By Emmanuel Morgan
Nate Burleson, far removed from the 11 seasons he spent toiling in the NFL, pulled up his shirt to wipe sweat from his forehead during a well-deserved break.
Burleson was in a buzzing laboratory with green slime-filled industrial containers, recording Nickelodeon’s “NFL Slimetime” days after explaining the challenge of overcoming turnovers on “The NFL Today,” the CBS football show that was in Baltimore for the AFC Championship Game. Hours before the Nickelodeon taping, he had provided updates about the widening conflict in the Middle East on “CBS Mornings,” the network’s flagship morning newscast.
After a productive but unglamorous football career, Burleson, 42, has found high-profile success in the television industry. Now he faces a daunting schedule this week in Las Vegas, where the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers will face off in the Super Bowl.
Burleson is setting 1:30 a.m. alarms to anchor “CBS Mornings” from the Las Vegas Strip throughout the week. And on Sunday, he will announce Nickelodeon’s first alternate Super Bowl telecast for children, changing into a suit and racing down Allegiant Stadium’s elevator with help from security to join his “NFL Today” colleagues for halftime analysis.
“I never played in a Super Bowl, so I feel like this is my Super Bowl,” Burleson said.
Nickelodeon’s alternate telecasts are an attempt to attract younger viewers by infusing NFL games with augmented-reality animations on the field — yes, there will be plenty of virtual slime — and incorporating popular cartoon characters. Burleson will call the Super Bowl with the voice actors for SpongeBob SquarePants and Patrick Star. (Jim Nantz and Tony Romo are announcing the traditional broadcast on CBS.)
Shawn Robbins, the coordinating producer for the Nickelodeon football games, was impressed by the notes Burleson prepared for the network’s first alternate broadcast in 2021. He wove together football terminology with references to popular Nickelodeon shows, explaining that football players studied for their game assignments like children doing homework ahead of class.
“That made the broadcast,” Robbins said. “He spoke to kids watching, he spoke to adults and it was really one of the most genius documents I’ve ever seen.”
Burleson has been a color analyst on all four Nickelodeon telecasts and said the role allowed him to reminisce on his childhood and connect with his three teenage children. The elevated platform for the Super Bowl broadcast, he said, could help generate interest in a sport that has declining youth participation.
Burleson, who spent his career with the Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions, started begrudgingly playing football at 9 years old because of his brothers and father. One afternoon in eighth grade, while his father drove him to practice, Burleson said he wanted to quit because he did not like the physical contact. He sat out that season but regretted it.
Had the Nickelodeon telecast existed then, Burleson said, he probably would have been more enthusiastic about the sport.
“I am a huge proponent of shows like that being the bridge between kids and the sports that they love,” said Burleson, who was slimed before his first Nickelodeon game.
Burleson said executives approached him last year about this week’s Las Vegas schedule, which he accepted after discussing with his wife. The logistical obstacles are acute but Drew Kaliski, the producer for “The NFL Today,” said he trusted Burleson to allot his time wisely for everything he must handle.
“Nate knows the importance of the Super Bowl and what it means not only for himself but for everyone he works with,” Kaliski said. “He doesn’t want to miss that opportunity and he wants to make sure that he’s doing everything in his power to be ready.”
Burleson has earned that confidence from his colleagues.
Kaliski, who previously worked at NFL Network, said Burleson was more eager and cooperative to participate in media requests than many of his football peers. While he was still playing in the NFL in 2011, Burleson attended a developmental workshop for players interested in a broadcasting career.
He became a co-anchor of NFL Network’s weekday morning talk show, “Good Morning Football,” in 2016, a few years after retiring from football. When Burleson and his daughter interviewed Michelle Obama for the entertainment outlet “Extra” in 2021, Gayle King, a CBS morning anchor, came across the conversation on social media and called Burleson to tell him she was impressed.
Later that year, Burleson was asked to periodically guest host “CBS Mornings” during Tony Dokoupil’s parental leave. His energy during segments impressed producers, and Burleson eventually became a permanent host.
King says Burleson does not fit preconceived notions about what athletes are like when they move to their next chapter. “Nate gives us swagger without trying too hard,” King said.