The stars were aligned for Cornelius resident Shannon Spake to open her first full season as an NFL sideline reporter for Fox Sports this Sunday at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, about 20 miles from where she grew up as a Dolphins fan.
Unfortunately, though, the storm clouds are not.
With Hurricane Irma flexing its muscles over the Atlantic Ocean and posing a potentially devastating threat to much of Florida, the league announced Wednesday that Miami’s regular-season opener against Tampa Bay – which Spake was set to cover with Dick Stockton and Mark Schlereth – will be moved to Nov. 19.
“I’m bummed,” Spake said Tuesday morning, as it became clear the game wasn’t going to happen as scheduled. “But I was there for Hurricane Andrew. I remember what that did to Homestead, and obviously what’s going on with (Hurricane) Harvey right now is just absolutely tragic; so it’s best to be safe.”
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Her first game of the season now tentatively will be the Sept. 17 matchup between Chicago and Tampa Bay (although in a worst-case scenario, Irma could have an effect on that one, too, as the Buccaneers are set to host).
Meanwhile, you can catch Spake on “NASCAR Race Hub,” which she co-hosts daily with Adam Alexander for Fox Sports 1 – and/or you can check out these seven things we think you should know about the 41-year-old broadcaster, based on our recent interview with her inside Fox Sports 1’s headquarters on West W.T. Harris Boulevard.
1. She moved to Charlotte from New York City in 2003 not for a job, she said, but because she wanted more balance, more green space, and more time with her family (her mom, her sister and a couple of aunts had relocated here while she was in The Big Apple, from 1999-2003). “It was really humbling,” Spake said, “because I went from living in New York City, on my own, having jobs at ‘Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel’ or ‘The Early Show’ (on CBS) ... to having to sleep on a family member’s couch because I was trying to start over again.” A round of cold calls landed her at WCCB-TV, then Charlotte’s Fox affiliate, and she did “anything and everything that they wanted me to do, whether it be working the assignment desk or holding the camera.”
2. She bounced from reporting and producing jobs at WCCB to reporting and producing jobs for the Charlotte Bobcats’ regional sports network, did a stint at Fox’s now-shuttered Speed network, then landed at ESPN in 2006. Over the next 10 years, she turned herself into a three-sport star for ESPN, covering NASCAR, college basketball and college football, often from the sidelines. Football, particularly, can be tough. “I’ve done games that are 13 degrees. I’ve done games three weeks in a row where it’s been raining the entire time,” said Spake, who joined Fox in July 2016. “But I love being on the sidelines. I love being the one to interview the coaches. I love being the one to see those stories down there. I’ve never aspired to be in the booth.”
3. And, as she puts it, “There’s not a better seat in the house.” “You get to see things like Christian McCaffrey running right by you when he’s returning a 99-yard punt for a touchdown – which was called back, but whatever,” said Spake, referring to the then-Stanford running back’s dazzling punt return against Kansas State last season (brought back for an illegal block penalty). “That to me is one of the coolest things, to see the raw power, and the speed, and some of the things that do not translate even when you’re in the first row.”
4. Speaking of McCaffrey, she wouldn’t mind watching the Carolina Panther rookie sometime this fall from the sideline inside Bank of America Stadium, “particularly now, when he’s stronger from going through NFL camp. ... Plus, if I do a Panther game, then I could bring my kids.” Currently, Spake is booked to do Chicago-Tampa Bay, then Philadelphia at L.A. (Chargers) on Oct. 1, then L.A. (Rams) at Jacksonville on Oct. 15. That’s as far out as her assignments with Stockton and Schlereth go at this point, though in total she expects to do eight or nine games this season.
5. Speaking of her kids, they’re twin 7-year-old boys, and Mom is a hero to them. Because they can see her on TV, sure, but more because they can hear her in “Cars 3.” Spake was cast as the voice of on-track reporter “Shannon Spokes” in the Disney-Pixar sequel, which landed in theaters in June and made $150 million. “They’re so proud,” she said. “We’ll be at a grocery store, and they’ll just look at the person checking us out, and they’ll be like, ‘My mommy’s in ‘Cars 3!’ ” She said she bought 50 of the die-cast “Shannon Spokes” toys and periodically gives them as gifts; in fact, she recently gave one to Jimmie Johnson’s daughter Genevieve, during Richard Petty’s 80th birthday party.
6. Of course, not all of the entertainment she consumes is G-rated. Spake is a loud and proud fan of Howard Stern’s radio show on Sirius XM – so much so that she includes not one but two shoutouts to the shock jock in her Twitter bio. “I’ve thought about giving to his charities just so I could go sit inside his studio,” she said. So far, though, her closest brush with the show came when she saw famed Stern producer Gary Dell’Abate when she was leaving a meeting at Sirius XM’s headquarters in New York City. To this day, she regrets not saying something. Like, perhaps, shouting his “Baba Booey” nickname at him. “I got in the cab ... and I was like, ‘S---! I totally should have. I just wimped out.”
7. It’d be tough to argue that Spake is a wimp, though – she’s currently training for Ironman 70.3 North Carolina, an Oct. 21 race in Wilmington that consists of a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride, and a 13.1-mile run. It will be her second time racing this distance, and she hinted that training for and competing in triathlons helps her in her job. “When I think of questions for athletes, I try to put myself in their shoes based on my experiences of doing triathlons,” she said. “I know what these guys are in when they hit that field, to go in this game. They’re in the zone. I know what that’s like. So I feel like it’s given me a different perspective into what they feel and what they experience.”
Plus, all that running comes in handy. “A lot of times in games you’re running from sideline to sideline, just because the story is constantly evolving and constantly changing.” Her game-day footwear is a little different from her race-day shoes, though: She doesn’t do triathlons in wedge boots.