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Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Overhead, sideline cameras irk Holmgren in Seahawks' loss

Associated Press

KIRKLAND, Wash. -- The Seahawks almost disastrously found out the billion-dollar hand that feeds the NFL can also bite back.

Early in Seattle's 28-17 loss to New Orleans Sunday night, the Saints called a timeout. As NBC went to a commercial and Matt Hasselbeck exited the huddle to confer on the sideline with Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren, the network's overhead camera crashed to the turf near the startled quarterback.

"It was real close ... I'm going to talk to my lawyer and get back to you," Hasselbeck joked later.

After momentarily righting itself, the camera again slammed onto the field, near receiver Bobby Engram. Officials delayed the game for almost 10 minutes before the network got the camera away from the field of play, parking it directly over the Seahawks' bench. Players stepped over themselves to avoid standing under it, as if it were a guillotine.

Players stayed away from the overhead camera after it slammed to the groud twice in Sunday's Saints/Seahawks game.

"Think of that," Holmgren said. "Unbelievable."

Later in the game, NBC's more conventional sideline camera zoomed onto Holmgren's play card. NFL coaches are so secretive about what's on that, they commonly shield their mouths with it while calling plays just so TV doesn't show them mouthing even a syllable of a call that is unintelligible to almost every viewer not named Bill Belichick.

But NBC's shot was close and so clear that anyone could read Holmgren's plays from a living room couch.

"I don't even know how they do that," Holmgren said this week, sounding incredulous. "Was that the camera that almost hit Matt and killed him?

"There are not a lot of secrets. But those things they should probably tell you they're going to try do that, or ask you. ... I would rather they wouldn't do that."

Fred Gaudelli, producer for "Sunday Night Football," said when the shot appeared on his 8-inch monitor in the production truck, he couldn't read the plays. But when he and director Drew Esocoff aired the shot, they immediately saw on their 35-inch main monitor that it was too revealing. Gaudelli estimated they cut away after just 1 seconds.

For years, Holmgren was on the competition committee, a mix of team owners, general managers and coaches who consider changes to the game. He said he was one of the only voices opposing some of the more intrusive innovations networks wanted to employ.

"The television executives would bring their proposals to the committee, about sideline reporters, about access to locker rooms," Holmgren said. "The committee makeup changed over the years to the point where, at one point, I was one of two coaches on.

"It didn't take me too long to figure out that the television people, really, because of the enormous amount of money that's spent, they're asking for an opinion from the competition committee, but really all they're doing is saying, 'Listen, this is really what we want to do.'

"They didn't want to hear what I had to say most of the time."

Gaudelli pointed out the good in the relationship TV has had with the NFL, dating to the 1960s when then-commissioner Pete Rozelle began tailoring the game to network broadcasts, instantly broadening its appeal.

"I think there is a proper balance to everything," Gaudelli said. "But the success of this league is largely owed to television. It pays for the salaries of the players and the coaches -- including all the people serving on the competition committee."

As for the camera falling, Holmgren was told one of the cables attached to the stadium's grandstand broke.

But Jim Rodnunsky of Cable Cam, the California-based contractor that also operates overhead cameras for game broadcasts on CBS, Fox, ABC and is scheduled to work the Olympics in Beijing next summer, said a cable did not break. He said the operator of the motor that powers one of three axes on which the cable runs failed to turn on the switch. The operator then didn't hear the crew's yells to turn on the motor over the noise of the crowd at Qwest Field. So gravity overwhelmed the powerless camera.

Rodnunsky said his company, which had to file a report on the incident to the NFL, is now installing LED lights on the operator's workstation to alert him if a motor isn't on.

"You do something wrong on 'Sunday Night Football,' the whole world calls you," Rodnunsky said. "Fortunately no one was hurt -- just my feelings."

Gaudelli, formerly of ABC, said an overhead camera fell to the ground in two of his previous broadcasts: a 2005 preseason game in Detroit and during a Monday night game in Cleveland in 2004. Both times, the camera was far away from any players.

Gaudelli called the Seahawks on Monday to apologize specifically to Holmgren, whom he praised as one of the best and most accessible coaches in the NFL, dating to Holmgren's Super Bowl-winning years in Green Bay a decade ago. Gaudelli got to know Holmgren in the coach's years on the NFL's competition committee, from which he resigned before last season.

"The whole goal in television is to bring the view closer to the action, to show it better than anyone else," Gaudelli said while on the telephone from New York on Wednesday. "But you don't want to effect what is happening on the field. That's where the competition committee and the Seahawks and Mike are upset -- and rightfully so -- about what happened."

But, as Holmgren said, "Television seems to run our lives."

That's what $3.7 billion per season will buy.

NBC is paying the league $600 million annually. In 2005, the NFL reached six-year, $8 billion extensions with Fox and CBS for Sunday afternoon games.

The Seahawks and their fellow teams enjoy about $100 million annually from the deals.

So it's a hazard of the job. Television isn't going anywhere.