Nothing out of bounds for TV

Networks keep close watch on sideline drama

September 26, 2010|By Sam Farmer

We always hear about NFL players "on and off the field," whether they are good or bad people, leaders or followers.

But what about when they're neither on nor off the field, but stuck in that middle ground? In other words, how do they behave on the sideline?

Brandon Jacobs, the Giants running back, gave us a hint Sunday when he came off the field and, in frustration, heaved his helmet roughly 10 rows behind the Giants' bench.

Although TV cameras missed the toss, they did zoom in on the Colts fan who initially refused to give back the helmet and ultimately had it pried from his grasp by a security guard. It became a mini-story line, a game within the game.

That happens frequently in broadcasts, when unusual occurrences on the sideline — or in pre- or postgame — become part of the overall story.

"What's going on on the sidelines is probably equally entertaining, and maybe as important as what's going on on the field," said Fred Gaudelli, producer of NBC's "Sunday Night Football." He credits John Madden as being the quintessential eagle-eye, the person who noticed the tiniest details that could wind up being a factor in the game or an interesting tidbit.

"You can predict, based on the personalities on the sideline, what might happen. If Jim Harbaugh threw another pick when he was playing for Mike Ditka, what was going to happen? If a young player on the Steelers was making repeated mistakes, (coach Bill) Cowher was probably going to start spitting.

"You went into the game saying, 'OK, here's the game plan today, but … if certain things happen, we want to be on Cowher, or we want to be on Buddy Ryan."

In warmups before Monday night's Saints-49ers game, the ESPN crew did what has become standard practice: It shot footage of the kickers practicing long-distance field goals.

The game ended with the Saints' Garrett Hartley kicking a 37-yard field goal through the swirling wind of Candlestick Park to win it in overtime. If that attempt had been a bit longer, ESPN would have set up that final kick by airing footage of Hartley making a 54-yarder in warmups.

"Our jobs are to document the games, but we're storytellers too," said Jay Rothman, producer of "Monday Night Football." "And it's critical that we don't ignore the sidelines."

If they did ignore them, America might never have seen some of these moments:

Early departures: In their opener this season, the Bengals were losing by three touchdowns in the final seconds of the first half. After a missed field goal by the Patriots, the Bengals got the ball near midfield with one second remaining — just enough time for Carson Palmer to heave a Hail Mary pass. Too bad his two best receivers weren't around. Moments earlier, cameras spotted Chad Ochocinco walking to the locker room with a Bengals staff member, and Terrell Owens following them. Come on, guys, it ain't over till it's over.

Playing ketchup: Jets rookie Mark Sanchez caused a stir during a 38-0 victory at Oakland when he was spotted eating a hot dog on the sideline. He later apologized, saying he was feeling nauseated and needed something to calm his stomach. Calm his stomach? Ever eaten one of those stadium hot dogs?

Gathering Moss: Randy Moss warranted a camera crew of his own, especially earlier in his career, because you never knew what kind of stunt he might pull. In 2000, during a Vikings playoff loss to the Rams, he was standing near the bench watching the game and vented his frustration on an official by squirting him with a water bottle. Moss was fined $40,000 for that, although the league eventually reduced it to $25,000.

In this corner: One of the best-known sideline skirmishes was in January 1994, when the Oilers were riding an 11-game winning streak. Ryan, then defensive coordinator, was frustrated by a play call from fellow coach Kevin Gilbride and punched the offensive coordinator in the jaw. Later, Ryan explained: "It's a difference in coaching philosophy in the heat of the battle."

Raging Rivers: During the week, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is low key, funny and one of the more likable players in the game. He's a different guy in the heat of competition, and a few years ago cameras caught him taunting then-Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler from the sideline. Rivers also was spotted barking back and forth with fans behind the bench. Viewers might see a picture, Rivers said, but not the full picture.

"At the end of the game, you feel like you know the guys, but then it gets caught on TV and people say he's screaming at the fans," he said. "Well, I'm not screaming at the fans. They got to talk to me for four hours."

One that got away: One of the most memorable and creative touchdown celebrations came in 2002, when Owens was playing for the 49ers in a Monday night game in Seattle.

He scored, produced a Sharpie pen from his sock, autographed the football and handed it to his financial adviser, who was watching from a field-level suite.

For Gaudelli, who produced "Monday Night Football" at the time, the moment turned out to be a disappointment.

"We probably could have seen that thing in his sock if we had been shooting him on the sideline," he said. "Now, he'll always have the cameras on him no matter where he is, because you just don't know what might happen."

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