Hannah Storm worked for NBC Sports in the early 1990s as one of the first sideline reporters at NFL games. It was a new concept that was not always popular with players in the league; some of them gave her a hard time. But that didn’t happen when she covered the Buffalo Bills.
Storm had worked as a sportscaster for a Houston radio station, KSRR 97 Rock, back when Jim Kelly was the quarterback for the Houston Gamblers in the United States Football League. Kelly did some promotional work with the station and she had covered his games.
When Storm was sent to cover the Super Bowl-era Bills for NBC, Kelly remembered her.
“Jim told a couple of guys, you know, listen, she’s a really good reporter, very creditable and all of that,” Storm recalled. “And it was Andre, it was Bruce, and Thurman, they were just great with me, they would talk to me, they were respectful. And it was that Jim Kelly connection from back in the day. Of all the teams, I remember the Bills as a group being the coolest with me.”
Kelly, Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed will all be part of the show when Storm returns to Orchard Park on Sunday to host ESPN’s “SportsCenter” at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The show will air from 8-10 a.m. In addition to appearances by four Bills Hall of Fame players, new Canton inductee Bill Polian will be on set also. Polian, who works as an ESPN analyst, will be honored by the Bills at halftime and presented with his Hall of Fame ring.
Storm also taped interview segments with LeSean McCoy and Rex Ryan that will air Sunday. She spoke with The News by phone on Wednesday on her way to the airport for her trip to Buffalo.
“I covered a ton of Bills games for NBC in those days,” she said. “I remember one game, it might have been my first time there. And you know how the wind swirls in the stadium? I was going on to do my pregame report and the wind kicked up and for the entirety of my report my hair was literally all over my face, you could not even see my face. I was dying. Dick Enberg was dying. We were laughing so hard, it was like Cousin It.”
Bringing ESPN’s cameras to Orchard Park is part of the network’s “SportsCenter on the Road” initiative. Storm said she loves the chance to be reporting from where the action is.
“I’ve definitely been part of some big events on the road. I did the national championship game” of college football “in Dallas, I did the Super Bowl SportsCenter on the road in Phoenix, and I did the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight on the road in Vegas.
“And the Bills have been fantastic. This works so much better when the people we’re working with are enthusiastic partners with us.”
Storm said there is nothing like covering a live event.
“That’s one of my favorite things about being a sportscaster. When you take SportsCenter out on the road like that, with the crowd and a huge football game like this, that’s what you live for.
“To me it just adds a whole other dimension. I just came off the U.S. Open, I was out there with the crowd in New York. And you want it to have, I call it the ‘College Gameday’ feel. That’s the most fun that you can have as a broadcaster.”
Lackawanna’s own Ron Jaworski, who will also be part of the ESPN broadcast, talked about the potential of Tyrod Taylor as the Bills quarterback on last Sunday morning’s “SportsCenter.”
“Our guys really love him, they think that he’s got a huge upside,” Storm said. “We actually talked a ton about the Bills on our show. I was not surprised at all that they did well,” beating the Colts in Week One. “We had picked them to win that game.
“I don’t think there was any great revelation to me personally because I was pretty studied up on the Bills but I think that nationally Taylor made a big splash.”
Storm was looking forward to seeing the Bills take on Bill Belichick’s Patriots.
“I think that as much as people might want to make it the Rex vs. Bill story line, it’s so much more than that,” she said. “You’ve got this spectacular defense of the Bills. And I can’t wait to see how they match up against the Patriots’ offense. It will be a chess match that way.”
Storm mentioned the fact that when the Pegulas hired Rex Ryan as the Bills’ coach, some in the NFL were surprised.
“A lot of people were like, ‘Wow, he took that job in about two seconds.’ But as I said on Sunday, the Bills were a talented team, they’ve got an incredible defense, and I think it was arguably the biggest upside of any coaching gig in the NFL. I think you could make an argument it was the best job out there. I’m not surprised at all that he jumped on board of the franchise.”
Storm said Sunday’s game is a perfect litmus test for Ryan’s team.
“They’re going to go against the defending champs. I think it’s great to have that kind of game early, you know what you’ve got. And, you know, it’s at home ... We had trouble finding hotel rooms there, so I know it’s going to be insane. It’s going to be absolutely insane.”
Gannon on Taylor
Rich Gannon will be the color commentator in CBS’s booth for the Bills-Patriots game. Kevin Harlan will be on play-by-play.
Gannon, who played quarterback in the NFL for 18 seasons, gave high marks to Tyrod Taylor for his debut against the Colts last week.
“First and foremost, I thought he was terrific in terms of how he handled the moment, his first start,” Gannon told The News. “He looked very much in control of things, which is terrific for a guy who hasn’t played in this league.
“He wasn’t asked to throw the ball a bunch, but when he did he was very effective and efficient, and I think that’s all you can ask of him.”
Taylor’s mobility is obviously an asset, Gannon noted.
“Any defensive coordinator will tell you, it scares them to death when you’ve got a quarterback who can run. I think all this guy needs is a small crease and he’s gone. I think the challenge for him is going to be, can he learn to sit in the pocket and function as a pocket passer? Defenses are going to do a good job trying to set the edge and get some push up inside and force this guy to sit in there and make difficult throws.
“He’s a guy that doesn’t have a lot of experience, but he’s very athletic and mobile and clearly he can roll away from pressure, he can make a lot of plays on the move.”
Can the Bills score points against the defending Super Bowl champions?
“I think that there’s some opportunity to throw the ball down the field,” Gannon said. “I think at the end of the day they want to be able to run the football, that’s really who they are and who they want to be.
“I was impressed with Karlos Williams. I think LeSean McCoy, as they get more familiar with him and what he does best, I think you’ll see his workload increase. He’s a special guy, a ton of speed, makes players miss.
“I think the challenge for Buffalo is going to be to keep pace with the Patriots. I think every drive, every possession is magnified in a game against a Manning or a Brady because typically they come away with points. If it’s not touchdowns it’s field goals. And I think turnovers are magnified in a game like this. If you turn the ball over to Brady, there’s a good chance they’re going to come away with points. Ball security is going to be critical.”