If New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton arrives at his postgame press conference Sunday oozing green, let it be known: He asked for this.
“I will officially volunteer to be Slimed if we win,” Payton said Friday over Zoom. “I would be willing to be Slimed if we won, whatever that means.”
Welcome to the NFL-Nickelodeon wild-card partnership.
The Bears-Saints wild-card playoff game will still air on CBS via NFL color analyst Tony Romo and play-by-play man Jim Nantz. But in an effort to engage younger fans and families, CBS Sports has partnered with Nickelodeon — also owned by CBS parent company ViacomCBS — to simulcast the game in a kid-centric, Nickelodeon-style way Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET.
Happy Friday from Sean Payton, who just learned what it means to be Slimed ahead of Bears-Saints @Nickelodeon broadcast Sunday.
Sean: “I will officially volunteer to be slimed if we win.”#hardhittingquestionspic.twitter.com/xCWq0ZtGAf
Think: graphics featuring googly eyes, Sponge Bob and Nickelodeon character Lincoln Loud; a pregame “SpongeBob SportsPants Countdown Special” and halftime advance screening of “Kamp Koral: SpongeBob’s Under Years.” Gabrielle Nevaeh Green, who stars on Nick’s “All That” and “Unfiltered” will join the Superdome broadcast booth alongside NFL Network’s Nate Burleson and Clippers play-by-play announcer Noah Eagle, while Nick’s Lex Lumpkin reports from the sideline.
Green credits Burleson and Eagle with working the last few weeks to “coach and mold me into a football encyclopedia.” The 15-year-old didn’t begin following football until she was “around 13-14,” she says. But she’s learned quickly that quarterbacks are often the star of the show, New Orleans’ Drew Brees is a legendary one and Bears passer Mitchell Trubisky is “fairly new and trying to prove” himself.
And she doesn’t gauge her success on how deeply she explains football scheme or personnel. Burleson and Eagle will bring the professional lens, Green says. She’ll bring a “bunch of crazy energy,” questions that fans new to the game might want answered and a knack for personalizing the players.
“Football can be kind of confusing,” Green told USA TODAY Sports by phone. “It’s kind of hard to remember all those terms but if we can say, ‘Hey that’s the guy who loves chocolate ice cream and he just ran all the way down the field,’ that’s a win for us to get new football fans engaged.”
That new engagement was the goal when CBS Sports and Nickelodeon executives conceived the idea. Football games already are full of graphics, so why not enlist the SpongeBob animators? Broadcasts typically introduce players to fans, so why not introduce them by favorite food and hobbies instead of college and season statistics? More than 15 players per team filled out questionnaires to ensure that was possible, CBS Sports coordinating producer Shawn Robbins told USA TODAY Sports. Robbins said the same technology that typically displays down-and-distance in game broadcasts will seamlessly project Slime cannons Sunday afternoon.
“You get to teach the game in a way you wouldn’t normally talk about football,” Robbins said. “But a mom and dad coming into the Nick game are going to get a good football game out of us. We’re going to keep the integrity for sure. It’s just going to be delivered in a different way.”
Green, for her part, has marveled at the legwork NFL broadcasts require. She says the football broadcasting manual CBS sent her was nearly 800 pages long (Robbins laughed, explaining she was not expected to memorize them all) but the players’ questionnaire responses perhaps excite her most.
“I was reading the information and was like, ‘Wow, that dude like Hot Cheetos? I like Hot Cheetos too!’ It’ll be fun for fans.”
Green also hopes she’ll inspire other young women who will have the rare chance to see someone like them in a CBS Sports broadcast booth and see her embracing what she hopes will be an energy-packed, joke-filled, “loosey-goosey” role.
“It’s an incredible honor, especially that I’m the first female to be up in the booth for a CBS broadcast. I don’t take that lightly at all,” Green said. “I’m hoping to inspire young girls that, hey: You can do anything you aspire to do.’”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein
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