I like the NFL Preseason. There, I said it. I know if that makes me alone, but I know I am in a small room with a few fantasy football fanatics and some replacement referees. But my enjoyment of the
games that don't count but still cost full price is strictly personal. This is my 13th year in the role of sideline reporter for the Bills Television Network. Of all the things I have done at WHAM-TV, I probably get asked more questions about this job than anything else (except maybe the old standbys like "is the news live?" or "do you guys really wear makeup?) So I decided to try to head to "Open Mic" and give you a little behind the scenes
look at the broadcast and let you know what happens to get us on the air
Let's start with the basics. For these games I am working for the Bills Television Network. The game many of you see in Rochester is the exact same broadcast is seen in Buffalo, Toronto, Syracuse and Binghamton also. It also gets replayed nationally on the NFL Network. For the last 5 years I have worked with a great team of former Bills Steve Tasker (color analyst) and Ray Bentley (play by play). In years past, my broadcast partners have included Hall of Fame Coach Marv Levy (who gave me the great tip of always carrying a Shout Wipe in your bag in case you spill something on your shirt in the pre game meal) Gus "Voice of Madden " Johnson, ESPN's Steve Pasch and long time broadcaster Jay Randolph. Marc Honan of the Bills is the guy who oversees the entire broadcast, but my game producer for the last decade has been Joe Pinter, who produces Sabres games all season long and I believe goes to bed at night dreaming of the Stanley Cup being paraded down Chippewa Street
The most interesting part of this job has to be the invitation to sit in on the pregame production meeting. This is when the Bills Head Coach sits down with the broadcasters to go over details about the game. We would
never get this access during the regular season. Bills Communications director Scott Berchtold begins my spelling out the rule that what is said in that meeting is to enhance the broadcast, not to report before the game. That might not seem like a big deal in the preseason, but before a regular game the coach meets with just the CBS or Fox Network team and tells them things, at times, that could make a huge difference to the opposing team. An example would be "Be ready, we are going to start the game in a no huddle" A coach really needs to trust that broadcasters would not let that information ever get out before the game. I have sat in those meetings with Wade Phillips (funny, but not all that much information) Gregg Williams (cordial, but tight lipped) Mike Mularkey (those years are a blur) Dick Jauron (polite, but no real insight) and Chan Gailey (by far the best). In the preseason the meeting consists of a large group, including our broadcast team, and all the Bills radio announcers including John Murphy and Mark Kelso . We get to ask questions about individual players and game plan decisions. Chan is relaxed, open and interesting. I have never asked him this but he certainly seems to respect the job the broadcasters are doing and fills up our note pads.
After the meeting our team gets together to go over the broadcast, including the elements each of us might touch on during the game, right from the opening segment. The fact that both Ray and Steve played in the NFL for so long is a huge advantage for us because they have insight and stories that the rest of us don't, At times they'll start telling a story about something that happened back in the 80's or 90's (and yes at times we can actually use part of the story on the air)
What I hope to bring is my knowledge of being around the team at camp and information I have gathered from coaches or players. I make a series of notes about as many players as possible, trying to find pieces of information that our viewers would find interesting (like the fact that Tank Carder got his nickname at 18 months old and 35 pounds. He told us "it wasn't fat, it was all muscle!)
Even though my broadcast spot is on the sidelines, my game night begins in the play-by-play booth in the press box. While Steve and Ray get in the last minute preparation for the call of the game, I record "voice overs" for the game, including sponsor announcements and the halftime feature. I get on the headset and speak with our producer Joe and we record a series of segments. In my role on a newscast I would never read sponsor announcements, but in a game broadcast, there is no conflict. My goal is to always do them correctly in one take. I believe I failed on that once (but it was probably Joe's fault!)
Once that is done it's off to the sidelines. I meet with my camera operator, his assistant and the audio operator. In Orchard Park, it's tight quarters. Not only is the sideline very limited, but we have to work around the mobile camera truck for the network and try to stay out of the way of kickers Rian Lindell and Brian Moorman as they work out during the game. I am cabled to the audio feed of the game and I can communicate with Joe while the broadcast is on the air. Something might happen while the Bills have the ball (for example a catch by Marcus Easley) and I will communicate to the producer that I have information to add about Easley. If it fits in the framework of the broadcast, Joe will tell Ray to "send it to Mike on the sidelines". My job is to try to make the point quickly and succinctly and to do it in between plays. I hate to speak over the actual play by play of the game because I think it distracts viewers.
My other job is to interview players once their night in complete. I can't just tap Mario Williams on the shoulder and say come on over and talk. I work with the Bills media relations person (in recent years Dom Rinelli of Matt Heidt) and they approach the player and bring them over. 99% of the time the player says yes and walks right to our spot. In game one we talked with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Mario William and Marcel Dareus. At that point, usually in the second half of the game, the player interview is usually more interesting than the backup players on the field. If there is something big that happened that night (an injury, a TD pass, a sack) I will reference hat in the interview, but I usually speak more about the upcoming season.
My other interview is with the head coach, either leaving the field or walking back after halftime. Once again, Chan Gailey is the best. His answers are almost always better than my questions. He never sugarcoats anything and never makes excuses. He sometimes gives me the great line as he walks away (like in Pittsburgh when there was some pushing and shoving after a play and he said "We aren't gonna be dumb but we aren't backing down from anybody" Good stuff. Coach also has a sense of humor. Last year I missed a production meeting where we always asks about setting up that interview. That night Chan was standing next to me, seconds before we were to be live and he said "You know I shouldn't do this. You missed the meeting." I had a panicked look and started to make an excuse about work and schedules. Chan paused then just laughed and went right on the air live. He got me good, but I won't miss any more meetings.
Next week we hit the road for Minneapolis and I will post a blog about traveling with the team, including what it is like on the Bills plane. If you have any questions don't hesitate to email me at MCatalana@13wham.com