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What it’s like for Fox Sports cameras to keep track of Tom Brady, Bucs on game days

Whether the Bucs are winning or losing, the game-day crew knows the future Hall of Famer’s performance is one story line that will feature prominently.
Fox Sports offers a behind-the-scenes look at the planning and in-the-moment decision making that goes into live NFL games.
Fox Sports offers a behind-the-scenes look at the planning and in-the-moment decision making that goes into live NFL games. [ RACHEL WEST | Times ]
Published Jan. 16

TAMPA — Organized chaos.

That’s how NFL on Fox director Rich Russo likes to describe all the work that goes into executing a live event television broadcast.

Led by Russo and NFL on Fox producer Richie Zyontz, hundreds of people will be helping deliver the Bucs-Eagles wild-card game to millions of homes throughout the country (1 p.m. today). This includes Fox employees working onsite here in Tampa and back in the studios in Los Angeles.

With constant communication between so many people and an unlimited number of split-second decisions to be made, the chaos is no surprise.

“You have to really use your instincts,” said Russo, now in his 28th year with Fox Sports. “You have to be quick, but you have to be calm. That’s really really important.”

The importance of keeping calm only escalates for a game like the one between the Bucs and Eagles. Not only is it a playoff game featuring the defending Super Bowl champs, but they’re also hosting a postseason game for the first time in more than a decade (last year’s Super Bowl technically was a neutral-site game), and oh yeah, they have the greatest quarterback of all time leading the way.

“You’re looking at multiple monitors, you’re talking to multiple people, you’re trying to follow the announcers and make sure you’re in sync,” said Zyontz. “So that’s where if we’re doing our job, it looks seamless at home, yet behind the scenes, it is a flurry of activity and decision making.”

Preparation is key. On top of the seemingly endless amount of information there is to know about the teams and story lines that could play out, for this broadcast, there are also 23 manned cameras throughout the stadium to be aware of, each with a different angle of the action. And that doesn’t even include other cameras like the pylon cams and cable cam.

Having a firm grasp on all of this information is a necessary component of a successful broadcast. But after four decades of network television experience, Zyontz knows being able to adjust on the fly is even more crucial.

“Every week the game takes you in a direction you might not have expected, and you have to just react. You can’t go in planning a live event.”

With that said, there is one story line that will always be an element of any Bucs broadcast. And you don’t have to look past his seven Super Bowl rings for the reason why.

“Tom Brady is always a focus,” said Zyontz. “Whether he’s playing well or he’s not playing well. And because he’s the quarterback, it’s something we can never lose sight of.”

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“Maybe Philadelphia goes on a long drive, and we haven’t seen Tom Brady (in a while), so we’ll check in with Tom Brady,” said Russo. “Sometimes the camera people will just know because that’s who they know we’re looking for, or maybe I have to tell them, ‘Hey camera 42 or camera 12, get to Brady after this play.”

Come game time, no one knows how the events will unfold or what direction the broadcast will go. But there are two certainties: 1. Tom Brady will get a lot of screen time 2. Chaos will be ensuing behind the scenes … organized chaos, of course.

Stay tuned for more behind-the-scenes looks at Fox Sports broadcasts.

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