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Steve Kornacki shines on Sunday Night Football, and leaves us wanting more

The MSNBC political analyst broke down playoff odds on Football Night in America and showed why he won our hearts during the presidential election.

Steve Kornacki at the big board on NBC Sports
Steve Kornacki on NBC Sports Football night in America on Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020.
Screenphoto/NBC Sports

If the producers at NBC Sports had worked the 2020 Presidential Election, MSNBC’s coverage would have looked like this:

RACHEL MADDOW: Welcome to Election Night in America! Let’s start by going to Steve Kornacki at the big board...

(Kornacki stands before a blank map of the United States)

KORNACKI: This should be fascinating, Rachel. We’ll update you as results come in.

(Fade out to a 1-877-KARS-4-KIDS commercial on a 24 hour loop for four consecutive days. Fade back in.)

KORNACKI: And Biden wins!

Sunday night was Kornacki’s much anticipated debut as an analyst on Sunday Night Football and he didn’t disappoint. He brought the full Steve Kornacki experience to a prime time sports audience and came across as intelligent and quirkily energetic in all the ways we loved back in November.

It’s just a shame that he ended up getting less airtime than Carrie Underwood.

To answer the question that’s foremost in your mind: Yes, he did wear the khakis. In fact, SNF host Mike Tirico made sure to call attention to this repeatedly. So for anyone in the viewing audience who would’ve been inclined to stereotype LGBTQ sports fans, let the record show that the only people discussing fashion were the straights.

Late Night with Seth Meyers - Season 7
You better werk!
Photo by: Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

NBC brought Kornacki out at the top of Football Night in America, introducing him with a montage of vote tallies and county breakdowns from his now-legendary election night coverage.

Thankfully, Kornacki didn’t have to stay awake for 44 consecutive hours to prepare for the Sunday Night Football telecast. But on the other hand, he did have to watch yesterday’s Bears game. So in the end, he probably felt the same.

Right off the bat, he assumed his trademark Kornacki stance and broke down how Sunday’s Colts victory increased their playoff odds from 56 to 63 percent. And even though the context was the sports world, it felt like we were in an extremely comfortable and familiar place.

There’s something wonderful about how enthusiastic Kornacki gets about a concept like mathematical probability. You can’t help but feel a little excited yourself just listening to him explain how the Raiders’ last-second win increased their postseason chances by only two percentage points due to strength of schedule.

Steve Kornacki at the big board on NBC Sports
The trademark Kornacki stance. With Khakis.
Screenphoto/NBC Sports

Although I have to take issue with one thing: Kornacki referred to Las Vegas’s win as “that miracle.” And if the standard we’re using is beating the Jets, that means miracles happen every Sunday. Not even the Pope believes that.

Nonetheless, it was a great first segment and Kornacki seemed right at home translating his skills for a crowd of football fans. Unfortunately, that was all we saw of him until three minutes left in the show.

Instead of precise breakdowns of what each result meant for the NFL playoff picture, NBC decided that fans wanted to see an hour’s worth of what it guessed they love most: Tony Dungy blandly repeating what he just saw on TV.

The contrast with Kornacki’s effervescence couldn’t have been clearer. The only time Dungy showed any emotion was when he reviewed the Jets’ defensive alignment during Las Vegas’s game winning touchdown and exclaimed, “I was so upset!” (By coincidence, this was almost certainly the same reaction Dungy had to the Obergefell ruling.)

Celebrities Visit Build - August 8, 2018
“I have two settings: homophobic and boring.”
Photo by Gary Gershoff/Getty Images

Finally, just before kickoff, the show went back to Kornacki for a look at teams on the NFC playoff bubble. He was bullish on the Giants, who increased their odds to 45% despite a sub-.500 record. But even though the Vikings had also won earlier in the day, Kornacki proclaimed he was “not sold” on their chances and asserted that “the model still says Arizona.”

If he had somehow found a way to work in a reference to Bucks County, it would have been heaven.

Despite visiting from the politics desk, Kornacki looked comfortable as a football analyst and he brought some genuine incisiveness to the show. Even in just a couple of minutes, I felt like I learned something. Here’s hoping NBC Sports did too and gives him more than a couple of Budweiser ads’ worth of onscreen time to share his talents again.