As the sideline reporter the past two seasons for CBS’s lauded Southeastern Conference college football broadcasts, Jenny Dell is used to having work trips on the weekends through the fall and winter.
This weekend, she gets something a little different. A college football game of a different kind of magnitude, and a work trip that doubles as a homecoming.
Dell, best known around here for her two years (2012-14) as NESN’s Red Sox reporter, will be on the sidelines Saturday for CBS’s broadcast of the Army-Navy game from Gillette Stadium. She will work with play-by-play voice Brad Nessler and analyst Gary Danielson, her colleagues on the network’s SEC broadcasts, which to their chagrin are moving to ESPN next season.
“Being in New England, it’s special to me in multiple ways,’’ she said. “I’m just honored to be on the field for this one. It’s going to be an incredible weekend.”
Dell, who is married to former Red Sox third baseman and current NESN broadcaster Will Middlebrooks, grew up in Connecticut and graduated from UMass, so this is familiar and favorite turf. Her dad, who lives in Connecticut, is coming to the game, and her husband may too. She estimates she was back this way five or six times last summer when Middlebrooks had Red Sox broadcast duties.
“Boston holds a very special place in my heart,” she said, “and the best part of this job is sharing it with the people I love. So you mix all of that with the history and the pageantry of this game and Army-Navy, and it’s going to be a weekend to remember.
“Any time I get a chance to go up there, whether it’s Will and watching him do his thing with the Red Sox or for an opportunity like this, it’s a win.”
Dell acknowledged that preparing for the Army-Navy game is a different challenge than reporting from an SEC game, where the coaches are stars and many of the players have bright NFL futures.
“Oh, completely different,” she said. “Army-Navy is one of the oldest and most storied rivalries in college football. You look at the men on that field and you know they’re going to fight for our country and our freedom, and they have such respect for one another even as they’re competing. It’s so much deeper than just football.
“When you cover the SEC, everyone knows the coaches and players, and you’re kind of in it through the whole season as it unfolds, and every game that we did this year had repercussions if you look at what happened with the College Football Playoff.
“And then for this, it’s two brand-new, unfamiliar teams. They have such a different style of play, and just the magnitude of this game in general and what it means to so many people, you just have to prepare a completely different way.”
Dell, who joined CBS in 2014 as an NFL sideline reporter, was moved to college football coverage in 2015 and elevated to the lead sideline reporter before the ‘22 season, when fellow NESN alum Jamie Erdahl left for the NFL Network.
“To be honest, when CBS first came to me — because I only did NFL my first year — and they said, ‘Hey, we want to try you out on college,’ I was like, ‘Oh, all right,’ ” she said.
“Being a Connecticut girl, I didn’t understand college football in the sense of the SEC or the Big Ten. And I went to my first SEC game at Auburn and I was like, ‘Holy moly, what have I been missing?’ And I had already been in the business for so long covering different sports, but I had never done college football before.
“There is nothing like a packed college football stadium. The fan bases are just so passionate. I had no clue what I was getting into, but it’s been the best thing that’s ever happened to me in my career.”
Dell, like many college football fans, laments the end of the SEC’s run on CBS. The conference’s games had been broadcast on the network since 1996. In December 2019, the network ended negotiations with the conference on an extension after initially making what Sports Business Journal reported was a $300 million-per-season offer. ESPN and ABC picked up the rights for 10 years and $3 billion beginning next season; CBS, meanwhile, will broadcast Big Ten games through 2029.
Alabama’s win over Georgia in the SEC championship was CBS’s final broadcast, leading to an emotional signoff for Nessler and Danielson.
“It was very emotional,” said Dell. “I think when you realize what an impact that that crew has had on college football. That 3:30 p.m. window on CBS, you knew you were getting the No. 1 SEC game of the week and that you were going to have the best crew calling it. And you look at really how Gary Danielson, and then first it was Vern [Lundquist] and then Brad [Nessler] kind of changed it. It’s crazy to say, but it’s like they changed the SEC in a way.
“They made it bigger; it became appointment television. And just to be a part of that crew, knowing that you have one of the top announcing crews in the country, it was just such an honor. The guys were very emotional all week and I’m a very empathetic person. So I was just feeling the enormity of how they were feeling because this is all they have known for a long time.”