Homecoming is generally a concept reserved for the collegiate and high school levels of football, but there will be an NFL homecoming this Sunday at Acrisure Stadium, as CBS Sports reporter A.J. Ross calls the game of her hometown Pittsburgh Steelers for the first time in her career.
Ross will have sideline duties along with Greg Gumbel and Adam Archuleta for Sunday’s Steelers-Jets game. Ross has been covering the NFL, along with college basketball and football, for CBS since 2018, and she has covered some of Steelers training camp in each of the last two seasons, but this will be her first regular-season game on a Steelers sideline.
“I have to be careful not to say we on Sunday, because like a true Pittsburgher, I feel like I’m the 12th man on the field sometimes,” Ross said. “It’s a dream come true in many ways and it’s very surreal to feel like I dreamt of this and now it’s happening.”
An Oakland Catholic alumna, Ross grew up in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Highland Park and like most Pittsburghers, that came with an early appreciation for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“Sundays are holy days in Pittsburgh for multiple reasons. You go to the grocery store on Sunday and nobody’s there. In church, people are wearing Steelers jerseys. You catch on pretty early that this is something that the whole city is involved in. …
“I distinctly remember watching games with my dad as a little girl. I do remember the Super Bowl that the Steelers lost to the Cowboys. I remember being so young and not really understanding the game at that point in time, how upset my dad was with Neil O’Donnell. That’s one of my earliest memories.”
Mr. Ross is far from the only Pittsburgher that hasn’t let that one go. But that passion from him and the rest of the city is what sparked his daughter’s interest in sports and even though her career hasn’t taken a straight path to where she’ll be this Sunday, Ross always wanted to work in sports. After graduating from Howard and getting her start in an off-air role at ESPN, she switched into news, starting at WMBF in Myrtle Beach and working her way quickly to WABC in New York. From there, she made the jump back into sports with CBS.
“I kept getting promotions and I kept getting job offers in news, but I had always done sports segments and spots things on the side,” Ross said. “This always was a dream, I just got detoured at times.”
Ross started freelancing with CBS while she was still covering news in New York, working seven days a week to make the dream work in what she called a “leap of faith.” In addition to her sideline duties, Ross is also a panelist on CBS’ all-women sports show, “We Need To Talk.” Her role this Sunday is to be the eyes and ears of the viewers and her broadcast partners on the sidelines of the stadium, something that goes way beyond just a few hours of afternoon work.
“Most audience members don’t realize the amount of time and research that goes into these broadcasts throughout the week,” Ross said. “The game is the fun part. That’s when you finally get to showcase what you have been working so diligently on throughout the week. I try to contribute in multiple ways, even if it’s not something that I say on air, it’s a team effort.”
This season, Ross has been paired with the 76-year-old Gumbel, who has called Olympic Games, Final Fours, the NBA, MLB and multiple Super Bowls in 40 years in the business.
“Greg is a legend,” Ross said. “It’s such an honor to work with Greg. Getting to know Greg, he feels like a member of my family now. He is one of the funniest and most caring people you could ever meet in life and the stories that he has, I just treasure. … He has lived an incredible life.”
Still based in New Jersey, Ross has seen a lot more of the Jets than the Steelers over the last few years, so she should be pretty easily able to prepare for this one.
“I had a lot of Jets games last year, I even covered them in London last year,” Ross said. “This Jets team is very young. They have some really good pieces. … So I think this is going to be a matchup that the Steelers absolutely cannot estimate.”
But it was her love of the Pittsburgh Steelers that first got her into sports, and being able to be back home with her family in Pittsburgh is what will make this Sunday special for Ross. This week’s preparation for the game has been worked around a defect Ross family reunion.
“My family is everything and I have a really big extended family,” Ross said. “I love my mom’s cooking.”