June 15, 2014

Mike Emrick has come to realize sometimes the best hockey calls at key moments are no calls at all.
Paul Beaty/AP

Sports broadcasters call it "laying out." It's a term used to describe intentional silence from a play-by-play announcer. The best practitioners -- usually ones who are ego free on-air -- understand instinctively the importance and value of natural sound following an iconic moment. Mike Emrick, the voice of hockey for NBC and NBCSN, is one of those announcers.

Emrick stopped talking for 1 minute and 50 seconds on Friday night following his call of Alec Martinez's Stanley Cup-winning goal for the Los Angeles Kings. Viewers heard crowd horns blaring, Kings players' whooping it up on the ice, and the winning goal announcement from the public address announcer. What they did not hear was Emrick, which was perfect.

"As was the case with the 2010 gold medal game in Vancouver, it is an enormous moment," Emrick told SI.com on Sunday. "Since Sidney Crosby's shot was clear and clean and the shot by Martinez was as well (very visible from camera a rebound goal), other than saying 'The gold medal to Canada' or 'The Stanley Cup'...it then became a moment for the winning team."

"In both cases I had already identified the player and the goal scored, and what the goal meant in as few words as possible," Emrick continued. "So it was then sound and pictures. Our pictures took into account the losing teams as well as the winners. It was a chance since the vital information was done to let the camera guys and the director and producer (Jeff Simon and Matt Marvin) do their work with the pictures. In both cases, the home fans provided all the audio we needed. Before I said anything, I wanted the celebration-dejection shots to last as long as they had something to add. I asked on the intercom if we had a replay of the winning goal ready. Of course they did. So it was [analyst] Eddie's Olczyk role to describe the winner--and then leading to handshakes. No one in the truck said a thing to either of us until then. It was the same way in Vancouver. Nothing was necessary. The guys did a wonderful job with the pictures."

I have praised Emrick's work in this space often, and profiled him as well . He is the rare sports broadcaster who is exalted both by fans and those who write about sports media. You can feel his love of hockey with every broadcast, as well as his respect for storytelling and word play. In a world of back-back-back! vanity sports broadcast players, he is a rarity.

DEITSCH: Stanley Cup Roundtable -- the state of hockey journalism

Prior to his Game 5 broadcast, I sat down with Emrick at a New York City steakhouse. I told him I wanted to pass along some questions that I received for him on Twitter, including his relationship with the late, legendary Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell. As a first-year doctoral student at Bowling Green State University in Ohio in 1973, Emrick reached out to Harwell to be the de-facto adviser for his dissertation ("Major League Baseball Principal Play By Play Announcers: Their Occupation Background And Personal Life"). Harwell introduced Emrick to broadcasters and writers, hot dog vendors and ushers, and even procured a dugout interview for Emrick with Al Kaline. That linkage is very cool to think of today, paying it forward between the past and present.

Here's our conversation:

What was the best piece of advice Ernie Harwell gave you?

One of the questions I had for him was: "What makes for the greatest longevity?" He said you have to be able to ride with the tide. About the time I was asking him that, Billy Martin was the manager of the Tigers and with Billy there, I think Ernie had to ride with the tide with a lot of things. There were also a lot of life lessons from Ernie because he was a very devout human being. He used to say: "A man is lucky if God gives him a job he enjoys." He was right. Riding with the tide was something I always remembered. I had just come out of college and we were all sort of geared in communications to be on the edgy and belligerent side, and here was this man telling me if you really want to have a long career, you have to pick your spots.

How often did you show Ernie your work during the course of your dissertation?

He saw the whole thing. He was not one of the five guys who signed off on it, because they all had to have the doctor title. But Ernie read the whole thing, including all the surveys that I did. Today, it would be hard for me to do it if I received one in the mail. It was 35 pages long, and I asked every question I could think of about baseball broadcasters. I got 42 of them back and this was 1975. One of my hypothesis was there would be a lot of divorce, a lot of undisciplined living with all of the travel, and a lot of hedonism -- all of the things us philosophers think about when we are surrounded by tall buildings on campuses. Then you get in the real world and this doesn't matter. At that time, I had all of these high-minded ideas about the profession I was choosing, but hardly any of the guys were divorced and they all seemed to lead happy lives. In Ernie's case, he had a wonderful wife who understood the deal. You are lucky that way if you had someone at home who understood and Ernie sure had.

What games stand out the most among all the ones you've called?

There are sort of a top ten, and they are almost all Olympic games. There was the Capitals-Islanders' four overtime Game 7 in 1987, and a four overtime in 1994 between New Jersey and Buffalo. That game had 120 shots. Dominik Hasek made 70 saves and Martin Brodeur made 49, and then came Dave Hannan scoring the overtime winner. Also, the women's gold medal game in 1998 and then this last [2014] gold medal game. The men play in the NHL the next week, but these folks would have to wait four years again. They are such good people. The other one of course would be the [2010 Olympic] gold medal game in Vancouver. That was pretty special.

You famously called Brett Favre's first pass as a Green Bay Packer. What do you remember about that?

In 1992, Rick Gentile, CBS's senior vice president of production, said they needed a sixth crew for the NFL on some weekends. So occasionally during the season if it came to where CBS had to put together six crews, I did games with Matt Millen and Hank Stram. It was near the end of Hank's career, and all I did was hang around Hank, and be friendly and learn a lot about football. We went to the smallest possible markets, and I got Minnesota and Green Bay. Green Bay was not really great at the time. The first game Matt and I did was Minnesota-Green Bay. It was Matt's first-ever game and my first game doing the NFL. It was also Mike Holmgren's first game as Packers coach and Dennis Green's first game as Vikings coach. Fuad Reveiz kicked a field goal in overtime to win it. The next week (Sept. 13) we had Green Bay and Tampa Bay, and when Don Majkowski was not leading the team, here comes in Brett Favre in the second half. Every once in awhile they will show the footage of the call when he drops back to throw a pass and it is to himself. It hit a rushing lineman in the chest, and he caught the pass. So I got to call Brett Favre's first Packer pass -- to himself.

My Twitter followers were interested in your role in hockey's video games. How much work went into your appearance in the EA Sports NHL 15 video game?

They give you a scenario to do and in a perfect world, they'd like five or six different ways of saying the same thing that's describing the play. It is not written out for you. So sometimes I had to think, "Gee, how would I describe this?" Sometimes I wrote out little catch phrases for myself. I've never had to convert things out of my imagination like an actor would, and I've also not been so mentally tired. A regular hockey game does not tire you out that much mentally. We [Eddie Olczyk] worked 9 to 5 days, and they were very good to us. They give us lunch. They take breaks off and on, but you are really churning up in your mind a lot of imaginative things. You are sitting in a studio, and you cannot see a rink...I was in one college play, and that was the most mentally exhausted I had been prior to that. It was enjoyable, but you really get taxed. It's also not volunteer work (laughs).


SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the past week:

1. ESPN scored a P.R. coup with the addition of Landon Donovan for its coverage of the World Cup. Donovan will contribute analysis from the ESPN/ABC studios in Los Angeles with a focus on the U.S. team's three opening round matches: June 16 vs. Ghana; June 22 vs. Portugal; and June 26 vs. Germany. The network said he will contribute to pregame, halftime and post-match coverage editions of SportsCenter, World Cup Tonight and other shows.

Even if Donovan turns out to be a flat voice, it's worth whatever ESPN withdrew from its $6 billion ATM to pay him.

Donovan has currency as an active soccer player and high name recognition among American soccer fans given his three World Cup appearances, including his famous goal against Algeria in 2010. Most of all, U.S national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann's decision to cut him prior to the World Cup makes him one of the signature subplots of the American story in Brazil. Donovan's focus will be on the U.S. games, but he may discuss other Group G matches (Germany, Ghana, and Portugal) on the days he appears.

"He is the most iconic American soccer player and clearly with the story that has ensued with him not being selected to the team, he is somebody whose opinions will be important to our coverage," said ESPN executive producer Jed Drake, who is in charge of the network's World Cup coverage in Brazil. "Basically the day before and day of each U.S. match, Landon will appear on ESPN. In and around those days, we will also tape some things for SportsCenter and other shows. He will be a contributor, primarily in one-on-one or two-on-one types of situations, rather than larger group discussions."

Donovan's deal with ESPN does not extend beyond the World Cup. How confident is Drake that Donovan will be critical of the U.S. when criticism is warranted?

"I'm confident that Landon will be insightful," Drake said. "He's been with this team for a long time. He's going to be free to express his opinions, whatever they are."

The clincher was the most-watched Stanley Cup Final Game 5 since Pittsburgh and Detroit in 2008.
David E. Klutho/SI

2. The Game 5-clincher for the Stanley Cup averaged 6.0 million viewers on NBC, making it the most-watched Stanley Cup Final Game 5 since the triple-overtime game between Pittsburgh and Detroit in 2008 (6.2 million). Viewership was up seven percent over last year's Game 5 on NBC between Chicago and Boston (5.6 million). NBC said the game peaked at 8.5 million viewers from 12-12:30 a.m. ET.

2a. When the final viewership numbers come out from this Stanley Cup, they will be down from last year the six-game series averaged 5.76 million viewers, the most watched since 1994.

2b. The highest-rated television markets for Game 5: 1 Los Angeles; 2. New York; 3. Buffalo; T4. Boston and Minneapolis-St. Paul; 6. Pittsburgh; T7. Chicago and Providence; T9. West Palm Beach and Las Vegas.

2c. An era ends with this Stanley Cup in Canada as the NHL's media rights in that country will now shift from the CBC to Rogers. Here's CBC's closing montage (by producer Tim Thompson) for its six decades of airing the iconic Hockey Night in Canada program.

3. ESPN's World Cup production will have cameras at viewing locations around the U.S. for the U.S.-Ghana game on Monday (coverage starts at 5:30 p.m). Cameras will be set up on Adams Street in the Dumbo area in Brooklyn, the Steel Stacks campus in Bethlehem, Penn., and Grant Park in Chicago. ESPN will also have cameras in Ghana's capital of Accra.

3a. ESPN's World Cup coverage after four days has been very strong, featuring well-called game commentary and beautiful visuals on the production side. The studio programming has also been strong, and the standout performer for me so far is Roberto Martinez, the Everton manager who also stood out in 2010. Martinez really makes each of the postgame shows he appears on with his intelligent dissection of what is occurring on the pitch. The post-match conversations he's had with Michael Ballack and Ruud Van Nistelrooy have been enjoyable viewing. Gamecallers Jon Champion and Derek Rae have also been terrific.

3b. ESPN's coverage of the Brazil-Croatia World Cup opener drew 4.435 million viewers on ESPN making it the most-viewed opening game of the World Cup on record (back to 1994) according to Nielsen. The audience was 55 percent bigger than four years ago (2.856 million viewers) for the opener in South Africa. Saturday's coverage of England-Italy on Saturday drew 4.615 million viewers-- the most-watched non-USA Group Stage World Cup game (men or women) ever aired on ESPN or ESPN2.

3c. Univision coverage of Mexico-Cameroon averaged 5.0 million total viewers, topping ESPN2's coverage of that game (2.1 million) by more than double. The network said its coverage of the 2014 World Cup through Saturday (eight matches) was up 25 percent against South Africa and beating ESPN in total viewers by seven percent.

3d. ESPN World Cup analysts predicted the World Cup final here. Alexi Lalas and Steve McManaman better hope Spain finds its mojo quickly.

4. With gobs of attention on the questions from Bobby Ramos at this year's NBA Finals (Ramos was credentialed through an entity called Bottomline which Ramos founded and owns; he ended up getting national airtime with his Q's of Heat players LeBron James and Dwayne Wade and coach Erik Spoelstra, which the LA Times headlined: "Watch some guy named Bobby Ramos troll LeBron James and the Heat"), I figured you'd be curious how someone gets credentialed for the NBA Finals, so I tossed a couple of quick email questions to Tim Frank, Senior Vice President, Basketball Communications for the NBA.

SI.com: How does the NBA determine who is credentialed for the Finals?

Frank: Credentialing decisions are made on a case by case basis with numerous factors considered including outlet reach, history of covering the league, and total numbers we feel the event can handle.

SI.com: How often does the NBA decline credentials?

Frank: Often. This year we declined about 20 percent of our requests.

SI.com: How many media outlets/media are credentialed this year?

Frank: Approximately 1800 media or broadcast credentials have been issued this year from nearly 200 outlets. This includes international media outlets from 28 countries.

5. The Atlanta Falcons have been selected for HBO's Hard Knocks.

5a. Atlanta-Journal Constitution sports columnist Jeff Schultz is not a fan of the Falcons doing the show.

6. Five years ago ESPN profiled the remarkable friendship between a pair of former Cleveland high school wrestlers, a piece that ESPN reporter Tom Rinaldi described "as a wrestler who couldn't walk carried to matches by a wrestler who couldn't see." The network updated the piece last year and at the time I wrote the 21-minute video was "the best feature I've ever watched on ESPN." That opinion has still not changed. "Carry On" did not win a 2014 Sports Emmy, which is more of an indictment of that body, but last week it did win the Edward R. Murrow Award for Best News Documentary. I'd urge you to watch the piece if you have yet to see it.

7. Sports pieces of note:

•From the New York Times interactive and graphics crew -- the history of the World Cup soccer ball.

Philly.com's Mike Sielski with a beautiful piece on his three-year-old son, a Phillies fan.

•Great piece by Charles P. Pierce on the Triple Crown series of horse racing.

Sports Illustrated curated the 100 best World Cup photos of alltime.

•NYT's Jere Longman on Brazilian prisoners who manufacture soccer balls.

Deadspin's Greg Howard, a promising young writer, profiles ESPN.com columnist Jason Whitlock.

•Great work by Billy Witz on the remarkable parents of Spurs guard Patty Mills.

•Craig Sager Jr. writes about his father (TNT reporter Craig) on Father's Day.

•Really slick images and producing from SI Video staffers Lee Feiner and Jack Schurman, who are in Brazil for the World Cup.

Non-sports pieces of note:

New York Times writer Sam Dolnick on a 90-year-old cocaine courier. Terrific work.

•Why kindness is the secret to a happy marriage.

•The dangers for women who negotiate.

•TV reporter Miles O'Brien on what it has been like to lose his left arm.

8. What is the goal of a broadcaster hosting the World Cup coverage?

"I did the event in 2010 and I don't think I ruined the World Cup for viewers," said ESPN's Mike Tirico (one of ESPN's three hosts), by phone from Rio. "It's only a 22 minute pregame show and I am there to help the conversation along and to take us from Point A to Point B. I think I represent a lot of people watching the matches back in the U.S. I have two kids who play travel soccer and there are a lot of us in that generation who have been really exposed day in and day out to soccer through our kids. We have seen the true growth of that sport. We have weekend soccer matches and when I am home and can do the car pool or practice, the boys are talking about the EPL. They are talking about soccer rosters in-depth the way I spoke about major league baseball rosters with my buddies when I was 14."

Tirico continued, "I think this is an interesting assignment for all of us because the audience for soccer has become so much more educated in the U.S. There are so many different constituencies. I don't want to insult anyone along the way but also don't leave people along the road either. It's a vast canvass. My approach is center field-- a little to the right for the hardcore and a little to the left for the soccer newbies."

9. Nice work by ESPN producer Lydelle King (and Countdown host Chris Berman) with this interview of Erin Kelly, the daughter of former Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, who is battling cancer.

9a. Same with this terrific moment between ESPN NFL analyst Mark Schlereth and his baseball-pitching son, Daniel.

10. Props to Fox Sports Live executive producer Michael Hughes for hiring longtime NBA guard Jason Terry to work as an NBA Finals studio analyst for Fox Sports Live. Terry was smart and poised when I watched him during segments. He has a sports TV future if he wants it.

10a. Emrick owns three Stanley Cup rings for calling three Stanley Cups won by the Devils. He wears the 2003 ring, his brother keeps another ring and his nephew has one as well. Emrick also owns a Maine Mariners ring from 1979 as part of a championship won by that AHL team.

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