me go and were ready to move in a different direction. And I was just deviated because up until that point [I had] been moving at a really fast pace. I graduated school, I worked for the Tampa Bay Lightning for just a couple of months and then TBS came knocking and offered me national exposure. I went and I did that for two years…I was crushed, and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I couldn’t have been luckier. Like five, four days maybe after TBS had let me go, I got the opportunity from ESPN to work the NHL playoff coverage. Of course it was a dream come true to work with ESPN, but it was also a dream come true because the team I started covering right out of college – the Tampa Bay Lighting – were in the playoffs and were really good. And then they ended up actually winning the Stanley Cup the year I’m covering it for ESPN, so I had all these guys I started with at the Tampa Bay Lightning…when I was with them, they were the worst team in the league, they were terrible, they didn’t know how to play as a team. And now they’re winning a Stanley Cup, and I’m on the ice interviewing them and then later got to go back and have a sip or two out of the Cup. It was a dream come true. My parents were sitting center ice. After that, ESPN offered me a three-year deal, I accepted, and everything just started rolling. It was crazy.”
AS: Have you had a moment since then when you look back in awe? Such as, “Wow, I’m interviewing this person!”
EA: “It’s really hard for me to ever feel that way, because I really enjoy laughing at myself. I think the whole thing where people are like, ‘Oh my god, have you thought about doing this – have you thought about how far you’ve come?’ I just kind of think about what a dork I am. I really do. I don’t take myself too seriously at all. I think if anything that’s something that’s helped me succeed and had so much success so quickly. I really don’t think I’m that big of a deal.
“When people stop me…I was on an airplane last night and a woman was like, ‘Can I get an autograph for my husband?’ And I was like, ‘How did you even know who I was?’ And she’s like, ‘Are you kidding?!’ I just don’t really think of myself like that. People have approached me about starting a clothing line or licensing some products, and I just kind of laugh about it. Because I’m just kind of like, ‘Why, I’m not an athlete?!’ So it’s just kind of funny to me. I don’t really think like that.”
AS: In 2009, a foul ball from Alex Cora nailed you in the chin. Aside from that, what is the closest call you have experienced on the sideline or field?
EA: “Yeah, he smoked me. … Last year, during bowl season, I think it was the Fiesta Bowl with Boise State and TCU…I’m very good down there [on the sidelines]. The only thing that kind of gets me in trouble is I’m constantly looking through my notes… My dad and I are best friends, and he’ll text me during a game and just say, ‘Hey, great report, slow down a little bit.’ He’ll just kind of give me little suggestions out there, which I love because if I’m not working a game, I’m on the phone with my dad watching the game. That’s how we kind of roll. The only time that kind of gets me in trouble is if I’m looking down at my phone texting my dad, or if I’m looking at my notes.
“But yeah, the Boise State-TCU game…I was really far down the sidelines, I was a couple of rows back behind some people and all of a sudden a wide receiver caught the ball coming out of bounds and was running at full speed. I was right there. I started turning around and running so he wouldn’t hit me, but he caught up to me. He hit me pretty hard – he didn’t mean to – but I remember I was gripping the ground with my toes and I’m like, ‘Please don’t go down, please don’t go down!’ Because this will be all over the Internet and all over YouTube, and it will be such a disaster! But I was able to save myself. Somebody like me, I get really aggressive and really into the game. There have been times the official has had to ask me to step off the field because I end up being like right where the coaches are on the field. I get so into it because I want to see what they’re saying and what they’re doing. So, for me, because I’m so like excited and so into it, I can see where I have run into problems before. [Laughing]
AS: Some viewers seem to dismiss sideline reporters as just being filler for the main game broadcast. Tell them why they’re wrong.
EA: “They’re so wrong! I’ve learned you’re not going to change people’s opinion if it’s already made up. You’re not going to change it. The reason why I think they’re wrong is…because of the level I’m at now, I’m not going with the stories that are already pre-produced. I do a ton of preparation of reading up on a guy and players and a team, knowing where they are on the team, what they’ve gone through to get there or what they’re working on. Half that, really even now in my career the last couple of years, I don’t even use probably three-fourths of that anymore.
“My whole thing is just – what is going on where the guys up in the booth can’t see? Their eyes are on the play. Their eyes are on what’s on the TV screen. I’m over and listening in to what the offensive line coach is telling [their players]. I’m right there when the quarterback is coming off and the coach grabs him and says, ‘Who the heck were you throwing to right there?!’ I’m right there behind the wide receivers when they’re complaining that they’re not getting enough balls thrown their way. So [those are] the things that I think are really, really helpful and why sideline reporters are so different. I think if a sideline reporter is going out there and doing the pre-produced stories – the stuff that’s already in the newspaper, the stuff that really isn’t relevant to the game – then that’s when I think sideline reporters don’t belong in the game. But I think what I’ve been able to provide – and a couple of others at ESPN – I think that’s why it’s very crucial to have us.
“Also, in a situation like a Colt McCoy injury during the National Championship… The one story I always point to that I was involved in – and if they hadn’t had a sideline reporter there, they would have been in trouble – it was actually the year that [Tim] Tebow won the Heisman [Trophy]. He wasn’t leading that race, [Oregon QB] Dennis Dixon was leading it. I had the game that Dennis Dixon was taken out of the race, because I had the game where he tore his leg up. We knew heading into the game that Dennis wasn’t OK, that there was still something wrong. My whole game ended up being – after a couple of plays when he went down – I just planted myself behind him the whole time. The guys upstairs – they had to worry about the game because Oregon was ranked very high that time and we were talking about [a] National Championship possibility for them. While the guys had to worry about the game, I sat behind Dennis Dixon. I watched how the trainer reacted to him. I watched his father come down; I grabbed his father. I saw the trainer for Oregon start crying. And right away, I’m like, ‘Come to me. Come to me right now. Come to me. … Oregon is not telling us anything. But if this is any indication – the Oregon Ducks trainer has tears coming out of his eyes right now – I don’t think this looks good guys.’ And then it was like, holy cow, he’s done for the Heisman Trophy and Oregon, their season could be finished. And look what happened – they ended up losing to Arizona that game [and] Tebow wins the Heisman. I think I was so important as a sideline reporter for that game because I was able to provide little details throughout that game that the camera couldn’t see.”
AS: Obviously ESPN sees the value in sideline reporters and what you have done for them. You just re-signed with the World Wide Leader and got a bunch of added responsibilities going forward. How long is your new deal, and how does it feel knowing the network has made such a commitment to you?
EA: “It’s a two-year deal. It was very important for me to stay in sports. I have such a passion – as you can tell – I get so fired up when I start speaking about it. I think that people that don’t have a chance to get close to me, and they just see me, they may not understand how excited and how passionate I am about what I do for a living. It was very important for me to still be able to have a foot in sports – have a leg in sports – be able to be a part of anything with ESPN. The fact that they were able to come back and say to me, ‘OK, we’re going to expand your role.’ It was very important for me to try to grow in sideline reporting. I think I have done what I can in sideline reporting, and I think now it’s time for me to try other avenues as well. When they came back and said they had this opportunity for me with hosting College GameDay on ESPNU and being a part of that show, if you’re a college football fan and ESPN fan, you know that’s one of the biggest and best shows ESPN has to offer. Saying no to that opportunity was something I never thought I was going to do. And then also this opportunity I have with Good Morning America is huge for me as well. I’m very excited about it.”
AS: Obviously the last year has had its ups and downs for you, but we’re going to focus on the positives. You noted that you received a lot of support from coaches but have also singled out [Gators head coach] Urban Meyer and the Tebow family. How did they reach out to you and are you still keeping in touch with them?
EA: “Well…Coach Meyer and Shelley Meyer were huge during that. They just went above and beyond. Shelley is obviously a woman and she wanted to make sure I was doing OK. They’re very sweet and very protective of me – being a part of Gator Nation and everything. I don’t know if you saw the Dancing with the Stars package they did on my incident, but there was a moment I started getting very upset and I started thinking that its very difficult for me to understand how coaches would be able look at me the same after everything that happened. I remember telling Coach Meyer that; I remember just starting to cry to him.
“I think one of my best qualities is that I am able to go into a coach’s office and just be one of the guys. They feel very open talking to me about a lot of stuff, and I’ve been very lucky because that’s how Urban treats me, that’s how Shelley treats me. I was very, very concerned that, after this happened, that coaches may [not] be able to look at me the same – or talk to me the same. And I actually was talking about it on Dancing with the Stars – and they did this package. I got very emotional that I had a word with just one coach – and that was Urban who came out and said, ‘Nobody cares. Just get back to work, do your thing, talk about football and you’ll be fine. They’ll go back to you like, ‘That’s our girl on the sidelines.’’ That just meant so much to me. I remember during Dancing with the Stars, Shelley would text me and just be like, ‘Way to go! Go Gators! Let’s have another Gator win this thing!’ The night that package aired, she was talking about how emotional the package was. I said to Shelley, ‘You know that was Urban I was talking about…’ and she said, ‘I thought it was.’ Just having somebody as successful as a coach in college football, and the fact that he’s the head coach of the university I went to, it just meant a lot that somebody like that would put himself out there and be like, ‘Get back to work and everything else will be OK.’”
AS: And the Tebows reached out as well?
EA: “Yes, they did. They were just sweet and called and [reached out]. Obviously, I’m very linked to the school.”
AS: Your Gator Chomps on Dancing with the Stars were lauded by Gator Nation…were those planned or spur of the moment?
EA: “I took some flack for that. Several coaches and stuff would kid with me and say, ‘If you want us to vote for you, you’re going to have to stop doing that.’ And they would end [their message] with a smiley face. I honestly had no idea I had done it because I’m getting ready to potentially be voted off this show a few times and [I’m thinking], ‘Oh man, this stinks.’ And then my inner dazzler, my inner cheerleader, my go-to thing is to do the Gator Chomp and the spirit fingers and not even know that I’m doing it. Like I said, a few coaches said, ‘Alright girl, you know we’re trying to get all the votes out for you on Twitter and you come back and you do this?!’ [Laughing] Seriously, I didn’t even know I had done it. My partner [Maksim Chmerkovskiy] said to me, ‘You just did the Gator Chomp,’ and I was like, ‘I did?!’ And then I think I did it one more time because I was close to be eliminated. I had no idea it was happening.”
AS: Are you turning him into a Gator fan?
EA: “No, I don’t know if he’s a Gator fan. There weren’t really too many guys at Dancing with the Stars that cared too much about sports. I don’t know if Max is a Gator fan…but who cares! [Laughing]”
AS: It’s admirable that you always try to show your pride for Florida without coming across as biased. That must be difficult considering your profession. That being said, here’s your chance…what do you want to say to Gator Nation?
EA: “I think the biggest thing for me is just thank you for all your support. It’s been a rough year for me, and I think that the one thing I can always bank on and the one thing always count on is Gator Nation. Whenever I run into somebody [and they say], ‘Go Gators! We’re so proud of you, we’re just so happy for you.’ They just always kind of call on me or kind of look to me as their girl. And that’s really, really cool. I have a lot of schools that treat me wonderful; I mean schools I’m not even affiliated [with] like Texas and Virginia Tech and Wisconsin. You’d be surprised. A lot of schools…[don’t] really claim me as theirs…but they just, ‘Oh, Erin Andrews, we’re so glad she’s back.’ And it’s very, very sweet.
“But it’s different when your school is proud of you, because it’s the school that you’re proud of and the university that you’ve spent time – and your family has spent time – at. When they’re so supportive and they give the love back, that means a lot. My whole career and my whole life [I] have wanted nothing but to make my family proud. And I obviously look at Gator Nation as a family, and you want to make them proud. So I’ve been very, very thankful of the love and support they’ve given back.”
AS: Thanks again Erin. I know you’re very busy and I really appreciate the opportunity to speak with you this afternoon.
EA: “Not a problem. Thank you for having me – I appreciate it. Looking forward to being back in Gainesville. I’m sure College GameDay will be there and it’ll be fun.”
Photo Credits (in order): Associated Press, University of Florida, Christian Petersen/Getty Images, Associated Press, Unknown