Sunday, December 4 2022

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.

The NFL’s 103rd season is off and running. For me, it’s year 42, but collectively for my FOX broadcast crew, it’s our rookie season together. 

Our booth is now led by Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen, who along with Erin Andrews, Tom Rinaldi, and Mike Pereira form our network’s lead broadcast team. Kevin and Greg have spent one year together as partners and have developed a very comfortable chemistry.  

Now, the mission is to build similar bonds throughout our entire team as we embark on the long road to Super Bowl LVII on Feb. 12 on FOX.

Behind the Scenes: Aaron Rodgers’ struggles in Packers’ loss

Listen in to the communication between FOX producer Richie Zyontz, director Rich Russo and their broadcast team as they capture all the pictures and raw emotions from Aaron Rodgers during Green Bay’s defeat at Minnesota.

For the next 23 weeks, you will get a peak behind the curtain, learn how an NFL broadcast comes together and meet the people who help make it happen.

The Land of 10,000 Lakes … and the occasional blizzard

Our first stop was Minneapolis for an NFC North matchup between the Packers and Vikings.  

Late summer and early fall are pleasant seasons to visit the Twin Cities. However, we’ve had numerous visits at unpleasant times.

One such occasion was in 2010. A massive snowstorm had paralyzed the area and resulted in water leaking down from the stadium roof onto the field the day before a game between the Giants and Vikings. This wasn’t your everyday leak — there was clearly a problem brewing.

The roof at the Metrodome sagged and tore under the weight of snow during a December 2010 blizzard.  (Photo by Hannah Foslien /Getty Images)

We decided to keep a camera rolling throughout the day and overnight just in case the problem worsened. And, boy, did it ever!  

Early Sunday morning, the roof collapsed and tons of snow crashed down upon the field. And it was all captured on tape, and only we had it. That dramatic and startling video has been viewed millions of times. 

Less dramatic was the odd circumstance of televising the relocated game in Detroit on a Monday night. Now, the Metrodome is a faded memory, while the Vikings’ current home, U.S. Bank Stadium, is one of the NFL’s best. 

So, thank goodness for September games in Minneapolis  

Green, Gold and Purple

The Packers-Vikings rivalry is rich with history, and I’ve always been fascinated by the history of the game. So a few years back, Vikings PR guru Bob Hagan ushered me into Bud Grant’s office (yes, Grant still maintains an office at the Vikings practice facility) for an introduction to the Hall of Fame coach. Grant took the Vikings to four Super Bowls in his 18-year run as coach. 

The Minnesota office of Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant is filled with mementos from sports history. (Photo courtesy Richie Zyontz)

I nervously hemmed and hawed while admiring the memorabilia adorning all the walls and shelves. What caught my eye most was a team photo of the 1950 NBA champion Minneapolis Lakers. And there was Bud, a reserve guard, standing alongside the NBA’s first superstar, George Mikan. Wow!   

Now, Bud Grant always has been a man of few words, the Calvin Coolidge of NFL head coaches. In reminiscing about his coaching rivals, Grant had fond things to say about Tom Landry, Don Shula and John Madden.

Vince Lombardi? Not a shred of fondness to be found.

Kevin Burkhardt, Greg Olsen react to Vikings’ win

Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen break down Kevin O’Connell’s impressive coaching debut for the Minnesota Vikings.

Aaron Rodgers Unfiltered

Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers makes the Mount Rushmore of network production meetings. 

Each week, the broadcast team gets a few coaches and players on a video call as part of our weekly preparation. 

These calls provide varying degrees of help. With Rodgers, it’s a gold mine.

The 38-year-old veteran is honest, irreverent and completely aware not only of his job but ours as well. He doesn’t reveal state secrets, but he provides the type of insight that broadcast crews thrive on.  

Aaron Rodgers, Packers WRs struggle in Week 1

The post-Davante Adams era had a rocky start for Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers struggled, finishing 22-for-34 for 195 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.

In the offseason, Green Bay traded all-world receiver Davante Adams to the Raiders, thus depriving Rodgers of his most reliable target. The big question going into this game was how Rodgers would mesh with his new targets.

Rodgers explained on the call how he has tried to simplify things for them, allowing them to play reactively and not robotically. He needs them to simply run their routes on time and get open. But he needs them to be good right out of the gate. 

Sounds easy when he says it, and it made for a fascinating listen. But listening to and enjoying his thoughtful responses is not enough — it’s also a matter of translating it to the broadcast in commentary and pictures.

Justin Jefferson talks career game

Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson talks with Tom Rinaldi about his career game against Green Bay.

Game Day

With all that information now stored, director Rich Russo was able to go into his Sunday morning camera meeting and emphasize the top storylines for the crew to follow.  

Based on our call with Rodgers, the performance of the young receivers and their interactions with the demanding veteran QB topped the list. 

Director Rich Russo meets with the camera crew to prepare for the Week 1 Packers-Vikings in Minneapolis. (Photo courtesy Richie Zyontz)

This emerged quickly on Green Bay’s first possession as Rodgers laid a perfect long pass into the arms of Christian Watson, only to see the rookie receiver let the ball slip right through his hands.  

After that, things didn’t improve for Rodgers and the Packers, and the ensuing frustration threaded its way through the broadcast.  

Aaron Rodgers is a camera magnet. The reigning MVP is one of the game’s biggest stars and always in the spotlight. And while Sunday was not his day, Rodger’s visible emotions and reactions sure helped turn a fairly one-sided game into compelling television.

We are only as good as the pictures our cameras provide, and our crew takes great pride in the quality of those pictures.

The family within the family

We like to think of our crew as a traveling family, especially since many of them have been with us for 15-plus years. But we have a real family within that family: the Zecca brothers, Mario and Paul.  

Mario, 53, is a cameraman who rides up high on a motorized cart going up and down the sidelines. But unlike other cameras, who have specific assignments on a given play — such as stay with the quarterback, follow this receiver, stay with the ball etc. — Mario has the freedom to hunt for the best pictures, often with wonderful results.  

Replay operator Paul Zecca often dials up shots from his brother, Mario, a cameraman on the crew’s motorized cart. (Photo courtesy Richie Zyontz)

Sometimes these shots are taken live by director Rich Russo — but other times they are played back on tape as replays. Enter brother Paul, who has spent 20 of his 50 years sitting in our tape truck. Every camera is recorded into a tape machine, and Mario’s camera is recorded by his younger sibling Paul.  

When you see some tight, dynamic reaction shots or crystal-clear, super-slow-motion game action, chances are it could be a Zecca collaboration. Many of the dynamic shots that fill up the frame are the work of the Zecca brothers. 

The emotional aspect of a game is what gives a broadcast its personality. The great sports camera people, just like great photographers, understand how to find and frame pictures.  

Camerman Mario Zecca has the freedom to search for the best pictures each week. (Photo courtesy Richie Zyontz)

In the world of instant replay, knowing exactly how to cue up these shots is a delicate skill. Working in a visual medium, we are only as good as the pictures we put on the air. In Mario and Paul, we have two of the best.  

Listen and talk … at the same time 

It’s not easy talking and listening at the same time — yet this is a job requirement for both announcers and producers. We talk directly into the headsets of the announcers while they are calling the game. So they are trying to converse with each other, and to the viewers, while listening to our cues as we move them from point A to point B.

Multi-tasking is absolutely critical in the production truck. (Photo courtesy Richie Zyontz)

We all need shorthand communication skills, because the game moves fast and brevity is key.  

Russo and I not only must listen and follow the announcers, we also maintain steady two-way dialogue with cameras, replays, graphics and audio. 

In the weeks ahead, we will take a deeper dive into this organized chaos — but the video at the top of this piece takes you into what that process was like in Minneapolis.

Next week, we are off to New Orleans as Tom Brady and the Bucs come to town. The Saints have owned this rivalry in recent years, so it will be interesting to see if that dynamic will continue.

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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