By David Zurawik
The Baltimore Sun
9:26 PM EST, December 23, 2012
What a pleasure it was to get the first team from Fox for the telecast of a Ravens game rather than the second or third crew from CBS as we usually do.
OK, maybe seeing the Ravens bounce back so decisively against the New York Giants, 33-14, has a little something to do with all the holiday cheer I'm feeling. But I really believe it has a lot more to do with the authoritative play-by-play from Joe Buck and on-the-money analysis from Troy Aikman -- without a second of gas-bag, hot-air talk from either of them all day.
And the guys in the booth were only part of the happy, holiday, TV package Fox Sports sent our way Sunday. The camera work was sharp, focused and engaging. I only saw the camera in the wrong place once. Once!
And the replays were downright stunning. Again, Team Fox only missed one -- showing a block by Ray Rice when they intended to show a penalty on an alleged chop block in the second half that was called on Michael Oher. The two are not easy to confuse.
But Fox seemed to have three and even four angles on almost every replay. A beautiful catch on the 1-yard line by Torrey Smith with 5:58 left in the first quarter was shown from three different angles at different speeds in replay so that viewers could truly appreciate what a great throw it was by Joe Flacco and what an outstanding catch it was by Smith.
The entire production was on another planet compared to CBS. The Spider-cam took viewers right into the heart of the action on the field from the opening shots. The field level, end zone cameras shot up into the stands and the lights and the Baltimore night making you feel as if you were standing on the field at M&T Bank Stadium.
And the coordination between the truck and the booth was spot on. With 12:10 left in the second quarter, Aikman started to talk about offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell and how he relayed the calls from the booth down to the field to receivers coach Jim Hostler who then sent them into Flacco. As he started the explanation, the director broke the screen into thirds with Caldwell in one panel, Hostler in another and Flacco in the third.
Memo to CBS: That's the way it's supposed to work with the images on the screen illustrating what the guys in the booth are trying to explain between plays. But then again, when you have the kind of crews that miss opening kickoffs, having three camera persons simultaneously shooting three different people and pulling all three images onto the screen at the same time probably does seem like something from science fiction.
Seeing Fox's first team also reminds you of what a cheap production CBS gives most Ravens games with no sideline reporters. Pam Oliver certainly paid more attention to Giants injuries than she did Ravens, but I am hoping that is because Baltimore didn't suffer a lot of injuries this week -- as opposed to weeks past. When Anquan Boldin went down hard and came up slow after another great catch over the middle in the second half, Oliver was on it.
I wish we had reporting like that in some of our recent games when important players were going down, and the CBS booth team of Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf didn't even seem to know who was or wasn't on the field. I get the distinct impression that if a team publicist doesn't hand or text the information to CBS Sports, it doesn't get reported -- and that they are just passing along what the teams tell them without verifying it. It's cheaper that way, isn't it?
I am sorry if it sounds like I am beating up on CBS Sports, but Baltimore fans need to know how we are being abused by such shoddy and cheap telecasts. And this Fox effort illustrates the gulf.
And how about Mike Pereira, the former NFL vice president of officiating whom Fox uses to explain controversial or confusing calls to fans?
With 7:27 left in the half, Jacoby Jones made a nice catch and appeared to break the plane of the end zone with the ball as he hit the ground. As the play was being reviewed, the director brought Periera on screen from the Fox studio to tell Buck that there was definitely something called a "second act" by Jones as he extended into the end zone, and so, the TD would stand as called on the field.
The officials promptly came back and said there was "no second act," and denied the Ravens the score.
While some might think the referees showed Pereira up, I would disagree.
The referees were questionable all day, and I enjoyed having Periera there to not only disagree with them, but to explain that the same crew was involved in a controversy earlier in the season when the ruled someone had committed to a "second act" when it later looked as if he had not. Someone needed to call these guys out, and who better than the former head of NFL officials?
Call Pereira and Oliver bells and whistles if you want. But I think they make for a richer viewing experience, and I applaud Fox for spending the money to have them.
In the end, it was Aikman more than anyone else who made this game such a pleasure to watch.
Typical of his analysis, was the explanation he gave after Ravens safety James Ihedigbo sacked Giants quarterback Eli Manning with 6:43 remaining in the first quarter. While Aikman praised the play, he explained that Ihedigbo was only in the game because Bernard Pollard had an injury. That might sound basic, but it is exactly the kind of context that CBS almost never provides.
The high end of Aikman's analysis Sunday came when he called out the playbook name of a play that resulted in a TD reception for Rice. As the ball left Flacco's hand, Aikman yelled out the play number, and after Rice scored, explained that deposed offensive coordinator Cam Cameron used that same short pass play to a running back with the Dallas Cowboys when Aikman was the quarterback. In fact, it was a staple that Aikman said he loved.
And there was no hot dog bluster or self-puffery in the explanation, Aikman just saw the play unfolding and couldn't help but call its name. I love his enthusiasm for the game.
As for pre-game and halftime Fox productions, I could have done without having to see Jimmy Johnson dancing onstage with the Brian Setzer Orchestra, which was providing boogie-woogie Christmas songs.
Yes, that Jimmy Johnson, the former Dallas Cowboys coach with the Plaster of Paris hair. And he thought he was rocking out. Think Earl Weaver trying to do the funky chicken, and you pretty much have the picture. I suppose from Johnson's pount of view it was less humiliating than having to work for Jerry Jones in Dallas.
But even Buck and Aikman mocked Johnson when halftime ended. And it wasn't part of the actual game telecast.Thanks to the football gods for this much-needed victory. And thanks to the TV gods and Fox Sports for helping Christmas come early with this winning telecast.
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