Behind the Scenes with FOX’s NFL Team: When the Best Laid Plans Go Wrong
By Richie Zyontz
FOX NFL Senior Producer
Editor’s note: Richie Zyontz has been an NFL producer for FOX since 1994 and senior producer for the past 20 seasons. He has over 40 years of league experience and produced six Super Bowls. Throughout the 2022 NFL season, he will provide an inside look as FOX’s new No. 1 NFL team heads to Super Bowl LVII.
At a FOX NFL Crew Dinner in mid-October, we scoured the table soliciting opinions on potential NFC Championship Game attendees, again months later. Between bites of pasta and meatballs, the vote of 15 people was almost unanimous. Our collective pick was the San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles. Maybe it was wishful thinking.
The Eagles were then undefeated and the 49ers had just added dynamic running back Christian McCaffrey. The prospect of a collision at the end of January was a delightful thought. And yesterday, the long-awaited showdown took place in the so-called City of Brotherly Love.
But a funny thing happened on the way to what we hoped would be an instant classic. The game had classic qualities, but for all the wrong reasons.
Madness ensued in many forms almost from the start.
We’ve seen game-changing injuries, a broken sideline, an instant replay snafu, claims that a kicked ball hit a camera wire overhead, a bench clearance scuffle, and enough flags. penalty to last a lifetime. I’m exhausted just writing about this. But on Sunday, I had to produce, and it was quite a challenge.
To contest or not to contest?
The instant replay system puts a TV show right in the middle of the process. Our video determines if a coach should challenge certain calls on the field. Time is running out – once the ball is broken for the next game, it’s too late.
“They deserve a trip to the Super Bowl”
Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen talk about the Eagles’ convincing win over the Niners in the NFC Championship.
We were faced with a delicate situation at the start of the match.
Philadelphia wide receiver Devonta Smith apparently made a spectacular dive on the far sideline. Field cameraman Don Cornelli was perfectly positioned (as always) to deliver a stunning image. Our thoughts in the truck immediately turned to whether Smith was inbounds and had the ball.
So, with time for just one replay as Philadelphia raced to the line of scrimmage, we showed the camera view of Don, which appeared to indicate a completed take. San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan couldn’t challenge the game from that angle. The Eagles then broke the ball quickly, closing the possibility of a review.
During the next commercial break, we caught an angle from reverse-angle cameraman Keith DeSantis (another brilliant operator who captured the classic shot of David Tyree’s take on the Giants in Super Bowl XLII). This one showed conclusively that the ball wasn’t caught – it hit the ground. As my grandmother would have said, “oy vey”.
Needless to say, I’m sorry today. That’s what producers do. We strive for perfection and are constantly disappointed. Considering the rush, as well as what our eyes saw initially, I’m not sure we could have shown the correct replay in time. But that was just the start of a strange day.
Cinderella or Pumpkin?
San Francisco quarterback Brock Purdy was the Cinderella of the playoffs heading into the championship game.
After injuries to the 49ers’ top two QBs during the season, Purdy took over and helped his team to seven straight wins. What a scenario, as this freshly scrubbed kid took the field against a fierce Philadelphia crowd and defense. And then he got hurt! And then his replacement was injured! And then an injured Purdy had to come back despite not being able to kick the ball.
Needless to say, the show was prepared with a plethora of pre-recorded graphics and stories about Purdy’s meteoric rise. Whoops.
But his injury and the resulting saga kept reporter Erin Andrews busy on the San Francisco sideline. And she was excellent, watching Purdy’s every move and every facial expression.
Secondary reporters do more than appear sparingly on your TV screens. They constantly feed the truck with information that translates into images.
While it can be difficult to get actual injury information from teams, it’s the photos that become even more valuable. And precious is the perfect adjective for Erin on Sunday in Philadelphia!
Drop the gloves
Another crazy moment worth mentioning: a bench clearance brawl.
Quite fittingly, it happened in Philadelphia, home of the Broad Street Bullies, the nickname of the Flyers hockey team that terrorized the NHL in the 1970s.
This time, however, the violence came from the visitors. It was near the end of a long and frustrating game for San Francisco when future Hall of Famer Trent Williams hit an Eagles player like he was a rag doll.
Tempers are on fire!
A fight broke out, resulting in two ejections, near the end of the Niners-Eagles clash.
Williams was easy to like when we met this week, describing his preparation and excitement for the game ahead. But he lost it, and both benches emptied to join the fray.
For us in the truck, that meant keeping the cameras wide on the pitch to capture the surreal scene of players pouring onto the pitch. The trend is tighter, showing only the main fighters. But that takes away the whole perspective of the event.
My favorite image was of Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, his job done for the day, warm-up jacket, quietly watching the crazy scene unfold from afar.
And after? A trip to Arizona, where I will have the chance to produce my seventh Super Bowl. There are stories galore. Chiefs coach Andy Reid facing the team he coached for 14 years. The Kelce brothers; Philadelphia’s Jason and Kansas City’s Travis on the sidelines. Will two weeks be enough for Patrick Mahomes to recover from a sprained ankle? And does it even matter?
We’re just hoping for a great game – and maybe a little less madness.
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