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After a 20-year break from working NFL sidelines to start a family, and then raise the family, Melissa Stark made her grand return to network television Thursday with “Sunday Night Football.”
Now 48, with four teenagers, Stark left “Monday Night Football” not sure what would be left of her career after becoming a mom. In the end, things turned out just fine.
“I’ve always said to my husband, ‘I’m going to be replaced by someone younger.’ And he’s always said, ‘Stop thinking that. No, you’re not.’ To be able to come back with a family is very validating and an important message for women,” Stark told Yahoo reporter Joe Reedy ahead of the Bills-Rams game. “I think it affords a lot of opportunities to women and shows they can find a way to navigate to have that family but also have a career.
“I feel so honored that (NBC NFL executive producer) Fred (Gaudelli) thought of me. I feel privileged to be able to come back and do that.”
To put Stark’s layoff in perspective, John Madden was in the MNF booth with Al Michaels the last time she served in the sideline roll. The Patriots were the defending Super Bowl champions. Jerry Rice was around. The Houston Texans were an expansion franchise. The Seahawks made their debut in the NFC.
David Carr was the No. 1 pick by the Texans. Priest Holmes was a fantasy machine. Tony Dungy was named head coach of the Colts. Jon Gruden got the Tampa job after Dungy was fired. And Steve Spurrier was named head coach of the Washington Redskins.
In her final game with ABC, Stark worked the 2003 Super Bowl with Lynn Swann. In other words, it’s been a long time since she’s roamed the sidelines during games working the most-watched TV show of the week.
Stark didn’t completely stop working after Super Bowl XXXVII where Shania Twain served as the halftime show alongside No Doubt and Sting. She had stints with NBC News from 2003-07. Then there was a period where she got out of the business only to return in 2011 with NFL Network.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine my life would come full circle this way,” Stark added.
How did Thursday night go for the vet?
She dodged a huge bullet when a punt came close to knocking her out during the pregame warmups, so things are off to a great start for Stark and the SNF crew.
@melissastark was feet from starting the season the IR list with a concussion 👀 pic.twitter.com/etNC8rIV1C
— Chris Shannon (@stump43) September 9, 2022