Schramm has clear picture 1960 Olympic work a TV forerunner

January 20, 1992|By John Jeansonne | John Jeansonne,Newsday

The two biggest sports extravaganzas of the season are almost upon us -- the Super Bowl next Sunday and the Winter Olympics 20 days from now -- and Tex Schramm's fingerprints are all over both of them.

Schramm, 71, had not yet reinvented the cheerleader when he put together the first network television coverage of the Olympics at Squaw Valley, Calif., in 1960.

In 1960, Schramm had not yet put little streamers on the tops of NFL goalposts to help kickers determine the prevailing winds. He had not yet put wireless microphones on game officials, or created the 30-second display clock between plays, or invented the red, white and blue stripes to distinguish the 20-yard lines during the blur of action, or cooked up the little arrows next to the yard markers so TV viewers could readily tell which 30-yard line they were looking at, or pushed through instant replay and the wide white border around the field to help with out-of-bounds calls.

In fact, one of Schramm's babies, the first use of computers in football scouting, was a result of his work at the 1960 Olympics. In Squaw Valley, he had seen the IBM operation for handling Olympic results and asked an IBM programer if it would be possible to apply such expertise to finding players for the Dallas Cowboys, the new NFL expansion franchise whose players would take the field under Tom Landry a few months later.

"I had already signed with the Cowboys in the fall of '59 and CBS said, 'You can stay and work on the Olympics if you want,' " Schramm said recently by phone from his Key West, Fla. home. "That was because I was the only one who had done anything to get ready for the Games. Over those holidays, at the end of '59, I was signing players for the Cowboys in addition to my CBS duties."

As assistant director of sports for CBS from 1957 through the '60 Games -- "I guess the title would be some sort of vice president now," Schramm said -- part of his job was to find new sports programing, and he envisioned the Winter Olympics as "a hell of a television spectacular because of the competition and the scenery." In the summer of '59, he took a crew to Squaw Valley, on the northwest edge of Lake Tahoe, to lay cable before the snows came.

Of course, there was no such thing as communications satellites for TV yet. The first thing up in space, 2 1/2 years earlier, had been the Soviet Sputnik, a serious shot in the building Cold War that made the U.S. hockey upset of the Soviet Union such a miracle on ice at the Squaw Valley Games. "That was as big as the one in Lake Placid 20 years later," Schramm said, "so we were lucky with that."

Schramm patterned his Olympic telecast on political convention coverage. In the anchor booth, he assigned Walter Cronkite -- "He wasn't the Walter Cronkite yet," Schramm noted, because it wasn't until 1963 that Cronkite started with the "CBS Evening News" -- "and out at the venues, I used sports guys like the convention's floor reporters: Dick Button and Bud Palmer and others." Though he readily admits to being "not much of an engineer and sort of in a daze over the technical stuff," Schramm recalls that "everybody was ecstatic about how we were able to get it done. Nobody ever had done it before, and to have all the equipment working, despite the cold, we all were on Cloud Nine. I don't know if it was a financial success, but as it turned out, it was a great artistic success."

Without satellite capabilities, if the '60 Winter Games had been in Europe, "We'd have had to put the film on a boat or something," Schramm said,

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