Tuesday, August 27, 2019
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to today’s Sunday Night Football conference call. We are excited to kick off the NFL’s 100th season next Thursday with the league’s most-played rivalry, Green Bay and Chicago, followed by Pittsburgh at New England.
On today’s call, executive producer Fred Gaudelli, play-by-play voice, Al Michaels, game analyst Cris Collinsworth, and Michele Tafoya, sideline reporter.
We will start with some opening comments from each and then we will turn it over for questions. With that, I’ll turn it over to Fred Gaudelli.
FRED GAUDELLI: Thanks, Dan. Just really echo what Dan said. I think this 100th season for the NFL is really going to be a great celebration this year where we are all going to get to relive the moments that all of us grew up with, no matter how old you are, with a lot of the great names and great players from back then. So we’re really, really looking forward to that.
And then it’s hard to think of a better matchup to celebrate 100 seasons than Packers and the Bears, the most-played rivalry in NFL history, and two teams that it doesn’t matter what the records are any longer. They just always seem to play tight, close games, as we witnessed last year on opening day.
So just a few days away from starting it all; year 14 for Sunday Night Football. I think it’s year 19 for Al and me. Al, it’s all yours.
AL MICHAELS: You touched on it. The great thing about this season, it’s special, 100 years. We’re going to incorporate a lot of history into the game telecasts. I can already think of great storylines for each matchup, and those will shift and change of course once the season begins.
We’ll roll with them. I think the appetite for this season amongst the fans is very strong. Every place I go people want to know who to draft in their fantasy leagues. To me, it’s almost like picking stocks. Nobody really knows which guys are the guys to pick. Almost makes it a little bit more interesting. I think the definition of expert probably should be removed from the dictionary, because everybody thinks they know what’s going to go on but they don’t.
To me, that’s the most exciting part of the National Football League, how it plays out during the course of the season. As Fred just said, 19 years together, which is hard to believe. With [director] Drew Esocoff it was 20 years ago; go back to the 2000 season. With Michele, it’s 11 years in two different iterations. For my partner in crime, certainly the most under-nourished man to ever show up for a Combine. (Laughter.) Picture we showed you the other night. (Laughter.) We begin our 11th year together, Mr. Cris Collinsworth. Partner, slide on in here.
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: I think Tom Brady and I had the exact same photographer for our Combine picture. Looking good.
I don’t know if I can think of a game that was better than our opening [Sunday] night last year, Chicago and Green Bay. Khalil Mack coming over and having that monster game; Aaron Rodgers getting hurt. You didn’t know if it was the end of the season or not, and it wasn’t even the end of the game. He came back and led that dramatic comeback. It was more like a movie than it was a football game. So looking forward to that one.
Then on the other side, the last team to beat the New England Patriots was the Pittsburgh Steelers. I just got watching the tape of that one, too. They go up and down the field the first from series, and then defense kicked in from there. Obviously two of the great organizations, two of the great ownership groups, two of the great quarterbacks.
I mean, this has one of those that you know they’re going to be ramifications come playoff time, and it happens on opening night. So we’re really thrilled to be a part of it. Very thankful you guys are here to talk with us about it. Let’s get started.
Q. Thanks so much for doing this today. Couple quick ones for you here. Cris, I’m just curious, from your perspective, what do you see as the strong points of the Patriots offense and maybe some places they have a few question marks?
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: Well obviously quarterback. We’ll skip that one. Get that one out of the way first.
Sony Michel by the end of last year was putting on a show. Seemed to be ready to take his game and this team really to another level. After the Pittsburgh game, I think you saw that more and more and more.
The other guy that I’m really excited to watch this year is going to be Isaiah Wynn, the new left tackle. When he was coming out of Georgia I thought he was one of the best players in that draft, a guy that just literally was very athletic, not very tall, but had a tendency and a way sort of like David Bakhtiari of Green Bay of just constantly staying in front of pass rushing. A lot people thought he was going to get moved to guard when they were talking about him in the draft.
All I kept thinking is why in the world would you move this guy to guard? These speed rushers aren’t able to get around him. I think for Tom Brady especially, if you can lock down that side and get some help. Now obviously we’re all concerned about David Andrews. Don’t know exactly what the news of the day is there. So that’ll be a bit of a deal.
But Dante Scarnecchia has a way of piecing these things back together and making them work. I think the final piece of the puzzle really is going to be watching what they’re able to do not just in the secondary. I think we know they’ll be pretty good there. But I was just watching a good bit of tape on Matt LaCosse, and he adds that sort of emotional element and sort of character, if you will, that I think they lost with Gronkowski.
Always good to have a little bit of a personality at the end of the day coming out of New England. Between he and Michael Bennett, should be fun to not only watch them play, but go to some production meetings with them.
Q. And then a question kind of for the group. The week one matchup, Patriots and Steelers, are we talking about the two best dynasties that NFL has seen now? You got teams with six Super Bowls. What do you think of the historical significance of these two franchises and everything they’ve accomplished?
AL MICHAELS: You summed it up. When you look at decades, the Steelers obviously won four in the ’70s and two more since. Patriots have owned the 21st century. Then you throw in the Dallas Cowboys back in the ’90s when they won three in four years. Didn’t last as long as the Patriots obviously.
Then the 49ers are another team I would throw into this mix, too. If you go back to when Montana started, the ’80s and the ’90s for the 49ers were tremendous. For us on opening night, to have Pittsburgh and New England and the only two teams to win six, that’s really special.
Q. Question for Fred and then question for Cris. Fred, just how do you think the sky cam went Sunday, and any thoughts of doing it during games in the regular season?
FRED GAUDELLI: Al and I were just talking about this earlier today. I’m glad we did it. We learned a lot. There are things that I would do differently than we did on Sunday night, which is the whole purpose of doing a test during a preseason game.
One of the things we lost was just some of the intimacy of a regular play that you would get from the conventional game cameras. I think we could still get that if we just shot a little bit tighter and lowered the camera from where we had it the other night.
I wouldn’t have any plans to do it for an entire game in the regular season, but I could see breaking it out for a series or two, max, during a game this year. Might even try to on opening night where we’ll move the sky cam to the side and take a serious of one for the Packers and one for the Bears and see how it goes.
But I’m glad we did the test because we did get a lot of good information and were able to assess where the holes are right now. We think we can plug some of those holes. I think it’s TBD, but the plan right now is try to do a series or two again.
Q. Okay. What’s your thoughts looking at the running backs this season, and especially the Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon situation. Maybe especially Melvin too with what he’s asking for and kind of the extensions in the past with running backs kind of struggling after getting them.
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: I think it’s the hardest thing and maybe something that could be addressed in collective bargaining. The fifth-year option for first round draft picks at running back is unfair. It really is, because the strength of running backs’ careers typically comes in that first contract. Obviously they’re rookie wage scale and they don’t really get paid until the second one, and you mentioned the history of some of the things that have gone wrong on some of those second contracts.
So it’s a bit unfair to that position. One thing that my group of people who study this will tell you is that out of all of positions in football, the most — and this is going sound insulting, and I don’t mean it to be — but the most replaceable position, in other words, the position where you get the least amount of dropoff when you go from superstar to replacement player, is generally the running back position.
And it’s fair. You think of quarterbacks, receivers, cornerbacks, you think of pass rushers going from the A-level down to replacement level and what that can mean to a football team.
Whereas generally you can find somebody to run the football. We’ve seen instances of that time after time. So do I think that those two guys are superstar players? I do. Do I think they’re worth whatever it is they’re asking for? I certainly do.
Do I think we’re in a new era where teams are going to take a firmer stand on second contracts with running backs? I do as well.
Q. Do you think it’s one of those things too with the CBA coming up where you talk about first round picks that maybe when teams exercise that fifth-year option then the negotiating window can open for those draft picks instead of kind of waiting for that last year?
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: I won’t pretend to know what they have in mind for collective bargaining because I don’t know. I don’t know how much value they’re going to be able to put on the importance of that issue as it pertains to running backs.
It’s clearly an issue for running backs, but you don’t get majority votes out of just the running back position, right? So you got to balance it all against the whole thing. If I were negotiating the collective bargaining agreement, one of the most important things to me would be that the rookie wage scale only applies for three years or whatever the case may be.
In reality, you want to say who are the most valuable players in the NFL? Typically they’re superstar players on their first contract that are locked into that rookie wage scale. I mean, we really now at the quarterback position are seeing two different philosophies: either you get a superstar quarterback that you’re willing to pay $35 million to, an Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson, and Tom Brady has always been on the discount in New England. Ben Roethlisberger got paid. You can go on and on.
But if you don’t have one of those, there is nothing wrong with the strategy that says, We’re going to go with a guy on the rookie wage scale for the first four or five years of his deal and pay the rest of the team and have great players around him.
So we’re seeing more and more, almost every year, somebody on the rookie wage scale going to the Super Bowl.
Q. Sports Illustrated came out with predictions this week. They’ve got the NFC North with the Vikings at 11-5; Packers 10-6; both teams making the playoffs. Followed by the Lions at 9-7 and the Bears at 7-9. At least before the schedule gets flexed, you’re looking at the Bears three times this year, including the opener. Just wondering what you think of that evaluation of where the Bears are headed this year.
AL MICHAELS: This is why predictions are a dime a dozen. I read other analyses where with the Bears are expected to win 11 or 12 games. There is one of course that is out there right now with Sports Illustrated with 7, so I don’t think any of those things really hold water.
We don’t know what’s going to happen. Last year I don’t think anybody predicted that the Bears would win 12 games, but they did. You know as well as anyone, especially in Chicago, that the four losses were all very, very close, with a couple of them coming down to the last play of the game.
So right now, if I was going to Las Vegas — and I don’t bet, as you know — but if I bet, and I put the No. 7 on the over/under for wins and losses, I think you know which way I would go.
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: I do agree with the assessment that anything can come out of this division. This is a first-class division. There is no question about it. You know, a kick or two either way, as you well know in Chicago, can change the course of it.
I think the Pittsburgh Steelers would agree that they had three games that they could have easily won and been 12-3-1 last year if they made some relatively easy kicks.
So do I think the Chicago [Bears] — the thing that I know is that while most people spend all their time thinking and talking about quarterbacks and wide receivers and running backs, I tend to spend a good bit of my time watching defense and offensive lines.
That defense isn’t going anywhere. I understand there are some moving parts. You can’t lose Vic Fangio without having some impact on the team. But this is a rock solid defensive team and a quarterback who’s now going to be in the system yet another year. You’ve got some flashy running backs that are coming into the fold now, led by [Tarik] Cohen.
This is a rock solid football team. I would never say never. I certainly wouldn’t. But if they’re under 10 wins, I’m going to be really surprised.
FRED GAUDELLI: A lot of these games come down to the end, which they really didn’t for the Bears last year. Obviously, the Patriot game did and all that, but you know, the kicking situation to me in Chicago is one of the most intriguing things of the season obviously because of way it ended last year for them and Cody Parkey and what they’ve done to try to address the situation.
So it’ll be interesting to see how good a field goal kicker Eddy Pineiro is if he indeed is the kicker on opening night. I think that’ll go a long way in how well the Bears are going to do this year.
MICHELE TAFOYA: I live in Minnesota, and so I hear about the Vikings all the time, what they’re going to do in this division.
To me, it’s hard for me to look beyond the Bears. I thought what we saw from the Bears last year was really impressive, and I think the Vikings’ offense still has to convince us that they are capable of putting up enough points on a consistent basis.
Q. Cris, do you expect the Patriots to be more exotic with their front seven with the addition of Michael Bennett and the versatility of some of their own lineman?
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: It may be harder to get much more exotic than what they were. I was kind of laughing when I was seeing that Michael Bennett was saying it was the first time he’d ever been the only guy with his hand on the ground in any formation.
But, yeah, I do think that’s entirely possible, right? I think with the people that they have and the ability to move around. We’ve seeing Dont’a Hightower win Super Bowl championships. We’ve seen Michael Bennett utterly destroy different guys with what he’s able to do moving inside and outside. I always really liked Adam Butler. I thought Adam Butler was a guy that one of these days people are going to start going, Wow, he’s a really good player.
The problem is, there are so many good players around him that he doesn’t really seem to get a whole lot of attention. So with the way that they can play in the secondary and with a lock-down corner like Stephon Gilmore, I think you’re willing to take more chances.
This is going to be a really interesting game. Going back to the game a year ago, watching Pittsburgh sort of spread it out and do a couple of their run pass options and all the different exotic looks they did.
I thought Pittsburgh looked like they wanted to challenge all their receivers against however many defensive backs in one-on-one situations that New England wanted to throw at them. That they thought that’s where they matched up best.
It’ll be interesting now that Antonio Brown and you end up with a flip of Gilmore playing a little bit more on JuJu probably instead of on Antonio, what that what might mean to that strategy. Yeah, I think we’re going to see it all. I think we’re going to see it all out of the Patriots, and maybe in particular in this game a based on what Pittsburgh threw at them a year ago.
Q. At CBS’ preseason thing the other day, Sean McManus sort of hinted he might be willing to loosen up about their attitude talking about betting during coverage. As more and more states kind of — as this becomes more legal every year, do you guys anticipate that becoming more of what you do or will it always kind of just be where it is now?
FRED GAUDELLI: Go ahead, Al. (Laughter.)
AL MICHAELS: Well, you know I’ve had a lot of fun through the years coming in through the back door and sliding in in unexpected ways. I think people enjoyed the fact that they thought I was being a bit of a rascal and all that, but it was all in good fun.
Now, I don’t know how this is going to turn out in the long run, because to me this is the great unknown. How to incorporate not only the gambling into the telecast, but how this whole thing will work as it probably gets [passed] in almost every state in the country.
We will probably see the day when fans are going to sit in the stands with their mobile devices and bet whether we get a run or pass on third down. Maybe we’re going there. I don’t know. I can’t predict the future in that regard. It’s going to be fascinating, and I don’t know what’s going to happen.
I think my feeling is, this year anyway, kind of go the same way we’ve been going in a way. I think people — most people who have bet on the game don’t have to be told what the points spread is. I don’t know how it’s going to wind up at the end of the season. I think at the beginning I’ll probably go about it the same way I’ve been doing it in the past.
FRED GAUDELLI: And, I think that’s how I’m looking at it as well. I think when gambling intersects with editorial, like for instance the other night when we had the game, we were talking about Andrew Luck’s retirement and what it did to the predictive analysis, the Colts and their quest to win the division.
We put the graphic up. Before he was retired they were being predicted to win the division; had the most wins in the division. Then after the retirement, recalculated the numbers, and now they were predicted to come in last in the division, with a much lower chance of making the playoffs.
So I know Vegas had taken Week One’s game off the board. I think they went from 12 to 1 to 30 to 1 to win the Super Bowl. So, in think in instances like that where it really kind of crosses into the editorial, now that we have some of leeway, I could see us doing it.
But as Al said, if you bet the game, no one knows the points spread better than you. Or if you bet the over/under, you know it. I would see that part of it going the way it has been, but I agree with Al. It’s a great unknown.
Look, I think there will be some type of, you know, alternate gambling feeds perhaps sooner than later where you would be able to watch our game or any other NFL game and maybe the commentary would be more gambling centric or there would be a way for you to play a game. I could see that happening.
On the national broadcast, I still think it’s going to be somewhat isolated.
AL MICHAELS: Not to put too fine a point on it, but to me, the game is the thing. We’re there to report on the game. As Fred said, maybe there will be a special side door gambling telecast. To me, football is great, sports are great because of the competition and the drama and the excitement. If you get overwhelmed about all this craziness about betting on a run or pass on third down, to me you’re just losing the essence of why you’re playing these games in the first place.
Q. Fred, just a quick follow-up. Has the league ever given you any direction on sports gambling content where they have specifically said, ‘We’re comfortable with this but not that?’
FRED GAUDELLI: You know, from the time I started producing games in 1990, it’s always written in the TV contracts that gambling is not — talking of gambling is not allowed. We have always had that kind of restriction. That’s why Al was talking about the side doors he’s been coming in for decades now.
We’ve had conversations with the league this year, and really hasn’t been any certain course of direction. We’re starting to have those conversations about what’s possible going forward.
Q. On September 22nd, you guys have Rams at Browns, and it’s been a long time since Sunday Night Football has been in Cleveland. 1932 I think was the last time. (Laughter.) So have you thought about — and I realize we’re talking about one, two, three, four games in — but have you thought about what you might do in Cleveland specific to the fact that it’s a historic team, but a site you have not been at in a long time. I wondered if you’re thinking about something unique or special for that particular game?
FRED GAUDELLI: We have definitely talked about it. We’ve talked about it quite a bit. We haven’t been there since 2008. That’s the last time we were there playing a team that originated in Cleveland. The Rams were the Cleveland Rams before the L.A. Rams, before the St. Louis Rams back to L.A.
So, yeah, we definitely talked about it, you know, the atmosphere that night, especially if they can get off to a good start. They’ll play Tennessee on opening day and then in New York on Monday night the week before us.
If they can get off to a 2-0 start, you may have to figure out a way to keep the lid on the building. I think it’ll be pretty electric. But we’re excited to be there. We were hopeful that an early-season Browns game at home, because of the fact that we hadn’t been there in 11 years, 12 seasons.
So, yeah, we’ve talked quite a bit about it. The local atmosphere will definitely be a showcase that night.
Q. Fred, this is mostly for you. I guess curious to hear anyone’s thoughts on them if you have them. Going back to the camera angle question, you’ve been tinkering with a couple things, behind-the-quarterback angle and the sky camera for a little while now. What have you learned about this so far? Do you see a time when you do find something that works better than the status quo, low-angle sideline?
FRED GAUDELLI: Well, football has been covered essentially the same way — with obviously major upgrades in technology — but essentially the same way for as long as it’s been covered. You know, cameras on each 25 and a camera on the 50, depending on where the line of scrimmage is.
And so just trying to explore, Hey, is there a better way to do this? The behind the offense, you know, is the video game angle that tens of millions of people have played probably for the duration of their lives. People that have grown up probably in the ’80s and forward all play the Madden game or played the Madden game. That’s what they grew up with.
As you know, that was borne out of fog rolling into Foxboro and the only camera that could see the field was the sky camera. That would be, as most things are, the Mother of invention for that. We tried it a couple times and we actually audience tested it, and I think it’s pretty certain that most of the people would rather have the side viewing angle.
Even though there are tens of millions of people that have played video games; there are probably equally or more that have not. So they prefer that. We did audience research on that. That’s why when our Notre Dame group this year decided to cover the Blue-Gold game with a sky cam that could now sit on the line of scrimmage every play. We watched their; thought it was worth a try.
Again, I would like to see it again with some modifications. You know, shooting tighter, using the lens to zoom in more toward the end of the play in terms of the camera just moving across the field or up and down the field.
But it’s really all in search of is there a better way.
Q. Yes, that’s my question, whether after a couple years you think there is a better way or you think — what’s your level of optimism that you’ll get to the place of replacing the status quo on a permanent basis?
FRED GAUDELLI: Well, you know, it’s funny. I remember when I got ready to do my first Super Bowl back in the early part of the 21st century here. We talked about, Hey, could we put a rail up on the same level as the game cameras and just have the camera just go down the rail, up and down the rail, to be on the line of scrimmage for every play?
So we thought about that 18 years — well, 17 years ago. But to lay a track and to have a real camera, you’re not going to be able to do that in every stadium, and probably not going to be able to do it cheaply. So that wasn’t really — it’s a good idea; not really a feasible option.
But I do think if you had that, to be on the line of scrimmage for every play, I mean, that’s one thing I did enjoy when I watched the game back the other night. Being on the line of scrimmage for every play. What I didn’t enjoy was how wide it was and sometimes when the ball went to the far side of the field, away from the camera, how it was hard to see actually what happened.
Look, if we were able to dial this in more would it be better? I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know that you can ever do anything that’s 100% applauded by everybody. I think if you just sit back and do nothing that’s not — without trying, that’s not a great option either.
Q. I have a question for Cris then follow-up with Al if I may. Cris, eight months since the Bears/Eagles wildcard game, the term ‘double doink’ in the moniker here by which the entire city refers to that game. Curious, what is your recollection of how that description and phrase formed in your mind? As a broadcaster, what does it mean to you for your call to have such staying power and a strong association with that event?
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: Well, I don’t think it’s going to overtake, “Do You Believe in Miracles?” I mean, I was a kid, right, or a player when John Madden was doing it, and every time he hit the upright, you just waited for him to say doink. It became part of watching the game of football. Sometimes, and I don’t know if Al and Michele feel this way, but there are some games that you just get lost in. You almost forget you’re talking to 30 million people or whatever it is. It happens in the Super Bowl sometimes as well.
As I listened back to it I really didn’t think anything of it. I’ll be honest with you. But my son, Jac, happened to be in the booth with me. He came up to me afterwards and he said, ‘How did you do that? How did you come up with that?’ I go, ‘What are you talking about?’ He goes, ‘You’re trending on Twitter.’
And that’s never a good thing. Right, Al? You know that already. If you’re trending that means you’ve got to go meet with the boss somewhere at the end the it. I was really just thinking out loud. I can’t believe the Bears lost on a double doink. I don’t know. It was just one of those things.
When I go to Philadelphia now, when they’re not mad about something else with me, then I hear about that. I hear it a lot of places. It’s kind of funny.
Q. And Al, obviously you know a thing or two about this type of association. Curious to hear your reflection on what factors or circumstances lend themselves to such a strong association between a broadcast call and the way an event is remembered?
AL MICHAELS: Well, I think back to — and it’s funny Cris mentioned, “Do You Believe in Miracles,” which of course is 1980 U.S. hockey team. Then in 1984 when people were expecting the hockey team to pull it off again and they lost in the first game of the Sarajevo Winter Olympics in Yugoslavia.
This is an homage to a guy I’m sure you know very well, Bob Verdi, who worked for at the time the Chicago Tribune, and he covered the game.
If I was doing last year’s game on local radio, let’s say I was the Bears announcer, I might have said what Verdi put into his headline in ’84, “Do you believe in debacles?” So with certain things that just pop into your head, like Cris said, the genesis of Cris’ call goes back to John Madden creating that phrase, that sound of doink, and it goes from there.
You know, the great thing about sports is you don’t know what’s going to happen. If you go into a situation preordained with something you thought of beforehand and you say it, it just sounds rehearsed and trite and manufactured.
The great thing about what happens in sports and just seeing it with your mind’s eye, is, Hey, the words just come. Fortunately, they come double doink. There is no better way to describe what took place last January in Chicago.
Q. Al, curious about your thoughts on the significance for the league and for your weekly broadcast to have the Bears back at the level they’re at now?
AL MICHAELS: I think it’s great. The Bears are an iconic franchise. Through the years — I first started on Monday night; the Bears were hot. They were coming off a Super Bowl championship. They were ratings gold for ABC for a lot of years. When they hit the skids, that was not helpful. We need — there is very little question that the iconic franchisees, the Bears, the Packers, the Steelers, the Cowboys, the better they do the better it is for all of primetime television and the other networks as well. People want to watch these teams.
For us, we had a long drought in Chicago and we didn’t cover them for any number years. I remember when we got back into Soldier Field I think the first game we did there I said — I came on the air and I said, Welcome to Chicago, words that haven’t been uttered on this show at that point it was seven or eight years.
So to have the Bears, obviously major metropolitan area, iconic team, excitement, history, and all of that, it’s always good to have Chicago doing well for us. If you think about the games, you’ve got Green Bay in their opening night, tremendous. The Rams should be great.
And then toward of the end the season Kansas City comes into Soldier Field. So not only do we have the Bears, but those matchups look fabulous.
Q. Fred, can you explain a little bit about how you ended up with the games you did?
FRED GAUDELLI: Well, the NFL is as invested as NBC is in having marquee matchups on Sunday Night Football. Not only were the Bears good last year, they were pretty exciting. They definitely have an innovative young coach. They have a young team, a great defense. They have games that sound like big games. Obviously the first one, the Bears and the Packers, always sounds like a big game.
At the end of the year, we were intrigued by a Matt Nagy/Andy Reid matchup since Andy gave Matt his start. They coached together at two different organizations.
And then the Ram game last year, I mean, they were the first team that really kind of shut down that Ram offense. You’re talking about two of the top three television markets in America when you talk about Los Angeles and Chicago. NBC has owned and operated stations in both markets. Really makes a lot of sense for us.
So with the Bears you have a lot of choices because they play in a great division with a lot of good rivals. This year they had a great out-of-division schedule. There were probably six games would’ve been happy with, but I know there was special emphasis for us on that Kansas City and Los Angeles game.
Q. What’s the one that just kills you that you didn’t get?
FRED GAUDELLI: Well, you only get three, right? I mean, so…
Q. What was the one that didn’t make the cut?
FRED GAUDELLI: It’s hard to say. You definitely rank them one, two, three. I can’t tell you how I ranked it, but Minnesota is obviously — we had that game last year. That’s going to be a big game twice; you know that’s going to happen.
You know, the out-of-conference, or in the NFC, that Ram game was going to be a big one, especially when you have great offense against great defense. When you’ve got one side that you have the best of the best. That’s always really fun to televise and not speaking for Cris here, but fun to analyze on who gets the best of it.
Last year we had the Rams after the Bears game and McVay was still talking to us about how great that Bears defense was, so you know he’s cooking up some plans this year not to have that happen again.
Q. I have two questions. First one is for Al. When you think about doing play-by-play football, what is the one aspect that you think maybe people who don’t do it may not appreciate or realize is very important?
AL MICHAELS: Well, it’s evolved through the years for me. I think right now I think to be economical maybe. And I’m not saying going back to the way the games were done. Look at like a Ray Scott and how he did the games. It was different in those years. I don’t think you can do it quite at that way.
You need to evolve with the times, but you have to find the right balance. We’re there to supplement the game and not to overwhelm it. That’s the key. One of the keys to doing play-by-play is to feel the rhythm of the game and to feel where the game is.
I guess it goes back to all the years when I was a kid and I would watch games. You’re inside the game itself and you’re kind of looking at it like a fan looks at it. So what I always try to do is you don’t overhype the moments that don’t call for extra hype. People understand that a game — as I say, is always at a certain place. When the game gets exciting, get excited, get with it, but don’t go over the top.
When the game is not very good you don’t have to go into the ground with it, but try to make it a little bit better. Don’t try to gild the lily. Don’t try to put, as the old saying goes, earrings on a pig. You go with the flow.
It’s a good question, because it’s a question of philosophy and I guess it’s experience. But to me, I would say the most important element would be the rhythm of the game. You’re there to help the viewer understand for sure, to maybe educate them, to inform them, but it also not overwhelm the situation. Stay in sync with what they’re seeing with their eyes.
Q. When you look at when you first started as a broadcaster to now, what’s the biggest change for you now after all the years you been doing it?
AL MICHAELS: I would say one very big change is the fact the fans know so much more now than they did then. Everybody who watches football now and is a real football fan reads a lot, hears a lot, and I think they know so much more.
So you have to kind of roll with where they are and try to figure out, Hey, what do they know and what can I tell them that I know that they may not know? In the old days, 20, 30 years ago, you didn’t have the access, the Internet, all the shows that constantly talk about the National Football League.
So you would go in there and you had a bunch of stories that you could tell or insights that you could give that you know the fans wouldn’t have access to. Now the difference is that fans know so much more. They’ve been educated through the years. They have access to the Internet and everything else.
As a consequence, you can’t go back and tell them things they already know. You have to find the things that they don’t know to enhance their enjoyment of the telecast.
Q. The Texans have no general manager. They just lost their best running back. Jadeveon Clowney just fired his agent. They have Deshaun Watson and the Colts no longer have Andrew Luck. How do you see the Texans in this division shaping up this year?
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: I think you always have to start with the offensive line with that group. To be fair, I think to some extent the playing style of Deshaun Watson. In some ways he reminds me of Russell Wilson in that we always talk about, Oh, Seattle’s offensive line doesn’t do this and doesn’t do that, and yet Russell Wilson is the guy that is going to hold the ball and try to make plays and break down a defense with his movement.
Deshaun Watson is a little bit of that as well, I think. I’ll be interested to see what the Duke Johnson deal means, you know, obviously now more than ever, but I just don’t know.
And Al and I only get tastes of them because we don’t do as many games of theirs as we do the Patriots or Cowboys.
DeAndre Hopkins, to me, does things I’ve never seen before. He made a play in the game last year against Dallas that I’m still shaking my head over. So, I think this is — it’s easy to forget about this football team, I’ll be honest with you.
But they’re always — they made the playoffs there since Bill O’Brien has been there I guess four out of six, something like that, and, you know, won the division. So, it’s sort of the like Pittsburgh to me. Everybody wants to make a case for Cleveland or Baltimore or whatever the case may be.
Meanwhile, here is Pittsburgh with a same great defense, same quarterback. It’s like don’t forget about the team that’s done it consistently over time here.
But I do have to say this: I thought the way the Colts finished last year winning 10 of their last 11, something like that, that — and Andrew Luck, I assume being healthy going into the season — I thought not only were they the team to beat in this division, I thought they were one of the two or three teams to beat in the AFC, and clearly one of the Super Bowl contenders/favorites in my mind.
That’s about as stunning a bit of news as we could have come across here to start the season.
Q. Cris, I know you guys did a Steelers game on Sunday night. Even though they missed the playoffs, do you still consider them to be the AFC North favorites or do you look at a team like the Browns that have had the crazy amount of hype over the last nine months or so you, do you see them overtaking Pittsburgh and Baltimore to win the north this year?
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: If you want to, pick a team to win the All-Star Game, I think Cleveland is clearly the team. I mean, I go up and down the list with that team, and everybody has different feelings on Baker Mayfield. I think Baker Mayfield is tremendous. You may want him to tone it down, you may want him do this, you want him to do that. I’m talking about on the field. Our company PFF, we grade everybody every year, and before anybody had Baker Mayfield as the No. 1 pick we had him as the best player that we had graded in the five years of college football playing that position. His accuracy, his ability to lead the football team, second to none.
Then you put Njoku and Beckham and Landry around him, and Chubb, and then Hunt is going to come back presumably in the middle of the season. I mean, that’s an All-Star team definitely on the offensive side. Denzel Ward is as good as any cornerback on the defensive side. Who knows if Greedy Williams will end up being able to help them.
To me, the key to that football team is going to be inside. I’ve watched some tape already on Olivier Vernon and Myles Garrett and Sheldon Richardson and those guys working together inside. Nobody is volunteering to play that team.
That’s a little bit like what Houston can throw at you with three guys that can really get after you. Again, we’re all going to talk about quarterbacks and receivers; I think one of the strengths of that team is on the defensive line now, and one of the questions on the team now obviously is on the offensive line. How will they hold up there; the mobility of Baker should help in that situation, too.
Q. Who would you give the edge in the AFC North to if you had to pick someone today?
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: I tried to get off the hook, didn’t I? The funny thing is that we’re forgetting about Baltimore who won the division a year ago. I think it’s a little bit like the north. If you really pin me down, I still — I always start the year with somebody has to beat Pittsburgh. Until that proves otherwise, then that’s sort of usually where I start.
AL MICHAELS: (Regarding Bengals.)
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: Never sleep on the Bengals.
Q. Fred, the question is for you. As you go through the season memorializing the past, my question is, what kind of references, or are you planning any, with regard to some of the announcer greats that have worked for NBC through the years, whether it was Curt Gowdy or Charlie Jones or Dick Enberg and the moments they represented?
FRED GAUDELLI: We had talked about that in the off-season, we’re going to have an all-time team announced here I believe in Week 12. They’re going to be announcing it by position group. That’s going to go on for about six weeks.
There will be a lot of conversation, consternation, whatever you want it call it, when this team gets announced and who made it and who didn’t. Cris was a part of the show. He’s one of the hosts of the show. I was there when they taped it.
I think that’s going to be really fascinating and we’ll definitely be able to plug into some of that. But in terms of some of the really great broadcasters, I know first the televised professional football game ever was an NBC. I believe it was back in 1939. So I know we’re going to have a little bit of fun with that. That comes up in October.
We’ve talked about the Curt Gowdys and the Enbergs and all those great folks that have done it. Maybe at some point in the season we will look back at that and have a little bit of fun with it. I can’t tell you I have anything officially planned right now.
Q. Cris specifically, about the Green Bay Packers, a team with the new head coach. Typically you don’t get as much expectation in terms of championship possibilities from a team with a new head coach, also so much new personnel on the defensive side of football with a second-year defensive coordinator. What’s a realistic expectation for Packers fans here in Wisconsin to have with this team, and particularly also considering the help of Aaron Rodgers and the fact that he can always, in essence not necessarily win a game by himself, but carry most of the load as you experienced in game one last year.
CRIS COLLINSWORTH: I wish I had a different answer for you other than I don’t care who the coach is. If you have Aaron Rodgers as a quarterback, your expectation is to win the Super Bowl. Anything short of that is going to be treated as that.
The relationship between Matt and Aaron and the style of offense and how all that’s going to mesh and how soon it’s going to mesh and who gets final say over the play calling, and you can go right down the line with what may be the issues of that day, but this is a football team with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback that has to be thinking about winning a world championship.
I think you can go back to last season, and obviously have been studying a good pit bit of the Packers stuff we did last year. I really tried to go through Aaron’s season and all the throws. You forget that it really wasn’t until Week 7, 8, something like that, that I thought Aaron started looking like himself again. He had a serious knee injury on opening night and was very limited.
I mean, he was creative. He threw the ball away more than anybody has in the history of the game just trying to stay on the field, which was really job one for him at that point. But this is a team that the expectations are through the roof. I would love the soften the blow with Matt as a first-year head coach, but you don’t. Not on this team.
To me it’s like saying Pittsburgh or New England or the Rams aren’t expected to battle for the Super Bowl. The Green Bay Packers certainly are expected to play for the Super Bowl, and their opponent on opening night, they’re supposed to be there too, with Chicago.