Home Sports Behind the Scenes with FOX NFL crew: Rodgers, Brady own spotlight

Behind the Scenes with FOX NFL crew: Rodgers, Brady own spotlight

by Atlanta Business Journal

By Richie Zyontz
FOX NFL Lead Producer

Editor’s Note: Richie Zyontz has been an NFL producer for FOX since 1994 and the lead producer for the last 20 seasons. He has more than 40 years of experience covering the league and has produced six Super Bowls. Throughout the 2022 NFL season, he will provide an inside look as FOX’s new No. 1 NFL team makes its journey toward Super Bowl LVII.

TAMPA, Fla. — Aaron Rodgers vs. Tom Brady. The reigning MVP vs. the GOAT. All week long, the two legendary quarterbacks dominated the conversation.

And deservedly so.

Green Bay‘s Week 3 trip to Tampa was an early-season blockbuster for FOX, perhaps the most anticipated game on the schedule.

“The Packers’ defense was the story of the game!”

Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen react to Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady facing off against each other in Tampa.

Rodgers and Brady were the main show. All other storylines — even between two talent-laden teams that won their divisions in 2021 — would be lost in the weeds. 

As a producer, it’s difficult finding the fine line between covering a story and “overcovering” it. I often remind myself and others on the crew to avoid going overboard on the quarterbacks. 

But this week, I’m pretty sure I led the charge in going overboard. So my apologies.

In our first two games, Rodgers and Brady were the two grumpy old men. 

In the Packers’ Week 1 loss at Minnesota, Rodgers was visibly frustrated with his young receivers, gesturing and scowling from beginning to end. 

Last Sunday in New Orleans, Brady was angry with the play of his struggling offense, slamming his helmet and tablet, and even getting in the middle of a full-scale brawl. 

Those were memorable moments and pictures. That’s what stars do. They command the cameras’ attention and never let go.

“Feel really blessed to still be here”

Tom Rinaldi caught up with Aaron Rodgers after the Packers’ 14-12 victory over Tom Brady and the Buccaneers.

And even though the defenses owned much of the day in Green Bay’s 14-12 victory, and both offenses were missing some of their key weapons, all eyes were on the QBs.

Considering these two legends have only met five times and Sunday’s game could end up being their final matchup, it was a day that called for the proper historical perspective.

A key member of the broadcast team

A broadcast breaks down into sounds, pictures and graphics, the information you see on your screen.

The sounds are courtesy of the audio crew, who make sure the announcers sound clear and sharp. Pictures are a collaboration of the video, camera and replay teams — hopefully ending with the director and producer making smart decisions. 

All the game’s storylines are chronicled, and the prepared graphics are reviewed during the Saturday night production meeting. (Photo courtesy of Richie Zyontz)

The editorial content of the graphics rests in the hands of the production crew’s youngest member, the broadcast associate (BA).

Many of sports television’s most experienced producers and directors got their starts working in the graphics truck as BAs. I sure did back in 1981. 

My mentor was Mike Arnold, a great friend and CBS’ longtime lead NFL director. My background as a security guard in the CBS building in New York didn’t exactly prepare me for a career in television, but Mike brought me up to speed prior to the season’s start.

The first announcing crew I worked with was veteran play-by-play man Lindsey Nelson and former Washington coach George Allen. At one Saturday production meeting in Pontiac, Michigan, George mistakenly thought I was the producer and directed all his observations to me. 

At 23 years of age and making my BA debut, I didn’t know whether the football was pumped or stuffed. But the attention was flattering — other than the death stares I received from the game’s actual producer. 

Several weeks later, I delivered a package to Coach Allen in his hotel room and wound up eating ice cream and watching game film with him. What a thrill at any age!

The role of the BA has evolved through the years. We had much fewer resources for information back then, pretty much relying on an NFL stats sheet and team media guides. 

Today, the volume of available statistics is seemingly endless, which means the BAs have more to filter through when deciding what information you see on your TV screens.

And if that isn’t enough responsibility, the BA also is at the center of planning all the logistics and providing the amenities that make the crew function smoothly and happily.

The current occupant of this crucial job is 31-year-old Casey Garland from Southern California. Casey wears Dodger blue on his sleeve and has been with us for five years. He is fortunate to work alongside veteran graphics operator Mark Fissore, who has been on our crew virtually as long as Casey has been alive. 

Along with statistician extraordinaire Jason Thornbury, Casey sifts through stats and info provided by Next GenStats, Pro Football Focus, Sportscan, Sportsradar and others. Casey has all the qualities demanded of the position: love of sports, reliability and smarts.

One day I might be working for Casey — much like with our former BA Eric Shanks, whose current day job is running FOX Sports.

Broadcast associate Casey Garland, left, and veteran graphics operator Mark Fissore had all the numbers ready for Sunday’s meeting between Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. (Photo courtesy of Richie Zyontz)

The production meeting

A standard of every NFL TV crew is the night-before production meeting, where storylines are discussed and graphic and tape elements for the broadcast are screened. 

In our group, Kevin Burkhardt, Greg Olsen and Casey have been communicating all week about pertinent stats that would make interesting graphics. This collaboration with the announcers is extremely helpful and makes our group function as a true team. 

Needless to say, we viewed at least a dozen Brady and Rodgers elements, highlighting the historical impact of this matchup.

A number of graphics were produced to capture the magnitude of the two legends’ careers. (Photo courtesy of Richie Zyontz)

Games often don’t go according to form. Points were at a premium Sunday, with so many receivers injured on both teams. 

Neither Brady nor Rodgers was at his best. In fact, a crucial delay of game penalty on Brady and the Bucs proved crucial in the game’s final seconds for a potential game-tying two-point conversion.

In the replay truck, Michael “Mookie” Brandt records the play clock into his machine for just such a circumstance — something he has done for years. His replay confirmed the proper call on the field in the game’s most critical moment.

Bucs’ two-point try denied

Tom Brady wasn’t able to connect with Russell Gage Jr. on a potential game-tying two-point conversion in the final seconds.

Casey and the graphics room provided all the necessary stats for the remarkable careers of Rodgers and Brady. 

Mike Eldridge, Jason Thornbury, Garland and Fissore, at their posts in the graphics room. (Photo courtesy of Richie Zyontz)

And just to prove that a BA’s job is never done, he arranged a postgame dinner for our crew to enjoy while watching Sunday Night Football.

Now, it’s off to Dallas next week for an NFC East battle between the Cowboys and Commanders. 

We go from Rodgers vs. Brady to Cooper Rush vs. Carson Wentz. Still, even with two new QBs and one new team nickname, the Washington-Dallas rivalry is one of the most storied in the NFL.

Richie Zyontz has been an NFL producer for FOX since 1994 and the lead producer for the last 20 seasons. He boasts more than 40 years of experience covering the NFL.


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