Take Note: How a lead play-by-play man prepares to call an NFL game
Perhaps you've said it while watching an NFL broadcast: I could call a game.
Newsflash: No, you couldn't. Calling a football game goes beyond a mere three hours of talking. For CBS play-by-play man Ian Eagle (above), the preparation starts every Monday at 8 a.m. and continues nonstop throughout the week as he scribbles down notes that, he says, "look like something from John Nash in A Beautiful Mind." Eventually those notes become these crib sheets, which Eagle worked from during the week 1 Dolphins-Redskins game. But the job is about more than just manila folders. "What separates guys in this business," says Eagle, is how they use this information during broadcasts in a way that feels organic, especially "when there are 20 other things happening around you."
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"People say. 'Oh my God, I can't read this.' And I'll say, 'You don't have to. I do.' A lot of people, like [CBS partner Dan Fouts], will type these notes out. I'm reluctant; there's still something about writing it down that gets it into my head."
"When the Dolphins went three-and-out on their opening drive of the season I remembered a stat I had: Miami had the fewest three-and-outs in the NFL last year. Nothing earth-shattering, but it was useful in the flow of the broadcast."
"I can go to commercial with these things, come out of break with them. For [Redskins QB Kirk] Cousins: Turnover prone, steady strides—things that will work their way on air. How much? Depends on the game. It's not scripted."
"I'll flip this sheet over when possession changes—defense is on the back. And this will live for the season. I have Miami Week 4 [against the Jets], and I'll use this."
"If the team makes changes, I make changes. It's a cruel world. If they pull a guy, he's injured, whatever, I cover him up. Backup QB Logan Thomas got released this week—there's an X through him."
"Height, weight, age, hometown—those rudimentary notes have to be in here. As the week and the year progresses, I add info that can help enhance the broadcast. It's not like I'm always starting from scratch every week. I have a dossier I've accumulated. Some of that info lives; some fades away. Then, if the game goes south, you have things to talk about."
"This is my little scouting report on [Dolphins QB] Ryan Tannehill: strong arm, calm demeanor, excellent mechanics, just signed a six-year $96 million extension, former wide receiver, degree in biology ..."
"When [Redskins wideout] DeSean Jackson went down with a hamstring injury, I knew my chart had the quick info I needed: Ryan Grant, second year, from Tulane, good hands, excellent route runner. It was easy to find in the moment.