Tappen took different route to Notre Dame football sideline

BOB WIENEKE
South Bend Tribune

During her time working in the Boston TV market, Kathryn Tappen enjoyed a rare vantage point for some of the city's best sports memories, including championships for the Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics.

“I've definitely been doused with champagne more times than I probably would like to admit,” Tappen joked.

Notre Dame fans would no doubt like to see that championship trend continue. Tappen, earlier this month, was named the new sideline reporter for NBC's broadcasts of Notre Dame football home games, replacing Alex Flanagan, who served the role the previous seven seasons.

Tappen, a 2003 Rutgers graduate, brings to the ND sideline not only an impressive professional resume, but also a background heavy in sports.

A native of northern New Jersey, Tappen played baseball and basketball against boys because programs at the time weren't available for girls in her hometown. She also golfed, played tennis and ran cross country, the latter as a means to get in shape for basketball.

By the time she was a senior in high school, Tappen dropped basketball to focus on indoor track, and the move paid off as she earned a scholarship to Rutgers, where her specialty became the steeplechase.

“It was a great fit; it was a great event,” said Tappen, who fondly recalled one race in which a crowd gathered around the water pit just to watch the potential carnage. “I didn't fall, but I definitely got very wet.”

At the same time, Tappen was getting her feet wet in broadcasting. An Academic All-American at Rutgers, Tappen found time to pursue her broadcast dream. Because of the heavy commitment to athletics, Tappen was not able to work at the Rutgers TV station, but she improvised, working with a friend who would operate a camera.

“I would just do standups, and I would try to put stories together to build some sort of a resume reel that I could come out of college with to send to every single station in market 140 up,” Tappen said. “I didn't care where I had to go, but I knew I needed some sort of a concrete DVD reel. I wish I had been more involved, but I just took a different path.”

That path led to winning an audition in New York City, which helped put her on the map. Her first big break was landing a job in Providence, R.I.

“That's really where I learned the ropes,” she said.

More was learned during Tappen's time in Boston, where her responsibilities also included covering the New England Patriots.

“Covering the Patriots for a long, long time, that was probably one of the biggest challenges in my career, just learning that team and cracking that system — or trying to,” Tappen said. “It's obviously a very, very well-run organization. You have to earn Bill Belichick's respect, and it takes a long, long time to do that. And that was a challenge every week to try and figure out the big story there.”

Tappen most recently worked at the NHL Network and will continue to do so for some of the league's signature events.

She will also work on “NHL Live,” “Football Night in America” and host additional studio programming. Tappen also will be part of NBC Sports’ coverage from Super Bowl XLIX in 2015 and the Olympics in 2016 and 2018.

Her first assignment with NBC will be Notre Dame’s Aug. 30 season-opener against Rice. She plans to visit South Bend soon to talk with Irish coach Brian Kelly and his staff.

“I have been told that Notre Dame and Brian Kelly both are very easy to work with; that it's an open door,” she said. “I also recognize I have to earn his trust, and I intend to do that.”

Tappen has never seen a game at Notre Dame, but that will change in about five weeks.

“I hear it's just an amazing atmosphere,” she said. “I can't wait.”

BWieneke@SBTinfo.com ¦ 574-235-6428 ¦ Twitter: @BobWienekeNDI

7/10/2014: no caption, story head: Tappen earns Irish sideline gig Kathryn Tappen will be NBC's new sideline reporter during Notre Dame home football games. (Photo provided)