Danville’s Nicole Zaloumis can talk football with the best of ’em.
Picture this: It’s Sunday afternoon, and the 49ers are playing the Seahawks in the biggest game of the season.
Mom and Dad are glued to the plasma screen, with chips, dips, and Diet Cokes on the table, when their two young sons have a sudden hankering for some playtime outside. Well, get to work, Dad; Mom needs to watch the game.
“That’s what it’s like at my house every Sunday,” says Nicole Zaloumis, laughing. “My two young sons want to go out and play, and I tell them, ‘Daddy will take you— but Mommy needs to watch this for her work.’”
Zaloumis, 33, has a job she’s been dreaming about since her days taking broadcasting classes at Monte Vista High. The Danville-raised sports fan is the cohost of NFL AM, an all-football talk show broadcast on cable’s NFL Network. Between her reports about injuries, trades, draft picks, and fantasy ratings, Zaloumis gets to show off her funny, flirty personality—even dancing with NFL players in a recurring segment called Dancing With the Starters. She also tweets pictures of her on-air outfits.
NFL AM airs year-round, weekday mornings from 7 to 11 a.m. That’s a lot of time for Zaloumis and her cohosts to fill with football talk. But it’s a gig Zaloumis has been preparing for her whole life.
“My friends and family have always told me that there should be a show where I just talk about sports,” Zaloumis says.
Her mother agrees. “From a very young age, Nicole understood sports. She knew what she was talking about,” says her mom, Sarah, who still lives in the Diablo home where Nicole grew up. “After a talent show at Vista Grande Elementary, one of her teachers came up to me and said, ‘I think your daughter should be on TV.’ She always presented herself well and was never intimidated.”
The NFL AM job is allowing Zaloumis to be an opinion commentator for the first time in her broadcasting career. “As I came up as a female sports broadcaster, I was constantly told, ‘We don’t want your opinion; we just want you to report about sports,’” Zaloumis says.
The day Zaloumis was scheduled to talk to Diablo turned out to be one of the most exciting at her new show. On June 26, Zaloumis was halfway through the broadcast when news broke that former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was being arrested on murder charges in North Attleboro, Massachusetts.
It was the most sensational football-related crime story since the O.J. Simpson case, and Zaloumis was the first national sports broadcaster to cover it live. “I was about to throw to a segment about the greatest football movies, when I looked at the screen and saw that we were going to live footage of Hernandez being escorted out his home,” she says. “All my skills as a broadcaster kicked in.”
Zaloumis’ show was the only sports program to cover Hernandez’s perp walk live, and she beat ESPN to the story by six minutes. Not bad for someone whose first job was covering school sports in Medford, Oregon. After that, Zaloumis moved around the country, working in Washington, D.C., Phoenix, Chicago, Seattle, and New England, covering college and pro sports. She did well in each market but also had to deal with the pitfalls of a male-dominated profession.
“There was a certain left-handed relief pitcher in Seattle who would walk up to me in the locker room completely nude, just to antagonize me,” she says, with a groan. “I had to develop a thick skin over things like that.”
Prior to her current job, Zaloumis worked in Massachusetts, covering all things Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins, and Celtics. She loved the sports-obsessed market but jumped at the chance to move back to California, when the NFL Network came calling.
NFL AM is filmed in Southern California, and Zaloumis, her husband, and two young sons currently live in Woodland Hills, a suburb in the San Fernando Valley. But she would move back to her hometown in a minute if the show ever relocated to the Bay Area.
“I love Danville. It’s a special community, unlike any other place I have lived,” she says. “In fact, as I’ve moved around the country, I’ve tried to find the Danville in other places—Bethesda, Maryland; Kirkland, Washington; Winchester, Massachusetts—the small town with a main street that brings the community together.”
Diablo quizzed Zaloumis about what East Bay football fans should expect this season.
49ers: Can they win it all?
“They were five yards away from winning a Super Bowl, and that’s weighing heavy on their minds. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick: That kid is crazy good. And Jim Harbaugh might be the best young head coach in the NFL. I remember covering a Stanford game and interviewing him, looking in his eyes and thinking, ‘This guy has crazy in his eyes.’ Harbaugh can motivate anyone.
“The NFC West has become one of the most competitive divisions in the game, and the 49ers and Seahawks are the best new rivalry. Their prime-time game on September 15 will be one of the most talked-about games of the early season.”
Raiders: Fans shouldn’t get their hopes up
“The Raiders are rebuilding right now. That said, I do like Dennis Allen, the second-year head coach. He got everything under his belt in that first year. But let’s face it: They are in the AFC West with the Denver Broncos, one of the best teams in the NFL right now, so everyone else in the AFC West is going to have a tough time.”
Local Talent: One to watch
“Keep your eye on local kid Zach Ertz, tight end for the Philadelphia Eagles. He went to Monte Vista and then was an All-American at Stanford. We had him on the show recently. He’s extremely bright. He was the 35th overall pick in the draft, and he’s definitely going places.”