Nate Expectations
CBS Watch! Magazine|September/October 2021
As a former football star, an analyst on The NFL Today, and a new co-host of CBS’s morning show, Emmy Award–winning Nate Burleson shows his versatility every time he’s on camera. And he’s just getting started.
Alex Bhattacharji

There are millions of football fans who love to spend their Sundays relaxing on the couch watching Nate Burleson on The NFL Today. But Burleson himself is not exactly a passive observer when his own TV is on. Instead, at home in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, the 40-year-old Emmy Award-winning broadcaster and new co-host of CBS’s morning show treats TV viewing as an exercise in the study of craft. “I either watch on mute,” he says, “so I can see how people interact with each other, what they are doing with their eyes and hands, or I turn the volume all the way up and I close my eyes and see if I can understand what they are describing.”

Other times, he will pace around the room mumbling to himself, repeating lines and reading and writing, then rewriting, scripts. “People think you just wake up and start talking on air,” he says. “No, no, no, no! Talking on TV begins two steps away from the end zone. The rest of the work is being Barry Sanders zigzagging back and forth like crazy in the backfield.”

Unlike many of his peers who’ve traded their helmets and locker rooms for headsets and broadcast booths, Burleson doesn’t get by on name recognition. He was accomplished, but not a superstar. He played for 11 years as a wide receiver in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks, and Detroit Lions, putting together a respectable highlight reel yet never earning a slot in the Pro Bowl. After he retired in 2014, however, Burleson’s career took off: He began his TV journey by doing color commentary for Lions preseason games. Since the premiere of Good Morning Football in 2016, Burleson has co-hosted the year-round show. In 2017 he joined CBS as a studio analyst for The NFL Today. In 2019 he branched out into entertainment news, becoming a correspondent for Extra until this past summer. In addition, he hosts a podcast with Uninterrupted, does voiceover work with Draft Kings, produces art, poetry, and music—rapping under the stage name New Balance with the Seattle-based hip-hop group Wizdom. He’s opened restaurants and launched a clothing label and a jewelry line.

While his multi-multi-hyphenate status may make Burleson seem like a jack of all trades, he was recently recognized for his mastery of one in particular. This past June, he won two Emmys: Outstanding Sports Personality/Studio Analyst and Outstanding Playoff Coverage for his work as a color commentator on Nickelodeon’s NFC wild-card game. And there are more exciting roles that lie ahead for Burleson. As part of a new multi-platform agreement across CBS News, CBS Sports, and ViacomCBS’s Nickelodeon, this month he’s joining CBS’s morning show as co-host with Gayle King and Tony Dokoupil.

Unlike many former athletes, broadcasting is not a coda to Burleson’s career. For him, football was a preamble to his calling. At first, after retiring, “I didn’t want to admit I missed the game so much, that I liked when people told me how great I was,” Burleson says. “When people talk to me about what I’m doing on TV, it just validates the hard work.”

Without being boastful, you’re able to speak highly of your accomplishments and ability. Have you always been a confident guy?

NB: I don’t know if I was extremely confident. I was the third of four boys. I kind of found myself sandwiched in the middle, not necessarily struggling with confidence, but struggling to be seen. I would draw and be really into music and art and stage—because I wanted the attention. My oldest brother, Kevin, was the uber-athletic one— the hooper. He was the first person that showed me you can fall in love with the sport. I tell people this all the time: If I loved football as much as Kevin loved basketball, I would be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, there’s no question about it.

Did your father, who was a star defensive back at the University of Washington and then played professionally in the CFL and USFL, encourage you to pursue pro football?

NB: You know, it’s funny: My dad wasn’t one of those fathers that walked around constantly talking about his career. I would meet his old teammates at sporting events, and they’d say, “Your dad was a hell of a football player.” I became really curious: How good was he? I remember this one day, going and searching in boxes [where] I knew that he kept his old memorabilia. It was like a treasure chest to me. All this University of Washington Huskies stuff—old school, from the ’70s—USFL L.A. Express stuff, Calgary Stampede stuff. I’m putting it on like I’m getting ready for Halloween. I got the wristbands, the jersey, helmet‚ and I’m mixing all these different teams. Everything too big for me. I’m walking around the house and he’s like, “Where’d you find that?”

And then I found these old tapes. It was him at the University of Washington. My dad’s playing safety. This running back catches a ball out of the backfield, and my dad hits him right on the sideline, and the guy slides damn near to the eighth lane—the football field was surrounded by the track. And the announcer said, “Al Burleson is all over the field today.” That left an imprint on me. I never forgot that. And I remember saying to myself, “I want somebody to talk about me like that.” I didn’t necessarily know what I wanted to do. I didn’t know if it was going to be the NBA or the NFL. At one point I thought I was going to be a world-renowned artist, not just drawing and painting, but poetry and rapping. So I just knew at some point I wanted somebody to talk about me the way they talked about my dad.

It’s interesting that you were inspired by the color commentator—that was your first TV gig, working Detroit Lions games. Did you ever think it’d be your voice on TV that kids imagine hearing in their heads?

NB: No, I did not. I remember two guys specifically who worked for the Lions—Galen Gordon and Mo Kelly. They said, “You have a gift for gab. And if you really work on that, you can be on TV for decades.”

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM CBS WATCH! MAGAZINEView All

What Happens In Vegas

Mandeep Dhillon, Jorja Fox, and Paula Newsome are solving crimes, changing the game, and kicking ass in CSI: Vegas.

10+ mins read
CBS Watch! Magazine
September/October 2021

Survivor – Carrying The Torch

After a 16-month COVID-induced hiatus, the groundbreaking reality series Survivor is finally ready to don its buffs again. For its 41st season, 18 brand-new contestants will be marooned on the island of Fiji and will attempt to outwit, outlast, and outplay each other forthe $1 million prize and, if they strategize correctly, the chance to etch their names in Survivor lore. But first: Let’s hear from host Jeff Probst, meet the new cast, and get up to speed with a highlight reel of memorable players, twists, romances, and more. In the words of Probst, come on in, guys!

8 mins read
CBS Watch! Magazine
September/October 2021

Full Speed Ahead

When he’s not catching bad guys on Magnum P.I., actor Tim Kang enjoys his life in the fast lane.

2 mins read
CBS Watch! Magazine
September/October 2021

The Boo Crew

This Ghosts story tells how the new CBS comedy came together brilliantly in spite of the ghastly pandemic.

10+ mins read
CBS Watch! Magazine
September/October 2021

24 Hours With... Debra Martin Chase

The first Black woman to produce a $100 million blockbuster (1996’s Courage Under Fire) and land an overall deal at a major studio (she currently has a deal with Universal Television), executive producer Debra Martin Chase is the powerhouse behind the Queen Latifah drama The Equalizer. Here’s a look inside the world of a Hollywood trailblazer.

3 mins read
CBS Watch! Magazine
September/October 2021

Day Dreamer

Emmy-winning The Young and the Restless costume designer David Zyla spills his wardrobe secrets.

3 mins read
CBS Watch! Magazine
September/October 2021

That's Entertainment

Happy 40th anniversary, Entertainment Tonight! The history-making news magazine didn’t just talk about the stars … they were right there with them.

8 mins read
CBS Watch! Magazine
September/October 2021

Nate Expectations

As a former football star, an analyst on The NFL Today, and a new co-host of CBS’s morning show, Emmy Award–winning Nate Burleson shows his versatility every time he’s on camera. And he’s just getting started.

10+ mins read
CBS Watch! Magazine
September/October 2021

Street Smarts

Weights, a skateboard, and protein-packed meals keep S.W.A.T.’s Alex Russell feeling fine.

2 mins read
CBS Watch! Magazine
September/October 2021

Yasmine Al-Bustami's Dallas

Welcome to the Lone Star State and bring your appetite. The NCIS: Hawai’i actress shows us around her hometown.

4 mins read
CBS Watch! Magazine
September/October 2021
RELATED STORIES

HOME NOT SO SWEET IN NFL THIS SEASON DESPITE RETURN OF FANS

The fans are back and the crowds are loud, but home-field advantage still isn’t a factor early in this NFL season.

3 mins read
Techlife News
October 09, 2021

SURVIVOR

Who thought up this endurance challenge: Nearly 500 days without Survivor? (At least we had all the peanut butter we wanted.)

1 min read
TV Guide Magazine
September 13–26, 2021

Winning a Wager on U.S. Sports Betting

Fantasy football app FanDuel converts players into gamblers

4 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
September 27, 2021

Q&A with Miami Dolphins Legend Richmond Webb

I was lucky enough to interview the legend, Richmond Webb. For those Dolphins fans who live under a rock, Webb is one of the greatest Miami Dolphins players ever and their greatest left tackle of all time.

10+ mins read
Dolphin Digest
October 2021

To do list

GAME PLAN

3 mins read
Dolphin Digest
October 2021

Jaylen Waddle is as advertised

The 2021 first-round pick has been a bright spot for the Dolphins

3 mins read
Dolphin Digest
October 2021

Always finding their way to run

49ers system accomplished at developing homegrown talent

9 mins read
Niner Report
October 2021

ANOTHER COMEBACK?

Resilient veteran Verrett to miss rest of season

5 mins read
Niner Report
October 2021

TOP 10 Rookie running backs

THE BACK LIST

3 mins read
Niner Report
October 2021

Will Mostert run for 49ers again?

Raheem Mostert was primed this year to be the centerpiece of one of the NFL’s most dynamic offenses, featured as the lead performer in San Francisco’s grinding rushing attack while making his climb among the league’s top running backs.

5 mins read
Niner Report
October 2021