Note: This story originally ran in Jed Drenning's preseason football magazine The SignalCaller.com, still available in newsstands throughout the state.
One of the most common questions I get from fans: How do I remember statistics and player information during the frenzy of a broadcast?
I’d like to say it’s my photographic memory but I’d be lying. Let’s face it as many as 100 players could see action during a football game. That’s a lot of info, but there are ways to make it sound like you’ve got all those stats and facts right at on the tip of your tongue.
It seems that every trade has its tricks. Play-by-play announcers are no different, the people you hear broadcast games have hundreds of ways they obtain, store, and then use that information in their broadcasts. Like snowflakes, no two announcers are the same when it comes to game preparation. It runs the gamut from old-school legal paper and ballpoint pen to sophisticated computer software programs that can print out a customized game chart down to the schools exact colors.
In the business, we call the final product used on game day spotting charts or boards. Each announcer has his own preference on the size of the boards and the information they contain. When I was in college, I simply took a manila file folder and a box of magic markers and went to town. One half would contain the offense broken down by position and the other half contained the defense. I would write the players number with a big marker and then scale down to a more fine print for name, height, weight, hometown, class and statistics. I would then use a series of different colored markers to place biographical information that could be used in the broadcast. It’s a time consuming process and if you have bad hand writing like me, it ultimately turned out be a mess.
The “Voice of the Mountaineers,” Jack Fleming, would use small white stickers and a corkboard. Inserted into the corkboard were pushpins placed next to the names of players on the field. When a player came out of the game, a spotter would move that player’s pin to the name of his replacement. That means at any time Fleming could look at his board and know exactly which 22 players were on the field. It’s a system that I still use today, only I’ve replaced the corkboard with foam core.
At the 1988 Fiesta Bowl, I got a glimpse of legendary announcer Dick Enberg’s charts and fell in love with their size and space. I duplicated his template and used those for several years until technology changed my chart preparation forever.
Thanks to the advent of desktop publishing I was able to do away with hand writing a player’s information on my charts. I would simply enter the information into a computer and then print the charts. The finished product was a tremendous improvement from my horrible hand writing but it still required about 20 hours of work each week to input the information.
Technology again changed my life last year when I came across a company that had created software for play-by-play announcers. The days of typing in a player’s name, number, height, weight, hometown, and statistics were over. Today I simply drag and drop a player into their respective position on the depth chart and, bingo, it’s done. I still create personal bio notes for players, which is time consuming, but the chart creation process has decreased from what used to be a 20-hour process down to about five today.
It’s chart Nirvana.
The finished product is printed onto card stock that measures 11 ½ by 17 inches. Those sheets are then glued onto foam board. On game day, I use a spotter for each team. They’re an extra set of eyes trained to pick up anything I might have missed … a key block, who forced a fumble, who assisted on a tackle, so on and so forth. They continue moving those pushpins as players come and go on to the field. We each use Bushnell Xtra Wide binoculars, which are absolutely the best available for football. They’re also very inexpensive at a cost of about $70.
Once the game is on there’s tremendous teamwork not only the field, but in the booth. I estimate that only about 30 percent of what’s on the chart is used, but you never know which information that will be. It’s like studying for a test and making sure you have all material ready, just in case.
So, no, announcers don’t have all the information stored in their head. The secret is out, and in reality, we all just use really big crib sheets.