NFL Season is Here – My Philosophy and Preparation for Football Broadcast

So the NFL regular season has arrived.
Time to really go back to work.
When I meet folks who want to talk about what I do, invariably the discussion gets down to how I prepare and what my philosophy is in doing a football broadcast.
I thought it might be a good time to express my thoughts on the subject for two reasons: give you readers an insight to how we get ready, and review for myself what it is I want to do and how to execute it.

So let’s begin.

First off, I don’t over prepare. I don’t do too much. What I mean by those two statements is that I try not to learn every little detail of every player on both the teams I will cover or every little detail of the teams. This week I will be in Denver, for the opening game between the Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks, starting my second consecutive season with Mark Schlereth for the NFL on Fox. Usually I am mentoring a broadcast partner to move on to another team. That has been my station at Fox for several years, and it has been a welcoming role for me. This is the 25th year of NFL coverage on Fox Sports and it is my 25th year as well.
But the chemistry Mark and I established last season turned out so well, the powers-that-be decided to keep us together for 2018.
I was delighted they decided to do that, and extended our schedule for 14 games, four more than we worked last year. In my role at Fox in recent years, I have worked a 10-game schedule which has been fine with me. But we’ll be working more this season.
That, too, is acceptable.

I will join the rest of crew Friday at the Broncos practice, and meet with a few coaches and players afterwards. Saturday, when the Seahawks arrive we will meet with them.
All I want to accomplish, when I watch practice, is to have as sense of the teams, a basic understanding of their personnel. What their overall strengths and weaknesses are going in, and few nuggets on various players.
In my view, broadcasting a game is about reacting to what happens.
You have to be prepared, of course, but if you’re prepared to constantly chatter and fill every moment your partner isn’t talking you’re going down a slippery slope.
When a play-by-play announcer is armed with material he will tend to use all of that material, and in my view, ruin the telecast.
The biggest weapon all viewers have to use against overly talkative announcers is the mute button on their remote.
I know, because I’ve used it.
There is nothing better on television, than the pictures and sounds of a game,
The various shots a director puts on the screen, and the sounds of the crowd cheering or a quarterback calling signals is always better than any words an announcer uses.
Yes, you have to describe the play. But nothing beats a concise call, and letting the pictures and sounds take over.
I have to admit it’s not always easy to execute. I know I’ve missed that mark at times, but it’s so much more pleasing to you at home, watching the game.
I also believe that the true gems of a broadcast will come from the expert who played or coached the game. He’s been down there, on the field. If he’s good at what he does, he enhances the telecast so much more with his opinion, analysis, and thoughts.
What I like to do, is break it down this way: I do the “who” and the “what”. By that,I mean, I generally will describe who is involved in the play and what he does.
The expert does the “why” and the “how”.  That’s what he has been trained to do. I, certainly as the “reporter” in the booth who didn’t play the game can’t do that.
Of course, my role includes giving the story of the game, and asking my partner pertinent questions, and reacting to a comment by my partner, but basically what I have outlined are the keys to good broadcast. At least, that’s my philosophy, after doing this for a half-century.
One final thought on what we do. We don’t only dwell on the many plays that occur in a game. In fact, the best broadcasts are the ones that continually deal with what we call the “big picture”…taking a broad look at what we’re seeing, what is the meaning of the game we’re doing, what was this match-up all about when we started, and what does what we’ve talked about really mean?
In addition, there are always those compelling human interest stories about a player that must be told.
So we hope for a smooth opening day. The game has a lot to do with it. But, its an adventure we relish!

I have received considerable feedback on our story about the renowned author Fred Exley who was born in Watertown, NY and lived in the River community of Alexandria Bay. A character, to say the least, we told the tale of Exley and his friendship with the great football star Frank Gifford. Exley, as many of you know, wrote a classic novel,
“A Fan’s Notes”, in which Gifford is the central figure.

I appreciate all of your responses, whatever they may be, on any subject written, but I’d like to re-print one in particular, from Bill LaLonde:

“First off, I just want to say how much I  enjoy your stories and articles in the Thousand Island Sun. I currently live in Florida. I’m from Clayton, NY. In fact, my great-aunt, Sophia LaLonde created Thousand Island Dressing. And if you buy a bottle in my hometown, her picture is on the label. And now let’s get down to business.
I have two stories to tell you about Fred Exley and Frank Gifford. When I moved to Clayton I attended Clayton High School (as it was called then).
My very first class was English I, taught by none other than Frederick Exley.
He was a great teacher, just different in many ways. Little did I know he was writing
“A Fan’s Notes” at that time. I spent four years in the Navy and never saw Mr. Exley again until 1985. I was living in Virginia but was up visiting my family.I happened to stop into a bar in Alexandria Bay and lo and behold none other than Fred Exley was there, and when he saw me said “Billy, how ya doing?, and by the way call me Fred”.
We talked for awhile , but I want to move on to 2009.
My daughter, Christine, called me when she was at an airport, and said “Hey Dad, who’s the guy who’s married to Kathie Lee?”  I said, you mean “Frank Gifford?”
She said he was there waiting for a flight. I asked her to see if he would sign an autograph”.

I will paraphrase Bill LaLonde’s  message now.

Gifford was asked if he knew Fred Exley. Gifford said they knew each other since Southern Cal and he had just finished reading Exley’s book for the third time.

Not only did this wonderful star football player sign the autograph, Christine Bill’s daughter, sent it to her Dad in a beautiful frame, and just above it, a Frank Gifford football card from 1952, Frank’s rookie year.

What a heart-warming post-script to one of the most popular stories of the year.