Aqib Talib dresses in a vibrant suit, attaches a microphone to his lapel and settles into the broadcasting booth for a four-hour therapy session. Adrenaline is his obsession, football his prescription, and analyzing the NFL his cure. When he’s in the booth evaluating the game he loves, Talib is in his newfound happy place.
“I can’t play the game no more. I could just watch and be a fan,” he says. “And I love the game. So you wanna talk about it, you wanna be a part of it. And that’s about as close as you can get without coaching, is being in that booth and watching the game live and being able to express your emotions live. So it’s therapeutic, man.”
That’s how Talib talks. He says “man” a lot. He uses words like “imma” and “cuz” and “ain’t.” He speaks with a twang. He’s grammatically unsound. He’s unapologetic for all of it. As he says, that’s just “Qib being Qib,” which is pronounced Keeb and is a shortened version of his first name.
No one spoke like that during nationally-televised NFL broadcasts before Talib came along this season. He worked two games as an analyst for FOX -- Washington at Detroit in Week 10 and Philadelphia at Arizona in Week 15 -- and some fans were taken aback by his slang usage. The majority of reviews, however, were glowing.
Forbes declared Talib, “delivered more candor in a couple of sentences Sunday than most NFL analysts share in an entire season.”
Yahoo! referred to him as, “a smart, informative, fun analyst.”
FanSided called the former All-Pro, “the greatest thing to happen to a broadcast booth since Pat McAfee."
The list goes on.
“He has a refreshing viewpoint,” says FOX play-by-play announcer Brandon Gaudin, who worked with Talib on the Eagles-Cardinals game. “He has that ability to take the viewer forward, explain to them what they can expect, what the offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator are thinking and make the viewer feel like they’re getting something unique.”
“He’s obviously very, very smart when it comes to football,” says Harrison Sanford, Talib’s partner on their Call to the Booth podcast. “You can tell he was a film nut as a player and it comes across in his commentary. But it still always feels like I’m talking to Aqib Talib. It doesn’t sound like I'm talking with Sportscaster A or Sportscaster B. It’s always Aqib.”
Talib retired from the NFL after the 2019 season, ending a 12-year career that should land him in Canton someday. He returned 10 interceptions for touchdowns, was a five-time Pro Bowler, a first- and second-team All-Pro selection and a Super Bowl champion. In the history of the NFL, only five other defensive backs achieved those combined accomplishments. He also had a reputation for controversy, earned for doing things like ripping Michael Crabtree’s chain off during an on-field altercation, and was known for his colorful personality during interviews.
The unique combination of playing credentials and charisma intrigued FOX and they brought him in for an audition to be an in-game analyst before this season. At first, the idea didn’t pique Talib’s interest. As he explains, “When I first started studying for the audition, I’m like, ‘dang, I gotta study so much and this is part of the reason I retired. I’m tired of studying so much.’” After doing the audition, Talib experienced emotions previously only conjured by playing football.
“I was driving to the airport like, ‘damn that shit was fun, bro,’” Talib says. “It was high-energy. It was intense. And that’s football and I’m addicted to that.”
Like so many other recently-retired athletes, that’s what Talib was searching for in his next life. He wanted the adrenaline rush created by competing at the highest level. He found that in sports media.
Even when he’s discussing his post-retirement endeavors, Talib describes them through a gridiron-shaped prism. He talks about "attacking the booth” as if it were a wide receiver and says he wants to “start faster” in future analyst opportunities. When he mentions the gym he started in Carrollton, Texas, called D+D1, he says, “the competition knows we’re coming for them.” On his Call to the Booth podcast, Talib’s goal is “to be No. 1.” Frankly, that’s his goal in everything.
“Just like when I played, I mean nothing against, like, Peanut Tillman or nothing against Kevin Smith or those guys, but I ain't watch those guys when I wanted to be a cornerback. I watched Deion Sanders and Charles Woodson and Champ Bailey,” Talib says. “Same thing with the announcing. Imma watch, you know, who’s got the highest check, who’s been doing it the longest, because them guys probably the best at it. So that’s Troy Aikman and Tony Romo, in my opinion.”
Talib studied film on both of those analysts ahead of his broadcasting debut. He took notes on how they discussed injuries, inserted anecdotes and provided insights only a player of their caliber could during broadcasts. Then, in his words, he “put my own spin on they flow.”
All the homework couldn’t fully prepare him for the live test. Like a high schooler rushing out the door for a big exam, he forgot his phone in the hotel room and had to go back to pick it up the morning of the Detroit game. When he arrived at Ford Field, he realized he left his game board at the hotel too, which likewise had to be retrieved. When the game kicked off, he was apprehensive, unsure of when to talk and when to remain silent. That led to stumbles like talking at the same time as the referee. It wasn’t until the second half that Talib truly settled in. Once he did, he provided the kind of commentary you would expect from someone with his deep knowledge base.
“It was super nerve-wracking man,” Talib says. “I’m talking it was just like my first preseason game against the Dolphins my rookie year. It was about the closest you could get to playing in the game, honestly. The closest you can get to the game is playing in it, the second is coaching and the third is calling that game. You have to be in tune with every single thing that’s going on and the world is basically just following your flow. So it was game-like and it went by so fast. I felt like I was in the booth for 45 minutes and the next thing I know it’s three-and-a-half hours later.”
Talib watched his debut performance and applied it to game two for Eagles at Cardinals. It was a 4:30 ET kickoff featuring two teams fighting for their playoff lives, so more people were watching. That excited Talib. The more people listening, the more feedback. He craves improvement.
Talib started faster, providing insight and background on the players who impacted the game early. His energy was high and his insight spot-on.
On a DeAndre Hopkins touchdown in the fourth quarter that gave the Cardinals the lead, he said, “What do you do? What do you do? Try to play man coverage, you’ve got to guard Hopkins. Try to play zone coverage, Kyler Murray dices it up.” The call epitomized his performance. Intelligent insight disseminated in Talib’s unique style.
“There’s something that Tony Romo has that a lot of people think is easy to replicate but is not. He’s having fun,” Gaudin says. “I think Aqib has that element. You’re around Aqib and he’s smiling and having fun and it’s genuine. When he talks, you feel that excitement, you feel that fun. That translates through the television to the viewer. I felt that working with him."
There are currently only five full-time Black NFL analysts calling games on major networks. Talib doesn’t have a contract to be an analyst next year, but is eager to become the sixth man on that list. Not only because it would represent a step forward in his own development, but also because he is different from the current group of full-timers. Representation is important to him, especially on the big stage.
“There’s different types of white guys and there’s different types of Black guys,” he says. “I think my type of Black guy is not necessarily seen in the booth, you know what I’m saying. It would mean a lot to me, for kids, for anybody to see, who knows me, they know who Qib is, he’s been in trouble, he’s been a champion, now he’s in the booth. It just goes to show you anything you want to do you can get it done.”
Talib proved that throughout his playing career, going from a two-star recruit in high school to one of the best defensive backs of his generation. Now he's translating that focus to the media, where he's established himself as one of the most unique voices in broadcast while enjoying the therapeutic benefits that come with analyzing the game he loves.