NBC is billing it with a title befitting a Super Bowl:
Next week's Sunday Night Football telecast will be the 14th time Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning meet on a football field as pros. It is one of the signature games on the 2013 NFL schedule, and given the historical significance of the game, the core staff of SNF held a three-hour meeting last June 20 at NBC Sports Network's headquarters in Stamford, Conn. specifically to discuss ideas on how they could make next Sunday night's production special for viewers.
"I think what makes these games special is they play the position with an acumen not seen by many players," said SNF producer Fred Gaudelli. "Yes, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers fit there, too, but the command of everything around Manning and Brady is uncanny. We will have some nice, historical material, but I'm also looking for things in the game to showcase why these guys are two of the greatest to have ever played this game."
Drew Esocoff, SNF's longtime lead director, said both Brady and Manning will have a camera on them whenever they are on the field, and there will also be an isolated or hand-held camera on the quarterbacks when they are on the sidelines for situations that make narrative sense for viewers. (For example, if one of the quarterbacks is driving in the final two minutes for a victory, NBC will have an isolated camera on the opposing quarterback.)
This will be the fifth game Esocoff and Gaudelli have worked involving a head-to-head matchup between the two quarterbacks, with the Sept. 9, 2004 kickoff game between the Colts and Patriots being their first. The NBC staffers have also been part of two additional matchups between Brady and Manning's teams when one of the quarterbacks did not play.
Both Esocoff and Gaudelli said Sunday's broadcast will include many historical details regarding the quarterbacks (Brady's teams have won nine of the 13 previous games) but promised the broadcast would not inundate Brady-Manning facts on viewers if the game takes another direction.
"The trap you can run into when you have a game with two players standing out is if the game is 0-0 at halftime or 7-6 in the fourth quarter, you have to be ready to segue or shift your focus to what becomes important," said Esocoff, who has directed SNF since 2006 and held the same title for ABC's coverage of Monday Night Football from 2000 to '06. "If the game does not take the direction that 99 percent of the people thought it would take, we still have to be ready to cover what is in front of us."
One thing for viewers to keep in mind: Denver runs a lot of no-huddle, so it gives Esocoff and Gaudelli (and broadcasters Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth and Michele Tafoya) less time to focus on things away from the actual play. (There is more time this year with New England given the team has used less no-huddle.)
Both quarterbacks will meet with the core broadcast group in production meetings prior to the game and Gaudelli said he wants to learn from each how facing the other quarterback changes a team's mindset. "I want to know how does that affect your thinking?" Gaudelli said. "Peyton and Tom have been two of the best we deal with because while they are not giving you the dark, dark secrets of the offense, they are giving you clues as to what their thought process is going in, where they think they can have some success and where they might have concerns. The vibe is laid back and it's a good feeling when they come in. It's an open, honest dialogue and I think they know that we know what is for attribution and what is not. You always come out of the meetings with Brady and Manning with useful information for a telecast."
Esocoff said that NBC's airing the Broncos-Chiefs game last night gives the SNF production a crew an advantage heading into this week because it speeds up the previous week's production review. It also helps that the Patriots play on Monday Night Football this week, so SNF staffers can watch that game live instead of on tape.
Given the star power of next week's game, the Brady-Manning viewership number has a chance to one of the most-watched games of the year if the score is close in the final quarter. SNF had averaged 21.5 million viewers prior to the Broncos-Chiefs game, making it the most-watched show on television and the show's best 10-week start since 2006.
"It will come down to how close the game is, and obviously Thanksgiving weekend is coming, so there are some things pulling people's attention away," Gaudelli said. "But if the game is tight with these two guys, it should be a hell of a of a number."
The Noise Report
SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the past week.
1. The Richie-Incognito-Jonathan Martin story prompted a flurry of dialogue on race relations in NFL locker rooms as well as on the fusion of the n-word and sports. Race has always been a third rail topic for sports media outlets, but last week we saw many entities attempt discussion, to various levels of thoughtfulness. On this note I once again paneled a mix of sports writers and bloggers and college sports journalists to answer a question on the media entity doing the best job discussing the intersection of race and sports.
• Sarah Kirkpatrick, sophomore, Boston University.
• Brooke Pryor, senior, University of North Carolina.
• Aron Yohannes, junior, University of Wisconsin-Parkside.
What sports media entity does the best job discussing the intersection of race and sports and why?
Danielle: I'm not satisfied with any network's handling of sports and race. When situations like Incognito-Martin or the Riley Cooper tape come up, there are plenty of thoughtful folks who weigh in. For example, I was very impressed with Shannon Sharpe's take on the n-word. But race is a factor in almost every aspect of sports -- not just those situations in which a white person utters a slur. In a perfect world, there would be more writers and analysts thinking about racial and cultural implications constantly and applying that sensitivity to every story they cover whether they are in the TV studio as an analyst or working in the field as a reporter. On both the Incognito-Martin story and the Cooper story, from a television perspective, I was struck by the lack of journalists on TV with the chops to really tackle racial issues thoughtfully. It's great to hear from former athletes and get their personal opinions, but really, race is a topic that's been studied a lot. Where are the journalists who have read extensively on race, have educated opinions and can help the public understand context? [ESPN's] Bomani Jones is one of a few sports journalists I can think of who consistently provides an educated perspective on race. But, for the most part, the best writing on race in sports can be found outside of the confines of the sports networks, which is a shame.
Hubbard: I believe ESPN does the best job because they're more diverse than their competition. Guys like Michael Wilbon, Stephen A. Smith and even Bomani Jones have used their platform to speak on these topics regularly and more often than talent on other networks. While I believe that Charles Barkley is heard the loudest, he's only one person compared to the strength in numbers ESPN gives its readers.
Kirkpatrick: I don't think there's necessarily a perfect answer to this. My gut says Wilbon despite his comments earlier this week regarding Matt Barnes. But that's why I think he's one of the best in the sports media world when it comes to discussing race. I don't necessarily agree with him on everything, but I respect him immensely for being willing to speak his mind. And I shouldn't have to agree with him on everything. A topic like this should not be sugarcoated. It should not be comfortable to discuss. As long as an element of respect is involved, we need honesty from every side, and whether we are comfortable with that or not, we won't make any progress tiptoeing around the topic.
Littal: I think they all do a poor job and that is because the majority of the bosses in mainstream media are Caucasian males, so there are restrictions on how far they can take the discussion. While I strongly disagree with what Barkley and Wilbon said on the topic, at least they have enough pull on their respective platforms to speak about the topic honestly and that is the only way you can spark intelligent discussion. ESPN, because they have the most high profile and diverse reporters, ex-players and insiders, has the most influence in shaping the discussions, but even with them it is a fine line when someone goes against the norm (Rob Parker, for example). While I believe what Parker said about RGIII was ignorant and stupid, ESPN brought up the discussion and no one should be fired for giving an honest opinion on something the network decided to use as a discussion piece.
Jemele Hill and Michael Smith on their "His and Hers" podcast do the best job in the industry of having a discussion about race and sports that is intelligent and open-minded to all races. But until there is more diversity within the entire industry, not just on-air talent but management as well, the conversation will be watered-down. It's important that mainstream media doesn't swallow up [all] independent online media. Without those restrictions, we can speak directly to the people and not worry about being punished from someone sitting in a cushy office telling us how we should discuss race and sports.
Pryor: I don't know that one entity does the best job of discussing race and sports. Obviously there are some that don't do such a great job -- such as the Parker-RGIII blackness comments debacle on ESPN2 last year. I think settings like the panel on First Take have the potential to be constructive places to discuss race and sports, but at the end of the day, they usually cause more harm than good. Televised panel discussions can lead to talking heads responding before thinking. I think print publications, for the most part, do a better job at covering race and sports because the answers are more thoughtful and there's less room for a hothead to fire off a comment they would likely want to take back or rephrase after thinking it through.
Yohannes: There isn't a certain outlet that is clear-cut above the rest to me. If I had to pick one, though, I would probably have to go with ESPN. Even though I might not agree with opinions that some of the professionals on their network might have, they discuss it, and do the best job in my eyes compared to others. I'm not a watcher of First Take like I was a few years ago, but Stephen A. Smith does a great job speaking on race and sports, particularly in the African-American community. ESPN also brings it up during SportsCenter or other shows when needed to get perspective from former players and coaches.
1b. ESPN's Michael Wilbon on the n-word, through the prism of the comments by Matt Barnes.
1c. TNT's Charles Barkley addressed the same issue last week on Inside The NBA.
1d. So did NBA TV's Grant Hill and Isiah Thomas. It's interesting that NBA TV uses Thomas as a social commentator on language given the language he admitted to using around Anucha Browne Sanders. Thomas' words appeared heartfelt here but it's hard for me to get past the Sanders case.
1e. Showtime's Cris Collinsworth also addressed race relations in NFL locker rooms.
2. The Sunday morning pregame shows are very quick to release their viewership numbers when it benefits their narrative. (Fox NFL Sunday is crushing all morning pregame competition so far.) What hasn't gotten much attention is the rating of NBC's lead-in to Sunday Night Football. Prior to Week 11, Football Night In America had averaged 8.0 million viewers, up five percent from 2012 but down from 2011, when it averaged 8.3 million viewers.
2a. Solid work by NFL Network producer Brian Caruso and reporter Aditi Kinkhabwala with a feature on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
3. I interviewed Fox Sports NFL insider Jay Glazer last week for The MMQB.com on the methodology and questioning he chose for his Richie Incognito interview.
3a. The NFL Network will air a series of programming related to the intersection of football and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Check your programming guide this week for info.
3b. ESPN2's Outside The Lines brought in Dan Rather to narrate a piece on the NFL's decision to play games after the death of Kennedy.
3c. The NBC Sports Network will air a Kennedy-related Costas Tonight Special (No Day For Games: The Cowboys and JFK) on Wednesday at 11 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
The show examines the assassination 50 years later from the perspective of members of the 1963 Dallas Cowboys, including Hall of Famer Bob Lilly as well as quarterback Roger Staubach, who played in the 1963 Army-Navy game as a member of the Naval Academy and won the Heisman Trophy that season.
4. CBS Sports Radio host Amy Lawrence wrote a piece that described the verbal and sexual harassment, the double standards and the journey she's taken in the male-dominated world of sports radio. I'd encourage you to read it if you want a sense of what women in the field deal with every day.
4a. ESPN college football reporter Samantha Ponder on social media objectification and the roller coaster of affirmation and rejection.
5. New York Times national political correspondent Jonathan Martin has had an eventful two weeks on Twitter given he shares the same name as the Dolphins offensive lineman. He wrote about his experience here and I emailed him on Sunday to ask how things were going.
"Since my story in the Times, the confusion has abated," Martin said. "But it has not stopped entirely. Particularly when the other Mr. Martin is in the news -- when there's a new development in the story or he shows up at the Stanford game -- a flurry of expletives will appear in my feed. But the difference now is that a bevy of other Twitter users will, without my prompting, mock the misbegotten. Since my piece, I've heard from a few other "Jonathan Martins." One of the fellows I included in the story also got word that he was in the Times and effectively doubled down on his attack. There was a four-letter [word] involved, of course."
6. One of the hallmarks of ESPN's College GameDay is its high standard for long-form features, and producer Nancy Devaney and reporter Shelley Smith delivered a terrific piece Saturday on Orange Lutheran High School long-snapper Jake Olson, who is blind. The feature is definitely worth your time.
6a. Fox Sports -- who, depending on the week and sport, either loves or hates when ratings are reported -- pummeled reporters last week with press releases on both its college football game coverage and the overall ratings of Fox Sports 1. Why, you ask? Well, Fox Sports 1 averaged 630,000 viewers in prime time and 157,000 viewers total day between Nov. 4 and Nov. 10, recording its best overall numbers since launch. Why? The network drew 2.1 million viewers for its Oklahoma-Baylor telecast, the most watched telecast ever on Fox Sports 1 and a viewership number that surpassed every college football game on FX in 2011 and 2012.
7. It was great week for sports pieces of note:
• ESPN Fantasy sports analyst Matthew Berry wrote thoughtfully about being bullied as a youth and how the fear never goes away.
• Writer Amy K. Nelson on how women in the sports media are systematically at a disadvantage.
• A college football player's death from brain injury was called an accident. Then a haunting email arrived. Nathan Fenno of the Washington Times has the story.
• Michael McKnight examined the Sam Hurd cocaine bust for SI.com.
• USA Today's Nicole Auerbach on why women do not coach men's college basketball.
• SI Video produced a terrific piece on the football team at Chicago's Wendell Phillips Academy. Kudos to executive producer Collin Orcutt, director of photography Mike Bozzo, editor Nolan Thomas, assistant editor Lee Feiner and lead researcher Alex Hampl.
• Grantland's Jay Caspian Kang on what happened at the home of former NFL player Brian Holloway.
• New York Times reporter Bill Pennington on Giants running back Michael Cox, whose police officer father was beaten by fellow officers.
It was even better week for non-sports pieces of note:
• The Atlantic had a detailed examination of the McRib sandwich.
• Terrific piece by Meagan Flynn on the one-woman town (yes, population: 1) of Monowi, Nebraska.
• Here's how the initial moments of the Kennedy assassination were covered on television. Riveting stuff.
• Via The New York Times Magazine: What is the real value of stolen art?
• A generation of educated 20- and 30-somethings in Europe cannot find work.
• A 35-year-old writes an op-ed for the New York Times on the life of a 30-something virgin.
• Thoughtful piece by New York Times reporter Annie Lowrey on the long-term unemployed in the U.S.
8. Through its first nine weeks of the season, CBS said its SEC football coverage had averaged 6.4 million viewers, making it the most-watched SEC package on CBS at this point in the season since the network began airing primarily an SEC-only schedule in 2001.
8a. CBS' coverage of Alabama-LSU on Nov. 9 drew 11.9 million viewers. That's the second most-watched college football game this season behind Alabama-Texas A&M on Sept. 14, which drew 13.4 million.
9. Tune in alert: Charles Barkley will serve as an analyst alongside Marv Albert and Steve Kerr for the Clippers at Thunder on Thursday at 8:00 p.m. on TNT.
9a. NASCAR six-time champ Jimmie Johnson will guest host the 6 p.m. edition of SportsCenter on Tuesday, making him the first athlete to be a SportsCenter guest host. Johnson follows Billy Crystal and Ken Jeong as non-traditional hosts for the program. Here's my piece from earlier this month on SportsCenter and celebrity hosts.
10. The weekly Outside The Lines-has-been-buried-by-ESPN management update: Last Sunday's OTL aired at 7 a.m. ET on ESPN2 and drew 219,000 viewers. Colin's New Football Show aired one hour later and drew 196,000.
10a. MLB Network hired Mark DeRosa last week for an on-air analyst position. He'll join MLB Tonight on Dec. 9 from the Winter Meetings in Orlando, Florida.
10b. The Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism will host a panel on "The Future of Sports & Television" on Nov. 20 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Eaton Theater of Knight Hall on the University of Maryland campus. Among the panelists: ESPN baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian, Sports Business Daily media reporter John Ourand, and Washington Post media writer Paul Farhi. ESPN's Kevin Blackistone and former Washington Post sports editor George Solomon will serve as co-moderators.
10c. ESPN's coverage of Michigan State's win over Kentucky averaged 4,002,000 viewers, the second most-viewed, non-conference men's college basketball game aired by the network.
10d. The NFL Network will air a one-hour documentary Tuesday at 9:00 p.m. ET on the implementation of the forward pass into the game of football.
10e. truTV will televise the 2013 Coaches vs. Cancer Classic next Friday and Saturday from Barclays Center in Brooklyn, including No. 2 Michigan State against Virginia Tech. Brian Anderson will call the games alongside analysts Greg Anthony and Steve Smith.
10f. Northwestern's football team is 0-6 since ESPN descended upon Evanston, Ill. and dropped this in-house press release celebrating the occasion.
10g. HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel airs its 200th episode on Tuesday at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT on HBO. Among the stories featured are correspondent Bernard Goldberg profile of Denver Nuggets coach Brian Shaw and the impact of the 1993 car accident that killed Shaw's mother, father and sister.
10h. Len Bias would have turned 50 today. Here's the June 30, 1986 cover of SI that still stays with me today.