Sports Illustrated talks with NBC's Larry Collmus about calling American Pharoah's historic Triple Crown win at the Belmont Stakes. Plus, thoughts on the Women's World Cup on Fox Sports.
If you happened to have one of the adjacent rooms at the Garden City Hotel in Long Island last week, you could hear a man calling the stretch run of Belmont Stakes. The man did this over and over and over again in the event history struck at 6:54 p.m. ET on Saturday night in nearby Elmont, New York.
“I wonder how much the people in the next room heard,” said Larry Collmus, who called American Pharoah’s win for the ages for NBC Sports and Belmont Park. “I was practicing calling the stretch run, just trying to get the feel of how I wanted it to sound. You know what you want to say but you want to hear how you want to say it.”
History now owns Collmus’s call, and it was a terrific one. Here’s the text of the final furlong and a video of the call.
And they’re into the stretch, and American Pharoah makes his run for glory as they come into the final furlong. Frosted is second. With one-eighth of a mile to go, American Pharoah’s got a two length lead. Frosted is all out at the sixteenth pole. And here it is! The 37-year wait is over! American Pharoah is finally the one! American Pharoah has won the Triple Crown!”
During an interview with SI.com on Sunday, Collmus said he was happy how the moment played out for millions at home and 90,000 at Belmont Park.
“It came out the way I wanted it to come out,” said Collmus, who also works as the track announcer for Belmont Park. “There is such an intense amount of pressure under that situation because you don’t want to be the guy who calls a Triple Crown winner and does a bad job.”
Often times announcers facing milestones will pre-write what they want to say when the historic moment occurs. Collmus said he had something in advance written but did not look down at the note card he brought.
“Pretty much what came out was what I wanted to say for the situation,” he said. “Luckily the words came out the way I wanted them to.”
Prior to his call on Saturday, Collmus said he listened to the call of previous Belmont Stakes, especially Chic Anderson’s calls of Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed competing the Triple Crown. During the week leading up to the Belmont, Collmus also listened to the calls of the many Triple Crown failures at Belmont.
“I wanted to get a feel of how that was done, the many calls from Tom Durkin [his predecessor at NBC], and I did it myself last year with California Chrome,” Collmus said.
Collmus said he has watched the replay of the race maybe 100 times over the last 24 hours and if you happened to see NBCSN show the video of him calling the race, you’ll see him fist-pumping away as American Pharoah crosses the finish line. “It was such a magical moment that I could not get enough of it,” Collmus said. “It had nothing to do with my call or hearing my voice. I just wanted to re-live the experience over and over.”
After the Belmont Stakes—and this kind of amazing—Collmus called the final two races (Races 12 and 13) on Saturday’s Belmont card as part of his main job. He finally fell asleep at 2 a.m on Sunday with the help of an Ambien and on Sunday morning he was right back at Belmont Park to call that day’s races. He will call the rest of the current Belmont meet through July 19 before moving to Saratoga for that meet and then back to Belmont for the Fall Championship. He’ll then head to Gulfstream Park in Florida to call races during the winter. As for mementos, Collmus said he kept a program from yesterday, his on-air notes and his media credential.
Now that he has called a Triple Crown, one wonders if every other race will be a letdown?
"Everything will be the same as it was before as far as my enthusiasm for the races," Collmus said, “but I did jokingly say to my friends last night: 'Now, what?'"
THE NOISE REPORT
1. NBC’s work on the Belmont Stakes was strong overall, especially the moments leading up to the race and the immediate post-race coverage where producer Rob Hyland and director Drew Esocoff were on point using the images and audio of the crowd and the track as part of the narrative. On Sunday I emailed Hyland some of my questions about the broadcast, including some offered by viewers on Twitter.
SI.com: How would you assess the broadcast, particularly the final 30 minutes?
Hyland: Overall, I was very pleased with the telecast. I think our production team did a good job presenting the stories of this year’s Belmont and a good job of showcasing all aspects of the story of American Pharoah. I’m proud of how we handled the end of the race. In terms of the full show, the first two hours were tightly formatted with a number of production elements including features, bumpers, animated graphics and race analysis packages. When American Pharoah crossed the finish line, the production philosophy was very simple: document the moment and let the moment speak for itself. When Larry Collmus finished the race call, there was very little said by the announce booth (Tom Hammond, Jerry Bailey and Randy Moss). Director Drew Esocoff and I had discussed the sequence of images as the horse crossed the finish line and I think we captured the scene very well. It was simple but it worked—nothing needed to be said and nothing else from a production standpoint needed to be introduced.
After Larry’s call, the broadcast went silent for a couple of seconds. There was a shot of trainer Bob Baffert and his wife, then back to the track, then to the crowd, then back to the horse. Then finally Tom Hammond’s voice. Who made the decision to go silent for those seconds?
Tom and I had made that decision well in advance. In my opinion, nothing needed to be said when American Pharoah crossed the finish line. This was a great moment in sports history. What could have been said that would have elevated the moment even more? As I said earlier, the goal was to document the moment and let the moment speak for itself. By remaining silent in the broadcast booth, I think we provided the viewers with a similar experience to what the 90,000 screaming fans at Belmont were relishing: the deafening noise from a celebration 37 years in the making.
If the horse won, the plan was to show the horse and each connection (Baffert, [owner] Zayats, [jockey] Victor Espinoza) and the scene, but never be away from the horse for more than one shot. Over the past year, Baffert had spent nearly every day with American Pharoah getting him ready for this moment, so he made the most sense as the first cut.
You had a mic on Victor Espinoza in the post-race and a “holy s---” got through. How did that happen?
For many years, at all Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup races, we have used a microphone on the outrider (who rides up alongside the winner shortly after the finish). On Saturday, there was a live microphone on the outrider once again to capture this potentially historic moment. It was unscripted and emotional. Those things happen on occasion in live TV. Having worked on horse racing with NBC for more than a decade, this was a rare occurrence.
[daily_cut] How many cameras did you have access to for the race itself?
About 15 cameras were dedicated to race coverage.
How much, if it all, did you consider telling Tom Hammond to mention the dude dressed up as the Burger King mascot?
Tom was focused on Baffert and the potential for horse racing history. We were about two minutes to post time and we were all-in on the story of American Pharoah’s race for the Triple Crown.
There was a specific order after the race on interviews (Espinoza by Donna Brothers, then Baffert by Kenny Rice). How did you determine that order?
If the race went off without incident, Espinoza was always the first interview, win or lose. Baffert was most likely second but we could have gone to the Zayats first.
How much extra time did you get on NBC because of the Triple Crown win?
We knew we had the hockey game to get to and that we were going to show the Triple Crown ceremony, which no one had seen in 37 years. We were also able to do another 20-plus minutes of post-race coverage on NBCSN, during which we showed additional replays, analysis and interviews. We had multiple timing scenarios planned in advance and executive producer Sam Flood was in our production truck to oversee the transition to hockey. Sam worked with me and our associate director Betsy Riley, and Betsy communicated timings to the production team in Tampa.
1b. The top-rated markets for the race portion of the Belmont Stakes
3. Tampa-St. Pete
4. Ft. Myers
5. New York
6. Oklahoma City
1c. NBC’s pre-race simulation was on the money: The network had American Pharoah jumping to the lead and winning wire-to-wire by four lengths (he won by five and a half). It also had Frosted second.
1e. Thanks to the Belmont lead-in, Game 2 of the Blackhawks-Lightning series drew a 4.8 overnight rating, NBC’s best Stanley Cup Final Game 2 overnight ever.
2. The fifth episode of the SI Media Podcast features Mike Emrick, the lead broadcaster for NBC's coverage of the NHL and the voice of the Stanley Cup Final, and NBC Sports horse racing reporter Donna Brothers. You can listen on Soundcloud and via iTunes here.
On the podcast, Emrick discussed how he prepares for a broadcast, being mentored for his doctoral dissertation by the late Ernie Harwell, how he uses silence in a broadcast, his lexicon during games, and the love that he and his wife have for rescue animals and more. Brothers talked about the challenges of covering races on horseback (she said it's not as tough as it looks), jockeys who offer thoughtful and forthcoming responses, what makes American Pharoah such a standout amid other thoroughbreds and more.
Emrick on Ernie Harwell: "It was like being at the foot of a great teacher. I recorded two or three long interviews before Tigers games and the life lessons were enormous. I realized that Ernie Harwell was an incredible broadcaster but he was a really special person. He was a man of great faith, he was a man that put all of the gifts God gave him into doing the work that he did. But equally of importance, I would walk with him in the hallways and down toward the press room at Tiger Stadium and you would see hot dog grillers, and the guys who were selling scorecard once the gates opened, they all noticed he was coming. And you could sense that they all hoped he would come over and say hello because he knew them all by name and one day he stepped forward and said, 'Shake hands with a friend of mine, Mike Emrick.' He would introduce me by name to the person getting the hot dogs ready and the scorecards. There was no one that was really beneath Ernie Harwell. He was just a good soul."
3. Soccer fans: A mega-guide to how Fox will broadcast the Women's World Cup.
3a. Here’s what Fox Sports GO will be offering for the WWC including live streams of three alternate feeds in addition to streaming all 52 games.
3b. For those of you who asked about Fox’s graphics (which are very strong) for the Women’s World Cup—some on Twitter were troubled by the small size of the scoreboard —a Fox Sports spokesperson said the graphics are built by Fox Sports, “but must conform to FIFA specs, which are exacting. And FIFA must approve.” Fox has been on-point with its intros to games and graphical elements so far. As some of you have mentioned, I feel your frustration regarding FS2 not being carried in HD by some carriers.
3c. Telemundo, NBC Universo and NBCDeportes.com own the U.S. Spanish-language rights for the Women’s World Cup Canada. This is the first time all 52 matches of this tournament will be available in Spanish in the United States. NBC Universo will broadcast all first round matches of the USA national team, Telemundo will air all of the Mexican women’s team’s first round games: the final will be broadcast on Telemundo. You can stream every game live on NBCDeportes.com.
3d. Here’s the list of broadcasters for the Telemundo, NBC Universo and NBCDeportes.com coverage.
4. Sports pieces of note:
• Pro Publica’s David Epstein on ex-OregonProject runners and employees accuse Alberto Salazar of breaking drug rules.
• How reporter Andrew Jennings exposed the FIFA scandal that toppled Sepp Blatter.
• SI’s Grant Wahl profiled Abby Wambach in this week's Sports Illustrated.
• Grantland's Jason Concepcion on Andrei Kirilenko's likely NBA retirement.
• The MMQB’s Emily Kaplan had an excellent piece on Nick Hardwick’s post-NFL weight loss.
• Reeves Wiedeman for New York Magazine: Gordie Howe had a stroke, went to see a doctor in Tijuana, and then things got complicated.
• Jordan Zirm on the social media animus for ESPN’s Brian Windhorst (ridiculous, in my opinion).
• SI’s Lee Jenkins on the origins of Oracle's noise.
• Interesting story from Sports Business Daily from 2006 involving ESPN, NBC and Chuck Blazer's role in getting ESPN the World Cup.
• Via Bruce Feldman: The story of how Bob Stoops and Oklahoma turned a visitor from Japan into family and sparked a Far East football power.
Non sports pieces of note:
• Barack Obama's eulogy for Beau Biden was beautiful. I hope people read and share it.
• The Washington Post examines the politics of the Caitlyn Jenner story.
• Loved this from QZ: Here’s what people did before they could Google things.
• Via Tim Carmody: Why Iceman is the true hero of Top Gun.
• People 85 and above are one of NYC's fastest growing groups, but they are almost invisible. Nice work, John Leland.
• Via The Washington Post: The inside story of how the Clintons built a $2 billion global empire.
• Lester Bower was executed despite serious questions over his guilt.
5. I don't know Jesse Temple but I admire his honesty here and he strikes me as a really good hire for someone.
5a. University of South Carolina-Beaufort pitcher Jason Boulais will be in attendance as a special guest of MLB for Monday’s MLB draft. The draft will air at 7 p.m. ET on MLB Network, with a pre-draft show beginning at 6 p.m. ET.
5b. The first film from NBC Sports Films, "Center of Attention: The Unreal Life of Derek Sanderson," will premiere Monday night on NBCSN following Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Lightning and Blackhawks. The film, a one-hour documentary on former NHL star Derek Sanderson, is narrated by "Mad Men" actor John Slattery. Here’s a preview.
5c. ESPN’s coverage of the 2015 Women’s College World Series was the most-viewed Women’s College World Series on record with an average of 1,196,000 viewers (15 games) from May 28 – June 3. Florida’s three-game win over Michigan averaged 1,912,000 viewers (June 1-3), the most-viewed WCWS Championship Finals ever.
5d. Serena Williams’s three-set French Open win over Lucie Safarova drew a 1.88 overnight rating on NBC, up 21 percent from last year’s women’s final.
5e. Bob Ley has signed a long-term extension with ESPN to remain with the network. Ley is ESPN’s longest-serving commentator.
5f. Sports Business Daily media reporter John Ourand reports that NBC will take over ABC/ESPN's Britsh Open rights and that the network doubled the rights fee payout for the British Open days after its Golf Channel had to lay off around 30 people.
5g. As my colleague Grant Wahl pointed out, ESPN recently offered divergent looks at Hope Solo: First, there was this superbly-written but very friendly-to-Solo piece in the latest ESPN The Magazine. Then on Sunday came a blockbuster "Outside The Lines" report by Mark Fainaru-Wada and producer Simon Baumgart featuring documents revealing new details about Solo's actions last June. As far as corporate synergy, add this to the brew: "Good Morning America" offered Solo little resistance during a February appearance that the show billed as an exclusive. If you are having trouble keeping up with all the Solo narratives here, we feel you. No ESPN bashing here, though. I give the company credit for running a piece ("OTL") that knocked down coverage from another part of ESPN. (I’ll imagine it created a little tension between management in those ESPN groups.) "OTL" also was very clear in the role "GMA" played in prompting Hope Solo's half-sister, Teresa Obert, to speak to "OTL." You can wonder whether ESPN would be running these pieces if they had the rights to the WWC but "OTL" did the soccer public a service with its reporting.