NFL broadcasters are glad to be back in the stadiums again

CBS and NBC promoted their coverage plans for the 2021 NFL season with conference calls this past week.

Marcio Jose Sanchez
Although he is 76, Al Michaels has no immediate plans to stop working the NFL broadcasts.

If you think NFL studio shows are chock full of chuckles, back slaps, and guffaws — some of them even sincere — you ought to listen in on a Zoom conference call with the various personalities from the various rights-holding networks.

There were a few times this past week, as CBS and NBC promoted their coverage plans for the 2021 NFL season, that I nearly had to keep my eyes from rolling. I think I groaned audibly the 15th or so time “Inside the NFL” rookie Julian Edelman jokingly referred to colleague Phil Simms as “Mr. Simms” because, you see . . . well, I don’t know why, actually. I might have been pounding my head against my filing cabinet when he finally explained it.


Fortunately, there is some informative broadcast info and opinions to mine from the Zooms. Here’s a sampling:

· Jim Nantz, who has the call on-site along with Tony Romo and Tracy Wolfson of the Chiefs-Browns game in Week 1, said it’s underestimated how much of an effect the absence of in-person interaction affected broadcasts last season.

“Our team did 21 games last year, and we didn’t have a meal together, including the Super Bowl,’’ said Nantz. “Absolutely zero socialization. That is a big deal. Honestly, it’s a bigger deal than being able to meet with the players and coaches in person again. I never met with Tony in person for five months.


“The nuance of the broadcast is what comes out of the time you spend with the people on the broadcast. Discussing things face to face over a dinner, over a production meeting in person. Last year we sat in our rooms, our meals were delivered to our door, and we did nothing but isolate. I’m excited about getting to know this team all over again, because it’s an awesome group of people, and it’s going to make the broadcast better.”

· Fred Gaudelli has produced prime-time NFL broadcasts for 32 years and has won 24 Emmy Awards, so suffice to say he has a pretty good command of what works on an NFL telecast.


So it was interesting to hear him espouse some disdain for the cinematic “shallow depth of field” look that gives a broadcast a distinct video game feel.

“Call me old-fashioned,’’ said Gaudelli, who has produced “Sunday Night Football” since 2006, “but I just like shots that are in focus, and I think one of the issues with that camera is sometimes the subject will go out of focus and the background will come into focus. Not to blast anybody else’s show, but it’s just not consistent enough, and it doesn’t match the look of the other cameras.”

· CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said the network’s NFL broadcast teams will be on-site this season, barring adjustments made necessary by the pandemic.


“There’s no way you can make the argument that announce teams are as good sitting in the studio as they are sitting live [at the venue]. It’s cost-effective [to have them in studio], but it’s not incredibly cost-effective.

“What you’re basically doing is saving [travel and expenses] for the announce crew, the statistician, and the spotter. I don’t think of it as a wholesale change in our industry. I think it will be done relatively few times, and far between. We have no plans to do it in our NFL schedule this coming year.”

· There has been some speculation in media circles that this will be Al Michaels’s final season on “Sunday Night Football,’’ but the 76-year-old legend, who still calls a great game, said he hasn’t made a decision yet.


“I don’t know what the future holds, and that is the truth,’’ said Michaels. “I mean, as we go through the season and we get toward the end of it, I think there will be a little bit more clarity, see how I feel about certain things. But all I know is I just want to make this, which is year 36 for me on prime-time football, the best, and then we’ll see what happens.”

NBC has the Super Bowl LVI broadcast this season, so theoretically that could be his final game.

· Rodney Harrison is beginning his 13th season as part of the “Football Night in America” broadcast team, but for the first time, the former Patriots safety won’t be in studio. Rather, he’ll be the on-site pre- and postgame analyst, along with host Jac Collinsworth. That means Harrison will be in Foxborough for NBC’s Week 4 broadcast of the Patriots-Buccaneers matchup.

Harrison, for the record, is already a believer in Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones: “I think when I watch him play, sometimes I sit back and say, what if that zero that’s on his [No. 10] jersey was a 2? Then he would look just like Tom Brady. He would look just like a young Tom Brady. The fact that they had so much trust in him early, to put him in a no-huddle, to give him different things, their offense was never limited with Mac Jones.”

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