Lisa Salters is a local kid who made it big. Really big. The King of Prussia native worked in television news for years before transitioning to sports. She’s now the sideline reporter for ESPN’s Monday Night Football and NBA properties, also serving as a contributor to the news magazine program E:60.
While her job has taken her around the world — her trip this week to Mexico City was a been-there-done-that situation for someone with her resume — Salters is happy to be coming back home for Thanksgiving. The Eagles play Green Bay on Monday night, which gives Salters a chance to come back to Philly for a few extra days around the holiday. We caught up last week to talk about her homecoming, her work with ESPN, Jon Gruden, the best food for Thanksgiving and cheesesteaks. Because Philly.
‘My parents’ house is the same. Everything’s the same.’
Salters was clear from the jump that she’s not technically from Philly. She’s from King of Prussia, so her memories growing up were more of going to the mall than walking South Street.
“When I was growing up in Philly, I was always in King of Prussia. I didn’t get to Philly that much, so the Philadelphia I see now when I go and stay in hotels downtown, I’m always like ‘oh wow, it’s really nice down here.’
“What I know now about where I grew up is King of Prussia. That’s pretty much the same. Sure, there’s more stores and shops now. My parents’ house is the same, everything’s the same. But I haven’t been in to Philly to go to South St. in a while. I haven’t been to Jim’s Steaks in a few years.”
‘People from Philly know, you can’t go to Geno’s’
The Jim’s conversation led to more talk of cheesesteaks, and a rather shameless plug for our on-going Ultimate Cheesesteak Bracket. I told Salters that Geno’s was going to lose in the first round (they did) and her reply was…well…perfect.
“Good. Geno’s is terrible. People from Philly know, you can’t go to Geno’s. Geno’s and Pat’s. It’s like, I can’t believe people eat this. This is like the cheesesteak you’d get in a cafeteria at school. It’s terrible.
“The tourists are like, ‘oh, this is where you go to get a cheesesteak,’ and I’m like, ‘not really.’ My assumption is back in the day they probably used to be great. And then over time they just started resting on their laurels, I guess.”
Salters warned that every city has that spot that, “where you say, ‘I heard to go here’ and the people who live there are like, ‘yeaaaah, it’s really not as great as it used to be.'”
‘We need you on the next plane to Oklahoma City.’ And you’re gone for nine days.
Salters spent 13 years of her career in news, covering everything from the O.J. Simpson trial to the Oklahoma City bombings to TWA flight 800’s crash to the Olympics. She talked about how much different her work is now, specifically having a set schedule.
“I love the travel. I do love the travel, I always have. What I like about now is that I have a set schedule. I’ve known since May where I’m going to be every weekend up until January. I’ve known since May what my fall is going to look like, so I can plan my childcare and stuff like that.
“When I was in news, I’d show up for work in the morning and they would say ‘there was a bombing in Oklahoma City. We need you on the next plane to Oklahoma City.’ And you’re gone for nine days.
“There was a certain excitement and a rush and a thrill from doing that, but that kind of wore out the older that I got. It was good that I did that when I was younger, from 22 to 35 is when I did that, and that was great. I had a great time doing it, but I couldn’t see going back and living that kind of life now.”
‘We boo Santa Claus. This is nothing.’
We spoke a few days before Salters left to cover the MNF game in Mexico City, and while the network made a very big deal of the game being outside the United States, Salters was less exuberant.
“Going to Mexico City is not a big deal to me. I’ve been there before. I’ve been there before for ESPN.
“Back when I was general assignment we were covering the U.S. National Soccer team, who had never won in Mexico, and we were following the team for like a week and going over there with them to train for a little bit before the game. We heard about how they throw batteries at the opposing players — “
I interjected, “and you’re like, ‘I’m from Philly, we do this all the time.'”
“And we boo Santa Claus,” she shot back. “This is nothing.”
‘Friday I’ll probably go to the mall like everybody else.’
You can take the reporter out of KOP, but you can’t take the KOP out of the reporter.
Salters had a 1 a.m. flight out of Mexico City on Tuesday, and plans to come back up to Philly from Baltimore Thursday to go to her parents’ house for dinner. She enjoys “having a life” as she put it, and being able to pick up her 3 year-old son from school every day [except Mondays] at 3:30.
“On Thanksgiving, I’ll drive to Philly. I’ll have gotten all my work done already, so Friday I’ll probably go to the mall like everybody else.”
‘The stuffing, to me, is just the thing that makes it all worthwhile.’
We talked Thanksgiving, which means we talked food. Salters told me I need to ‘hijack your Thanksgiving back’ after I told her my mom buys our feast from a restaurant.
“Aw, man, I’m sorry. You’re welcome to come to our house.”
Homemade or otherwise, we ran through the most important parts of a Thanksgiving plate. Bet honest, turkey is overrated.
“I do care about the turkey. For me, if I just had a plate of turkey, stuffing and gravy, that would be all I would need. The stuffing, to me, is just the thing that makes it all worthwhile.
“A close second is the cranberry sauce. It’s like that sandwich you can get, on sourdough bread, you get the turkey, with cranberry sauce. There’s just something about that combo it’s just phenomenal.”
After a detailed conversation about Wawa’s Gobbler [had one last night and it was delish] and The Original Turkey shop in Reading Terminal Market [hidden gem], we moved to dessert.
“I’m not a pumpkin pie or sweet potato pie, really. I’m more of a pecan pie. I am a big dessert person, but not usually on Thanksgiving. I’ve already gorged myself on the food that — to me, the cranberry sauce is the sweet that I need. That cranberry sauce mixed in with all the savory, I’m pretty full by the time dinner is over.
“But I would never turn away warm cherry pie with ice cream on top.”
‘You have to over-prepare every week.’
We did talk work, not just turkey. Salters takes great pride in her preparation, even though she knows they will never have enough time in a telecast to get to all her points.
“You have to over-prepare every week. I feel that I have so much more than what is ever going to get into the game. Because you never know where it’s going to be a game where you do have a lot of opportunities. Maybe the game is out of hand and they need more interesting things from the sidelines. In a normal game, I know that I’m only going to get on the air four or five times. And that’s okay.
“Sometimes you have no idea. Some days guys are dropping like flies and you’re running from sideline to sideline getting injury reports. Thankfully in the NFL each team has a designated person on the field. There’s a PR person from each staff on the field that is your go-to.”
She admitted that the job has gotten easier the longer she’s done it. There’s familiarity with the players, even though she only may see them once a season, at most.
“I’ve been doing it now, this is my fifth season. Compared to season number one when I was doing it, it’s just night and day. The players…when a player gets hurt now, I can just look at him or if he’s walking back to the locker room, I can ask ‘hey is everything alright’ and they’re not going to say ‘who are you?!?’ They expect to see me, the PR staff knows me, they come look for me to tell me so-and-so got hurt and this is his status. Which I love. The comfort level is there, and it makes the job so much easier.”
‘I’ve been on television enough…’
Since she had already ripped me for store-bought turkey, it felt comfortable enough to ask if she ever roots for injuries during the game, to get more airtime.
‘Noooooo. Never an injury. I will, um…no. I’ve been on television enough that however the amount of time you need me, if you need me to just be on a little bit, fine. If you need me to be on a lot, that’s fine too. I’m good with whatever. Whatever happens I’m fine with.”
‘To me, I’m telling [viewers] for the first time’
Sometimes sideline reporters get information quickly, but the flow of the game precludes them from getting on the air. I asked Salters about that, and how social media has changed her job, when people tweeting from the press box can often inform fans before the TV crew can even get the sideline reporter on air, even though she may have had the scoop first.
“I never even think about that, because I’m not following on Twitter when I’m down there, so I have no idea what people watching know or don’t know. To me, I’m telling them for the first time, so I never even think about — thanks a lot, Dan — now it’s out there. I didn’t realize they’re telling reporters up in the press box and then it’s out there.
“We have made that an emphasis. We don’t care who has the ball, if a defensive guy gets hurt, we don’t care if the defense is still on the field, they’ll come down to me as soon as we get it. And I think that probably is a product of social media. From year one when I was doing this until year five, it’s very different. We’re much quicker on the trigger with that now.”
‘Jon [Gruden] is so much fun. He’s a great teacher.’
We spoke about Jon Gruden and Sean McDonough, her partners on the telecast. She said the two in the booth are still trying to find their rhythm, pointing out that Gruden and Mike Tirico worked together for seven years, so 10 games isn’t a lot by comparison. But she really, genuinely seems to love working with them. Especially Gruden.
“You couldn’t ask for a more fun team to work with. I wouldn’t say that about other announce teams I’ve worked with. I’ve worked with other announce teams and it was pleasant enough, but it was work. You went in, you did your work and you left. We are like cutting up and teasing and joking and playing around with each other for the entire time that we are together.
“Jon is so much fun. He’s a great teacher. I can go to him at any time and he’ll answer any question at any time. He’s great with that. He’s a lot of fun. He’s just really, really funny. And with Sean. Sean is just the jokester. A dry sense of humor, the quick one-liners. He just always keeps us laughing. They are great guys to work with.”
‘I don’t know how Jon doesn’t win analyst of the year every year.’
It’s not all jokes, obviously, and for Salters, there is nobody better at breaking down a football game than Gruden.
“I don’t know how Jon doesn’t win analyst of the year every year. He’s so smart. He’s so football smart. His stories, just, I think that if he had the time just to tell stories — he has a story about every thing.
“We’ll be like ‘we’re playing at altitude this week [in Mexico City] and it’s 2,000 feet above Denver’ and Jon will be like ‘let me tell you a story about when I went, you think altitude doesn’t matter? Let me tell you about the time we played in Denver and I almost passed out on the sideline coaching…’ and it will be hilarious.
“Cris Collinsworth isn’t telling that story. Charles Barkley isn’t telling that story. Jon has a story about everything. He’s connected to everybody.
“The other guy who reminds of him in that way in his storytelling is Hubie Brown. Hubie Brown, you could just sit and listen to him and the stories he tells forever. His basketball life and Jon’s football life are just so entertaining.
“I think there’s not enough time for that in the football game. If people could just sit and watch and listen to Jon tell stories about his football career in coaching rather than watch the game, they would probably enjoy him talking about football just as much. It’s that entertaining.”
‘Nothing is better than a good hoagie.’
When you talk to anyone for nearly 40 minutes, the conversation has a tendency to circle back to what’s most important. For us, that was food.
I asked if she’s in charge of picking a restaurant when the crew comes to Philly, and she admitted that they usually scatter, and she’ll spend most of her time back in KOP.
“I don’t usually go out to dinner in Philly. It’s home, so I go home.”
We did talk about what restaurants she could recommend around the city, and the idea of Monday lunch from Federal Donuts made her the most excited. We talked about Wm. Mulherin’s Sons and Abe Fisher and she asked about some older places and if they are still popular. But before I could answer, she stopped to reset.
“For me when I go to Philly, it’s all about the cheesesteak and the hoagie. That’s the one that I want to hit.
“I can go out to a nice restaurant anywhere. But I can’t get a cheesesteak and I can’t get a hoagie anywhere. Nothing is better than a good hoagie.”