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A look at the NFL Network

In 2003, Rich Eisen left a job anchoring ESPN’s SportsCenter to join the newly created NFL Network.

Getty Images (2007)

In 2003, Rich Eisen left a job anchoring ESPN’s SportsCenter to join the newly created NFL Network.

If an NFL game is played in the forest and the whistle blows but no one hears it, does it make a sound?

Or something like that.

Every football fan's dream came true on Nov. 4, 2003, when the NFL launched the NFL Network, a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week, 365-days-a-year of nothing but football. But the nightmare for many, including those in the Tampa Bay area who get Bright House Networks, is the NFL Network isn't seen by a good chunk of the country.

And that's a shame because between showing games, more than 2,000 hours of original programming annually, exclusive coverage of the scouting combine, draft previews, a Sunday pregame show and several college bowl games, the NFL Network is a high-end, one-stop shopping outlet for the NFL fanatic.

We discussed the state of the network with two key members, Charles Coplin, the vice president of programming, and Rich Eisen, who hosts the network's anchor show, NFL Total Access, which will broadcast live this week from its massive set at the Tampa Convention Center.

NFL Network's slogan this week: "Everything but the game.''

Rich Eisen: "We will cover everything, from media day to news conferences to features and highlight packages. We'll go live all day, and you never know who might drop by our set. I remember one year, we had Bart Starr. And then Peyton Manning comes in. Then Tom Petty popped free and we brought him on. Then someone like Adam Sandler comes by. In those moments, you just shut up and let all of them just talk. You just never know, and it's a rush just to see who is coming on next because sometimes we don't even know who is coming on next. It's like the convention of pro football. The preparation for a show like that? Get a good night's sleep.''

The frustration of not reaching 100 percent of the country.

Charles Coplin: "Of course it's frustrating. We want as many people to see it as possible. We have what we feel is the No. 1 content for the No. 1 sport, and certainly, we would want to see that available to everyone.''

Rich Eisen: "Obviously, you want anything you do to be as successful as possible. As far as it not being seen, I use three coaching cliches for anyone who asks me about this. One, I don't have a crystal ball. Two, it is what it is. Three, I can only control what I can control. And really, that sums it up. Regardless of how many are watching, we are doing the best possible work we can do and we're very proud of what we do."

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NFL Network fact

The network launched in 2003 to 11.5 million homes and today reaches approximately 42 million U.S. homes. By comparison, ESPN reaches a little more than 90 million homes in the United States.

• • •

Rich Eisen left ESPN's SportsCenter to join the fledgling NFL Network.

Eisen: "Believe me, my seven-plus years at ESPN were ama­zing. When I was there, what an exciting time to be at ESPN. There were people there like Craig Kilborn, Suzy Kolber, Mike Tirico. Chris Berman was still doing SportsCenter. I used to do SportsCenter with Stuart Scott. But moving over to NFL Network was the only way I could express myself as a broadcaster. Hosting this program (NFL Total Access) with the ability to discuss issues with all sorts of people from players to executives to coaches to entertainers has been extremely fulfilling. The NFL Network, to me, is really a dream come true."

Seeing as how the network is run by the NFL, are certain stories taboo?

Charles Coplin: "We are the credible source for football fans, and we do not shy away from any issues. It was paramount when we started this network that it was our responsibility to cover all stories. And you see that we have; from Maurice Clarett to Michael Vick to the whole Bill Belichick (SpyGate) scandal to this year with Plaxico Burress (shooting himself). We cover firings, hirings and have never once been told to stay away from a story. And we never would.''

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NFL Network's most famous moment

At the end of last season, the Patriots were 15-0 and attempting to become the first team since the 1972 Dolphins to go undefeated when they went to the Meadowlands to play the Giants in the season finale. With still a large portion unable to see the game because their cable providers did not offer the NFL Network, a landmark deal was struck. The game, which the Patriots won to complete a 16-0 regular season, was produced and broadcast by the NFL Network but also shown on CBS and NBC — the first time since Super Bowl I that more than one network carried an NFL game.

• • •

This week's plan

Charles Coplin: "We have three approaches: getting everybody ready for the game by being on the ground in multiple locations bringing the viewers everything that moves. Then we have a library of old Super Bowls and historic games unparalleled by anybody. And we will cover the event that is the Super Bowl. It is a tremendous week, a cultural phenomenon. And it's our job to bring that all to the viewers.''

A look at the NFL Network 01/25/09 [Last modified: Sunday, January 25, 2009 8:22pm]

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