Michael Smith was an ocean away from New England Patriots training camp, and that made him unhappy.
It didn’t matter that Smith, then in his mid-20s and covering the NFL for The Boston Globe was assigned to the 2003 World Athletics Championships in Paris, France, with his girlfriend (now wife) by his side.
“She said, ‘Are you serious?'” Smith told USA TODAY Sports in a video call.
The NFL was his first love in this business. His something. It always has been. It still is.
That’s especially true now — 19 years later — when Amazon’s Prime Video hired Smith as a news analyst for its studio coverage of Thursday Night Football. Smith will be part of the pregame, halftime and postgame broadcasts hosted by Charissa Thompson with Tony Gonzalez, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Richard Sherman as analysts.
“It’s a full circle moment. I am going back to my roots in many ways. I’ve always wanted to be a part of a national television show … and here I am,” said Smith, who spent 15 years (2004-2019) at ESPN, first as an NFL insider and then as a commentator and host of various programs.
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At ESPN, Smith works with Prime Video’s vice president of global video Marie Donohue, who said Smith “has incredible journalistic experience.”
“We really think that adding a reporter with the journalistic credentials that Michael Smith has is really important for viewers to contextualize the stories around the NFL,” Donohue told USA TODAY Sports.
Smith is no stranger to the pregame show. He was a contributor to “NFL Sunday Countdown” on ESPN, which Amina Hussain — now head of American sports on-air talent and development at Prime Video — produced. The New Orleans, Louisiana native wanted to be the next Chris Mortensen.
It didn’t happen, and he would never have offered to be Prime Video’s Mortensen, but his point is that he’s made a dream come true.
“It was just a matter of convincing them I was the guy,” Smith joked.
Smith said he always pays attention to CBS and Fox programming and has been working at NBC Sports since 2020 and was introduced to “Football Night in America.”
“It feels like a natural progression for me,” Smith, who hosts and executive produces sports, current affairs and culture show “Brother From Other” on the Peacock. (Smith said a “reimagined and larger” deal with NBC is being finalized.)
“I’ve worked a long time to get here,” Smith said. “I appreciate Prime Video knowing what I bring to the table and giving me a seat at their table.”
Smith rose to national prominence as a contestant on the popular evening debate show “Around The Horn.” He hosts various programs, most notably “His & Hers” alongside Jemele Hill. The pair began hosting the 6 p.m. ET edition of “SportsCenter,” renamed “SC6” in 2017. Hill left 12 months later, and Smith hosted a solo version until May 2018 before being replaced; he and ESPN reached a buyout agreement the following year.
A streaming service exclusively airing Thursday Night Football is an example of how much the media has changed since Smith began covering the NFL in 2001. But that’s the exciting part for him.
“I feel like a part of this team, this company, this moment, this shift to (Prime Video) exclusive Thursday night NFL streaming, the journey has led me here the whole time,” Smith said.
“This is as big an opportunity as I’ve had in a while,” Smith said. “I haven’t been this excited about anything in a long time. And it’s not just how high-ranking it is, it’s really the people.”
Thompson and Smith previously worked together on ESPN2’s “Numbers Never Lie” (which was eventually retitled “His & Hers”) and “no one makes work feel less like work than Charissa,” said Smith.
In a recent meeting at the Prime Video studios in Los Angeles, Smith caught up with former analysts of the players he covered at various points in their careers, and also has known reporter reporter Taylor Rooks for a long time. Smith said no one was more “genuine” than contributor Aqib Talib and called Andrew Whitworth, another contributor, one of the best teammates in football history.
“I’m telling you, and I don’t want to set the bar too high, but I’ve seen a glimpse of what we have … and the chemistry is incredible,” Smith said. “I think we’re going to hit the ground running and people are going to look at us and say this is one of the best teams in sports television right out of the gate. That’s who we want to be.”
Donohue said there will be no restrictions on what topics Smith can comment on or report on. Smith plans to combine his reporting acumen with his ability to think critically and with his own opinions. Prime Video hired him for that reason.
“They know exactly who I am,” he said. “They know my work. They know exactly what I’ve done and what I bring to the table and the flexibility I bring to the table.”
After decades spent on television, Smith is widely respected and his perspective is well-regarded around the league. The job description, Smith said, is “Be Michael Smith.”
“I’ve been able to shape these worlds as a commentator and analyst and as a reporter for about 20 years now,” Smith said. “They knew exactly how I did my job and that’s exactly what they were looking for.
“This was exactly what I was looking for too.”
Follow Chris Bumbaka on Twitter @BOOMbaca.