Super Bowl spotters guide
So it’s Super Bowl Sunday.
For many, it is a high holy day. A national celebration of gridiron success and culinary excess. A day when we can all get together for one final time this football season to eat, drink, cheer, curse and root for our favorite teams.
This year’s Super Bowl has more than its share of story lines. There is the New England Patriots’ quest for the perfect season and the underdog New York Giants second opportunity to ruin that perfection. Then there is Tom Brady, the “model” quarterback versus everybody’s favorite kid brother, Eli Manning. Anytime you have Boston versus New York, the passions ratchet up a notch.
These two teams played an exceptional game this past Dec. 29 on a Saturday night that was shown on an unprecedented three television networks (CBS, NBC and the NFL Network). The Patriots came from behind in that contest to complete the second undefeated regular season in National Football League history (the 1972 Miami Dolphins were the first). That broadcast was watched by 35 million people and estimates suggest that the rematch, kicking off at 4:17 Aspen time this afternoon, will be the most viewed in Super Bowl history.
Having seen a few football games as the spotter on Monday Night Football for 20 years and, for the last two years, on NBC’s Sunday Night Football, I thought I’d share with you some of the “inside football” tricks used by network announcers to call the action.
“How do they get all that stuff?” is a question I am frequently asked when people hear that I work with John Madden and Al Michaels on the broadcasts. Well, we have been doing this for an awfully long time, so lots of the information just flows from the collective DNA we have developed over the years.
But for each broadcast there is a plethora of new information to draw from. The league and the teams provide us with press releases featuring player biographies, statistics, records, historical facts and more. Then we have a representative on site from the Elias Sports Bureau, the official statistician for the NFL, who is tied into a database of statistical information on every pro football game ever played. We read newspapers, talk to coaches and players and, when all is said and done, we have far more information than can ever be fit into a three-hour broadcast.
The real trick is editing that information, and that’s where I come in. Each week before I leave Sardy Field to cover the games, I prepare a “spotting board” for use by Madden and Michaels as they announce the game.
This spotting board, a kind of cheat sheet, sits in front of each announcer. It shows the relationship between the offense and defense of the two teams and lets the announcers tell, at a glance, who carried the ball, who made the tackle, who had a great block, etc.
But beyond that, there is information about each and every player: how big they are, where they went to college, what records they hold, how many catches they had in their last game. All of this information is there on their color-coded spotting board.
Tonight, when Joe Buck and Troy Aikman begin their Fox broadcast, they will have spotter boards, not exactly like the one on the next two pages, but similar. They will be flanked by spotters who watch the field with binoculars and television monitors in the booth to help identify which players are doing what.
You can follow along and be a more informed fan by simply tearing out the adjacent page and using it to stay ahead of the action.
When New England has the ball, place the side of the page that shows the “New England Offense” and the “New York Defense” in front of you. You’ll see, when no. 39 is in the backfield, that it is Lawrence Maroney for the Patriots. You’ll be able to quickly note that he has run for more than 100 yards in four of his last five games. When someone says “Where’d he come from?” you can instantly answer “Minnesota, last year in the first round.”
When the Giants No. 25 intercepts a pass, you’ll be ahead of the game because you can see that R.J. McQuarters has had an interception in each of the three playoff games.
Spend a few minutes with your spotting board, and you’ll be calling the game quicker than Joe Buck.
Enjoy the game. And don’t eat too many wings.
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