Moving on from 'Monday Night Football'

Baltimore's Melissa Stark, a new mother, follows her nose for news

Conversations

November 02, 2003|By Gary Dorsey | Gary Dorsey,Sun Staff

As a sideline reporter for ABC's Monday Night Football, 29-year-old Baltimore native Melissa Stark earned a big-league reputation chasing down reluctant linebackers, dodging beer bottles and, once, after 9 / 11, tracking a mysterious gas that was causing players to throw up blood on the sidelines (it was pepper spray).

In August, after she and her husband had their first child, Stark decided to trade her microphone for a baby bottle. But not for long.

She was back in town recently chasing down world-class swimmer Michael Phelps, who she will follow next year in the Summer Olympics for her new employer, NBC. She sat down, with babe in arms, at her parents' house in Roland Park to talk about sports, her new job [she starts reporting for the Today Show in January] and how much she misses her old Monday night haunts.

This is your first year away from football after three seasons -- what happens for you on Monday nights now?

Sometimes I'm asleep when the game starts but wake up for the baby's feeding and see the end of the game. But I usually talk to Al [Michaels] and John [Madden] on Tuesdays and catch up.

Do they miss you?

I think so. And I miss them. But my baby was due the first week of the season, so it just wasn't going to work out.

Did they try to talk you into staying?

They did. They said, "This is perfect. You can come back the middle of October!" And I said, "What am I going to do with my baby?" They said, "Bring the baby on the road." Four days a week? A newborn? I don't think so.

But weren't you at Meadowbrook [aquatics center] at 6:30 this morning doing a story about Michael Phelps for NBC?

Well, I was watching him swim. But there were also all these moms there for the "Mommy and Me" class, and I thought, "Oh my gosh, I have to get home to my little boy!" I don't know how people do it. I have to figure out the balance between career and family life.

So you're not doing a story?

I was there because Michael's going to dominate -- or let's hope dominate -- swimming during the Olympics. He could be the story. So I was there about four hours talking to him and his coaches.

What kind of guy is Michael Phelps?

Well, he talks about cars, he talks about music, and he loves the NFL. So we talked about the NFL -- and funny commercials he likes on TV. He's 18. He's a kid.

Are you working on any other stories?

I'm supposed to be on maternity leave. However, I did do a story on Sept. 11 about a friend who had a baby about the same time I did who lost her [first] husband on 9 / 11. We had been out walking one day and she had this amazing story about new beginnings. On Sept. 9, I said, "Oh my gosh, why hadn't I thought of this?" I pitched it to the Today Show on Sept. 9, we shot it on Sept. 10, they edited it all night on Sept. 11 and it aired that morning.

When was your son born?

Aug. 22.

So by Sept. 9 you found a story to work on? What does that say about you?

Oh, gosh! [Laughs.] I don't know. It's all a blur after you have a baby. I think it says I'm a little bit crazy.

Do you ever feel wistful about beautiful nights on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field?

I don't know about the frozen tundra or any of those places where you need five pairs of insulated socks. But I do miss the people and the electricity of a Monday night game. It was almost like a mini-Super Bowl every week, and it's not something you can re-create -- having everyone around giving high fives and hugs and working a job where you have no idea what will happen next or what you will be covering. That's the kind of an adrenaline rush I don't think I could re-create. Even on the Today Show, I don't think we'll be going around the studio high-fiving everybody.

Why wouldn't you go back to it?

I really love sports, but I also love news. I love politics. I love entertainment. I want to explore all those areas.

How did you gravitate to journalism?

That's funny you should ask. I was just going through my high school yearbook recently -- I went to Roland Park Country School -- and in the yearbook they put a caption under everybody's name about what they most represent. Mine said, 'Most Interested.' I just have a natural curiosity, and I care about the answers.

Did you start there?

At Roland Park we had something like an internship where every Wednesday as a senior instead of going to school you went to a job. So I went to work at Channel 2. I would log stories and go out in the vans on stories. That was my first exposure.

How did you get into sports reporting?

I started in college at Univer-sity of Virginia with something they called The Coach's Show. I did features.

But why sports -- and why football?

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