ON SUPER BOWL Sunday, most football fans will have their eyes directed on the field.
But a whole lot of us Super Bowl watchers also will have our eyes trained on the sidelines watching for a glimpse of Fox Sports' Pam Oliver.
She's easily the baddest female sports reporter on TV. But last month, during the NFC Championship Game between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers, armchair refs called a technical foul on her.
No, it wasn't because Oliver, an industry veteran, got her facts wrong. Oliver's too up on the game for that. As a female reporter, she did something far more egregious. Oliver had a bad hair day. Gulp!
Honey, stop the presses.
Even casual viewers could see that her hair needed refreshing and that her auburn hightlights were on overdrive. It wasn't her best look. But who hasn't had a bad hair day? I've had bad-hair weeks, not just a day.
Fans were merciless. They went in hard on Oliver, turning to social media to poke fun at her. Her locks soon started trending on Twitter. People were mean, comparing her to Chewbacca from "Star Wars" or worse. From all the ruckus, you'd think Oliver had run onto the football field naked during halftime.
In a matter of hours, her hair became a thing. An Internet meme. It probably didn't help that I wound up blogging about what happened. But Oliver, who read my "Hey Jen" blog post on Philly.com, was more amazed at all the interest in her hair than upset.
"It's the psychology of it that I want to understand," she told me during a phone conversation Monday afternoon. "It's comical. This whole thing is just comical."
As we chatted, I asked her about a commonly held notion that all sideline reporters do is show up on game day and hold microphones.
"No, I wish it were so easy. It's a process. I do my own hair and makeup - insert joke here," she deadpanned. "I'm up early. I'm at the stadium about 4 hours before the game, just going over some last-minute stuff and then waiting for some players to come out, which is generally 2 hours before the game.
"You're out there, trying a to catch players, get some last-minute stuff, get your reports turned around quickly, and I may or may not have time to put on lip gloss or powder my face," Oliver explained, adding that she doesn't have hair stylists and makeup artists with her on game day. "I know TV is a visual medium, but there are times when you kind of hope that people are listening to what you're saying as opposed to judging you if a strand of hair is not in place or if you have only got one eye lined or something.
"That's naive of me. I get it. But there are times I get so tunnel-visioned and focused on what I'm doing to the point of maybe letting that other stuff fall by the wayside. It's not intentional. You want to look your best on TV."
A 1984 graduate of Florida A&M University, Oliver paid her dues working at TV stations around the country. Her early jobs were all in news, beginning with a stint at WALB in Albany, Ga., where she covered agriculture before moving on to covering space and technology at WAAY in Huntsville, Ala. She also worked at TV stations in Buffalo; Tampa, Fla.; and Houston.
After a brief stint at ESPN, Oliver landed a gig at Fox Sports, where she has been for the last 19 years, appearing on "Fox NFL Sunday" and other broadcasts. Although it might look like a whole lot of fun, Oliver thinks of herself as a serious journalist, not eye candy.
"Usually, the most important thing to me is getting my information and getting it right and hoping that everything else is going well with the hair and what little makeup I have left and go from there," she explained. "I'm a little focused on what I'm doing. Maybe too much for people's liking."
Despite all the brouhaha over her hair at the NFC Championship , she doesn't plan any changes to her appearance for Super Bowl Sunday.
Oliver, whose journalistic role models include broadcasting pioneers Carole Simpson, formerly of ABC, and the late Max Robinson, pointed out that there's still a double standard about women in broadcasting.
"It's just not even close. A guy can wear the same tie every other week and it's not even an issue. But if a woman is on and a strand of hair is out of place or if there's a little piece of something in your hair, people go crazy. It's always been that way. It's never going to change," she said. "Men get away with a lot more than a woman can."
As we chatted, Oliver remembered something she'd seen online that particularly irked her. A viewer pointed out that "she's getting this line around her mouth. And I said, 'OK. Really?' It's that kind of stuff and that kind of scrutiny that you're under . . . I've got bigger things to do and worry about. This is Super Bowl week. I'm not spending any of my energy on this."
Once the season ends Sunday, Oliver plans to spend the offseason at home in Atlanta with her husband, sports producer Alvin Whitney, and her three dogs. She'll also contribute long-format pieces to Showtime's "60 Minutes Sports" and travel. Costa Rica is a favorite destination.
Oliver says she'll rest and gear up for the next football season - and forget all about the hair hateration directed her way. For her, it's the craft.
She said, "You just hope that ultimately people will judge you on your body of work and what you've spent your whole career doing, as opposed to rather than if you have lines around your mouth."