It has become old hat for T.V. stations in cities such as Boston, New York, Los Angeles and a few others that get to do it all the time. And that is, cover a championship game in professional sports. Especially in a city such as Boston where one of their teams, it seems, is always in it.
In Nashville, we have had the honor to cover two championship runs. The Nashville Predators in 2017 and the Tennessee Titans in 1999.
The Titans march to the Super Bowl was the first time the city had a run to a big game. It was also the T.V. stations in Nashville’s first time as well. This is where the story starts in a night to remember in local T.V.
The Super Bowl that year was on ABC and I worked for WKRN, the ABC affiliate in Nashville. We had what seemed like 50 crews in Atlanta where the game was and Nashville, with viewing parties all around.
Around 9:50 the game ends in that dramatic last play. The city was stunned. Our crews around town were stunned. After the game, we were supposed to head into our newscast and then, go back to Atlanta and get interviews, take the podium with reaction from the coaches and players and everything else.
When it goes smooth, which it rarely does, it is still a bumpy road. When it goes bad, it is must watch T.V. and that is what we had.
Remember, we had never done this before so we were flying by the seat of our pants. I was working with Kate Merrill, whom I adore. Kate is now a anchor at the CBS station in Boston but I was a photographer (cameraman) and her and I were assigned to get fan reaction downtown. Our other crew downtown was with Jay Korff, who is now a reporter in D.C.
I am sure by now you have seen YouTube videos of reporters talking to fans after a game. Let’s just say, you know where I am going.
We had also learned that the sales department had sold about 8 minutes of Ads after the game, leading into the coverage so we had to wait for that, which frustrated a lot of us. But, Ads pay the bills so I did not care.
We take the crew down in Atlanta with interviews from the Titans locker room and then we went back to Nashville, ready to talk to crews in the field. The coverage in Atlanta was chaotic with things changing dramatically at the very last second and 50 people it seemed like in the control room, telling everyone what to do.
They toss to Kate and I downtown and immediately, we all regretted it at channel 2. Fans cursing, yelling, throwing things, more cursing were now pouring out into the streets. I was shoving people off of Kate, moving them around, she was trying to talk and in the middle of this chaos, someone in her ear says, “Toss to Vermeil! Toss to Vermeil, now! Right now, toss to him, he is at the podium.”
Kate says, “Vermeil? Vermeil?” I realized Kate didn’t know what the producer was saying and had no clue what or who a Vermeil is, and basically said, in her ‘I am Ron Burgundy voice?’, “Let’s go to Vermeil?” And they stayed on her for about 10 seconds and Kate Burgundy said again, “Let’s go to Vermeil?”
Quicksand would have been a better death for all of us that night in the field, it was so painful. Just chaos from so many ends.
Vermeil can’t stop crying on the podium, and the other crews at the game, were getting more interviews so then, they cut back to Kate and me, without telling us, and here we are, trying not to fight people coming by and it got close several times. Kate was able to regain composure and muscle through it. By the way, I would totally do any kind of tag-team fighting with Kate, any place at any time.
They go back to Atlanta and I am all, thank God. Then we get the old “stand by.” I haven’t been this stressed out since my first speeding ticket by the Wave Pool in high school and afraid my mom would kill me. Then I hear Jay Korff in my ear, also downtown and we ended up getting one of the epic soundbites ever uttered on Nashville T.V. He is talking and a guy grabs his mic and says, “F*** the Rams and F*** You!” He then, for added effect, flips off the camera. I did not see all of this until later but hearing it in my ear, was amazingly cringe-worthy to an epic level.
Guess what happens then? Yes, they cut back to Kate and we are just in tears laughing at what we just heard. They go off of us to Atlanta and someone said, with half a brain, “All live shots downtown are done for the night.”
There was no one to blame for this because remember, we had never been through this before. If you recall watching that post game show, it is far worse, but in a funny way, then what I was describing here.
When the Predators played in the Stanley Cup Final, the coverage from all the stations was fantastic. I thought all the T.V. stations went above and beyond, A lot of us were still around from the Titans Super Bowl so we remembered that chaos. It also helped that the Predators played in 6 games, instead of one, where the post game show felt like level 12 of Galaga and you are down to your last ship.
Basically, it was a giant train wreck which still makes me howl to this day. Management was terrible in every aspect and we just rolled with the, almost, punches. Good times.