The last time we spoke with ESPN’s Dianna Russini, she had just gotten to Bristol and was beginning her stint as a SportsCenter anchor who dabbled in reporting. Now, almost four years later, she’s established herself as one of the most reliable NFL insiders not just at the Worldwide Leader, but any media outlet.
If you’re looking for Russini during this week’s virtual NFL Draft, she’ll be covering the Bengals, Falcons, Saints and Titans. Despite the limitations imposed on everyone by the coronavirus pandemic, Russini has continued to fulfill her role as an analyst and host during the quarantine.
We caught up with Russini recently for our “21 Questions” feature. Our conversation touched on not only the NFL, but also her quarantine cooking, working with Dan Le Batard and Stugotz, her mom and Jimmy Garoppolo and of course, her home state of New Jersey.
Get ready to find out more about this high-spirited Garden Stater than you ever thought you would.
Let’s get started…
1. Obviously, the major story everywhere in sports media is coronavirus. How have you handled the adjustment to working from home and still handling your job duties while also mitigating everything that is going on in the world so to speak?
DR: This has all been a very strange, scary, uncomfortable, highly-stressful time for everyone. Like many, I have friends who have struggled with COVID-19, even someone who died from it. It has been terrible. As for work, ESPN has done a really good job of keeping us informed. Our company president Jimmy Pitaro communicates with us weekly and it really does feel like a big family trying to get through this together.
The only sport that still feels alive is the NFL and quite frankly coverage really hasn’t stopped. It has all been a good distraction considering how seriously difficult this virus has made life for all of us. The stories we read and see on the news are heartbreaking which also makes you feel guilty for even feeling anything but appreciative of having your life. I can’t wait for this to be over.
2. Having lived and worked in D.C. and covered D.C. sports for several years, what was it like for you to see the city break its title drought twice in two calendar years?
DR: My time in D.C. was incredible. I’ve never loved a city more than I love Washington. When I was there they stunk at everything. I never cared because their fan base was so strong and it felt like they were winning. Watching the Caps, the Mystics, and Nationals has been tremendous. They deserve all of it. I do feel like Bryce Harper though, I just missed it!
3. What’s the loudest you’ve ever heard a stadium in your time as a sports reporter?
DR: The loudest I have ever heard a stadium as a reporter was easily at the Superdome in Nola when the Saints played against the Rams. It was NUTS!!!!!!!!!!! After the missed no-call I never heard boo’s like that.
4. What’s the best meal you’ve made for yourself during quarantine?
DR: During this quarantine, I have become Giada De Laurentiis, in every way. I dress like her, I talk like her, I make videos like her, and I attempt to cook like her. I would say my best dish so far has been eggplant parmigiana. It’s from Giada’s cookbook.
5. What is the last thing you watched on Netflix?
DR: I never, ever watch TV so this down time has given me a chance to watch so many shows. I just finished Ozark which I really enjoyed. I’m hoping to bring some of that perfected cursing to my vernacular.
6. How have you and your ESPN colleagues been able to handle on-air chemistry when you’re all working remote?
DR: Working remotely with the delays has been strange at times. The first time I was on NFL Live during this quarantine, I started the show with news about free agency and my iPad/camera just died. Wendi Nix was effortless and just acted like it was planned. This is a time where the really talented hosts shine because the chances of problems happening are pretty high.
7. What actress would you pick to play yourself in a story about your life?
DR: The actress I would have play me in a movie would be Sandra Bullock. I think I resemble her slightly but I also think she could nail “gritty sports reporter” who forgets to brush her hair sometimes.
8. You are close with your family and often speak about them. Where is there more spirited football debate: on the set of ESPN shows or at the Russini family holiday table?
DR: The most spirited debates I have aren’t with my family because they don’t think my opinions are valid and/or credible. The conversations we have in the green rooms at ESPN before the shows start are probably the best debates I get involved in. We are all so close to it and very passionate about the game that when we are all around each other, we just let it rip. During the playoffs this past season I think I argued with half of ESPN that the Titans would beat the Patriots in Foxborough. They all laughed at me. I gloat every chance I get now plus it makes up for 100 times I’ve been wrong.
9. We last spoke to you in October 2016. You were anchoring and also doing some reporting. Now, you’re a reporter full time. What have you learned about yourself in the last 3 1/2 years as your role has grown and changed?
DR: I remember talking to The Spun years ago and feeling like I was living my dream. I was a SportsCenter anchor: what’s better than that? Well, as it turns out this new role has been the best change of my career. I now report, host and analyze all things NFL. I learned when you find the right fit for your skills and your passion, work simply becomes a hobby. The most common reaction I get from NFL fans about working in this field is “you look like you love your job!?” and the truth is, I really do! I couldn’t picture doing anything else now. It’s an obsession.
10. Who wins in a fight: one horse-sized Stugotz or 10 Stugotz-sized horses?
DR: Ten little horse Stugotz would nibble at your ankle until your foot fell off. Stugotz always finds a way to win, even if it’s cheap. It’s why I love him. He just wants to win.
11. If you could bring three of your ESPN colleagues (who have never been) for a weekend down the Jersey Shore, who would they be and what would you guys do?
DR: My colleagues have no idea how great the Jersey shore is and frankly, I don’t want them to know too much. If I could bring three: Steve Levy, Greg McElroy, and Tom Luginbill.
The four of us spent time together during the XFL and they may be some of the best men I’ve met in my life. Yes, they are talented but they know how to have fun. They also harshly judge my love for NJ so I would like to show them what they are missing.
A couple years ago I brought one of my good friends PFT Commenter to the shore and now he’s obsessed. We don’t have a lot of room in our small beach house so he sleeps on bunk beds in the kids room with my little nieces and nephews. They don’t really know who he is.
My weekend plan would be fishing in the morning, beach, then happy hour at Charlie’s of Bay Head and then close the weekend with Sunday Funday at the Parker House. Steve would never leave, I can promise you that. There’s only one person who loves the Parker House more than me and it is Bill Parcells.
12. What current NFL player is the best comparison for your college soccer career at George Mason?
DR: My career at George Mason would be compared to Chiefs running back Damien Williams. I wasn’t that day-to- day key player. I knew how to come up big in desperate moments and perform. I really wish my answer here was Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes but I wasn’t naturally talented or gifted.
13. The old adage is “Don’t bring your work life home.” That’s nearly impossible for any reporter anyway, especially now that work IS home for the foreseeable future. How have you tried to handle unplugging or maintaining some type of balance?
DR: I’m so much better at unplugging than I used to be. I’ve learned if you make it a habit to consume news, it becomes part of your day, that way you never fall behind. I listen to so many podcasts and talk to so many people in football that I feel like I stay in “football shape” Now, when I’m with a friend or family, I’m really present.
14. Go-to sandwich at an NJ deli?
DR: Amatto’s in Northvale, N.J. They are HUGE Jets fans and I love seeing them.
I get “Joe’s Favorite.” It has prosciutto, fresh mozzarella and roasted peppers on a sesame seeded roll. I usually swing by there in August, get one to go, and head to Jets or Giants practice.
15. Outside of the sports world, who are some journalists that you currently admire and think are putting out quality work?
DR: I really admire the reporters who have been reporting every single day during this pandemic. One of my best friends is a medical producer for NBC News and they have sacrificed their own health and lives to report. As for my favorite news anchor, CNN’s Robin Meade will always be my favorite. I fangirl every time I see her in person too.
16. We’ve seen Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson take off the last two seasons. Who do you think will be the next young NFL QB to take move into star or superstar status?
DR: Kyler Murray is the next QB to emerge as a top player. I have bought in to the [Kliff] Kingsbury offense.
17. You have recently had multiple opportunities to co-host the Dan Le Batard Show. What was that experience like after being a guest on it numerous times?
DR: I really enjoy the LeBatard family. They remind me of my own family. There is so much chaos and weirdness yet there is this loyal protectiveness to their show. Their listeners are hands down the best. I can’t go to a stadium without someone asking me to do an impression of my mother.
18. If you couldn’t cover the NFL anymore, what sport or league would you choose to report on full-time?
DR: My other dream job would be a Yankee clubhouse reporter.
19. What does your mom think of the impression you do of her? Also, is she really that obsessed with Jimmy G?
DR: My mom can’t name a QB…from any year. Although one time she asked me how RG3 was doing and I just left the room. She doesn’t know who Jimmy G is but when people walk up to her at her favorite day club ShopRIte, she always says the same line “If my daughter made more effort trying to get married and have kids than doing an imitation of me, I’d be a happier person.”
She also wants to me start telling me people that she is a very nice lady who supports me. (We all know the truth though).
20. You normally travel frequently for work. What are your favorite and least-favorite airports?
DR: Best airport: NOLA and Newark. Worst: Green Bay.
21. Quarantine ends…what is the first place you go and why?
DR: I’m going to an airport with a suitcase and just picking a place to go. I also considered just driving on the NJ Turnpike to sit in traffic…because I miss traffic.
You can read more of our interviews with sports media stars here.