ESPN’s Jesse Palmer on New ‘GMA’ Role, ‘Benefits of Working for Mickey Mouse’

Former QB tells TheWrap why he still gets nervous on set and his predictions for Tim Tebow’s return to the NFL

A decade after retiring from the NFL, ESPN college football analyst Jesse Palmer has been scoring big time in the broadcasting world.

The former Florida Gators and New York Giants quarterback, who recently joined the “Good Morning America” team as a special contributor, sat down with TheWrap to talk about the meteoric evolution of his career from the football field to the TV studio.

From being tossed by UFC champion Ronda Rousey to having Avril Lavigne open up about Lyme Disease, Palmer’s assignments on “GMA” have already taken him a long way from the locker room, while his role as a College Football analyst for ESPN kicks off again when the season starts on Thursday, Sept. 3.

TheWrap: How hard was it to make the transition from football to broadcasting?
Jesse Palmer: It was something I hadn’t planned, I think the good news is that I went into it covering college football, which was definitely in my wheelhouse and comfort zone so it was a natural progression. It sort of found me when I was still playing professionally in New York.

How did you make the massive leap from sports to entertainment?
I’ve been really lucky. I’ve had some great opportunities to meet really interesting people. The thing that I love about working at “GMA” the most is the storytelling — there are so many different genres on that show and themes you can cover, so it’s been a lot of fun.

We’ve seen a few broadcasters crossover from ESPN to ABC, such as Tony Reali from “Pardon the Interruption.” Does the Disney connection help?
Yes, for sure. I think there is a really good synergy between ESPN and ABC that allows those opportunities to happen. It’s definitely one of the benefits of working for Mickey Mouse.

Do you get more nervous talking to Hollywood stars than athletes? 
Definitely. When I was waiting to speak to Avril I was thinking, “Oh my God, I am really going to talk to her?” You can put me down in front of Hall of Fame football players or coaches and that is something I am more used to, [but] I still get nervous when I go on any of those sets. It is new for me, but it is something I really love.

You and Tim Tebow both played for the Florida Gators and appeared on the SEC Network last year — did you guys talk much? Throw around a football?
He was on a studio show and I was calling the game in the booth, so a lot of times we weren’t necessarily in the same city. If we were we’d definitely always try to catch dinner. We obviously have a lot in common — we played at the same university, in the same position — but one of us was a lot more successful than the other … so he would basically brag about that.

Has he made the right move going back to the NFL?
I think he has. He still has that drive to play, which I think we all have, and there’s only a finite window that you can achieve that. He took a step back from it to get into television, but I think he realizes that there’s a time in his life when he doesn’t want to regret anything and he wants to give it one more shot. I respect him for that.

When you were still playing did you look ahead to the end of your career and think “I want to go into broadcasting and do red carpets?”
I grew up in Canada and my dad played football — it was the only thing I wanted to do since I was 7 years old. I never really had a plan B. I’ve been really, really fortunate, everything from football on has been icing on the cake, so I’m living my dream.

Who currently in the NFL do you think would make a good “GMA” host?
Well, we already have Michael Strahan of course; he set a high bar for all of us. Drew Brees would be great. Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers. You just have to have a little bit of personality. Gronk [Rob Gronkowski] would be a good choice too.

You’ve done acting as well — “Law and Order,” Food Network — is there something you’ve not done yet that you want to do?
Maybe being a bad guy in a movie … it’s the most fun roles. In “Law and Order,” that wasn’t a real stretch; I had to play an athlete and I had like four lines. I think the hardest one I had was “rohypnol.” That took about 12 takes. Maybe one day I can be a Canadian James Bond villain? With a Quebec French accent, which I could totally pull off!

See the second part of our interview with Palmer below.