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Discussion in 'Our Errors are Mistakes: The Media Forum' started by ConigliarosPotential, Aug 4, 2017.
So, um, I think I owe you an apology
Yeah, it's not like Redskins-Saints was one of the three best games in the NFL this year or anything. (Maybe Rams-49ers in Week 3 and Texans-Seahawks in Week 8...are there any other candidates?) As a Falcons fan, I'm pissed at the result - according to ESPN.com, the Redskins had a 99.6% win probability with five minutes left, and I started getting Super Bowl LI flashbacks after that - but I enjoyed the hell out of that game from start to finish, and I bet Buck and Aikman were happy to be in New Orleans and not Minnesota.
I had two glitches when narrating the RedZone highlights packages where I looked one highlight ahead on my sheet and said the wrong names before correcting myself, and I had an embarrassing moment at the end of the game where I called Alvin Kamara "Chris" (which will make any UK-based readers of this thread wince). But I think I'm getting smoother and smoother in my presentation and feel like I'm cranking everything slowly but surely to where I want to be. Which is nice.
I've actually got next Sunday off - my daughter has a lead role in a one-night-only West End show in London, and it would be a family catastrophe if I missed that to present another NFL game. I'm calling KHL games on Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday this week; the latter ends at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, and my wife and kids are taking the train down to Leeds and will meet me there so we can all drive down from there to our Airbnb accommodation in London. Of course, the nature of this business is that I'm worried about getting Wally Pipped by my replacement, although I know the guy they've hired to fill in for me, and while he's got a very good football mind and excellent knowledge of the game, he's more of an analyst than a presenter, and he's also got a regular gig (co-hosting a Sunday night NFL radio show on talkSPORT in the UK). So I'm not *too* worried...although I suspect I'll spy on his work a bit after the fact and see how good he is at my job.
Just went back and watched my pregame performance from yesterday...and it's depressing to notice my delivery isn't quite as smooth or polished as I think it is. At one point I referred to the Lions playing at Soldier Field against the Browns (ugh) while looking at the Week 11 schedule, and there are just too many pauses and stutters for me to feel like I'm really good at this yet. It's not like I can really practice this either, except by doing it over and over again.
One interesting thing I've realized recently is that whereas in a game commentary I have a chance to feel my way into the broadcast with low-pressure pregame stuff, when presenting a game my job *is* the pregame, and I really have to hit the ground running. A few weeks ago, I noticed my mouth going really dry just before the start of the Saints-Bucs game I presented, and so I've taken a note to make sure I'm better hydrated at the start of those NFL games in a way that I haven't needed to be for my hockey and soccer games in the past.
Incidentally, I mentioned Joe Buck's hot-mic antics yesterday...just after I wrapped up my pregame show and introduced Buck, Aikman and Andrews, we had a few seconds to spare and so went to a 15-second promo after a quick montage of pregame shots from the Superdome. There was an audio glitch on our side of things, though, and instead of switching to our canned music and the promo audio, the sound remained on Buck and Aikman...and what we heard was the following:
--Buck (slurring his words as if drunk): "Is there any room service still available?"
--Aikman (ignoring Buck and presumably speaking to a producer): "I mean, I seriously can barely read the numbers."
--Buck (still sounding drunk): "Have you got any cheesecake?" [just like that drunk guy in Groundhog Day asking at the fast food drive-through if they had any flapjacks, actually]
--Buck (finally sounding normal): "Why are you so serious there? I don't need you to count backward the whole way..."
And then the live broadcast began a few moments thereafter. Presumably that last bit came with the producer counting Buck down from 10 to 1 or from 5 to 1 for the start of the broadcast...anyway, it's not noteworthy that I could hear what Buck was saying over the satellite feed as such, but I did find it interesting how goofy he was being right before the start of the game. Maybe forced jocularity is Buck's way of coping with some of the issues I've just noted above regarding myself, and that's how he stays loose and ready to go from moment one of his commentary.
Well, I later had the chance to watch all of my halftime performance from yesterday...and I was actually very happy with it. So maybe I'm slightly further along than I'd thought.
This became relevant during my KHL commentary game today, a real barnburner between Ak Bars Kazan and Avangard Omsk. (Kazan fell behind 2-0, then scored three goals in a row, then hit the post with two minutes left, then conceded the tying 6-on-5 goal with 42 seconds left, then ultimately lost in what was my first KHL penalty shootout.) I thought I was doing fine during the first period, but I went back and watched some of the first-period action, and I realized I was a bit quiet at times, and it was hard to hear some of my commentary over the crowd. My initial reaction was that this was a technical issue with my sound level that might require fixing in the control room, but then, when I got a bit more excitable, I sounded just right...which to me meant I needed to find a way to stop mumbling. This is an issue I've faced before in my commentary, and my next thought was that I'm just going through one of those periods where I'm down on myself and don't like the sound of my voice, and that it's just something I'll work through eventually. However, my next thought was that I did actually like the sound of my NFL halftime performance yesterday - so why not come out in the second period and try to use my NFL halftime voice? Be decisive at all times. Stay enthusiastic. Say less. If you can't say something enthusiastically, don't say anything at all. And you know what? That approach worked really well. For the rest of the game, I felt much more in control of my performance and able to find the right "swing thought" (in golfing parlance) to consistently keep my energy level where it needed to be. And when I went back to listen to myself after the second period and after the end of the game, I could really tell the difference.
One of the real problems I have as a solo commentator working in my current environment is that I get precious little feedback from other people, and I have to figure out all of this stuff myself. I mean, can you imagine an actor in a Broadway play getting no notes from his director and having to figure out what works by trial and error, night after night? Even the sparse feedback I've received from Agent Tim has been along the lines of "think about doing this" and "think about not doing that"; none of it has been along the lines of "here's a tip for how you might do this". I can tell myself that I need to stop mumbling, or stumbling over certain words at certain times, but what can I actually do to avoid those issues? The best thing I think I can do is keep listening to my broadcasts and trying to learn both positively and negatively from what I hear; e.g., I've gone back and listened to my calls of the two Higuain goals in the Milan-Juventus match hundreds of times by now, partly because I'm a self-centered egoist but also largely because by fixing those two calls in my head I hope to be able to repeat them - and more specifically, what made them good - on demand. But that doesn't really qualify as actual, you know, coaching. I wonder what other commentators do. (I certainly wonder what other commentators at DAZN do who aren't inclined to go back and listen to their broadcasts after the fact like I keep doing...could it just be that I'm a super-slow learner?)
Darren/CP, first, let me thank you for living your life publicly with this web-community. May you reap the most significant (IMHO anyway) benefit of such a life - you are more likely to do praiseworthy things and less likely to do what you wouldn't want to share. Second, you were genuine and quite brave as an opponent-fan in early February. This group of opponent posters - you, Wingack, et al. - serve an amazing purpose, namely to keep the rest of us forcing to deal with the difference between sports-hate and ordinary life-hate. I guess I should add that the death-reporting here, especially in the most tragic instances such as young Mr. Flores, also keeps us at least minimally connected to real life even as we are trying to let sports take its place so that we can retain some balance and some relaxation.
I've got a comment and two questions for you. The comment is that - remembering your recent mention of Wally Pipp - Wally Pipp continued his baseball career in Cincinnati after his days as a Yankee ended, so feel free to embrace the possibility that some talent you scouted (Pipp did scout Gehrig and brought him to the attention of the Yankees) will have a career greater than yours. I'm retired now, and there are few things better in my life than seeing how my "trainees" surpassed me.
Now for the questions. First, I've always wanted to ask an announcer whether it's possible upon accepting a new post in some distant city to become as much of a "homer" as your boss will demand of you. Are announcers like the athletes themselves, immediately shifting their primary loyalties to their new team, or are announcers governed by "fake it until you make it"? Second, can you picture yourself ever freeing yourself from half the travel requirements and becoming the announcer for one team - I guess it's a matter of whether you view all your travel as a fringe benefit or a burden.
I wish you lots of success, and may your daughter grow up with your balance of self-confidence and self-inquiry!
FWIW, I didn't scout the guy who is replacing me next week, and I've had nothing like the career Pipp had with the Yankees at this point, so while your point here is taken more generally, I'm not sure it applies here.
That aside, thanks for the kind words. Re: your two questions, I don't think it's difficult at all for a commentator to quickly become a homer for a new team - as soon as you're in a new city and putting yourself around its fans and its players and coaches on a regular basis, it's easy to want them to do well and feel good about themselves. How long did it take you to start rooting for the sports teams at the university you attended when you were a freshman? (Assuming you went to that sort of school, of course.) As for the second question, yes, I could absolutely see myself become a one team guy; if anything the travel would probably increase rather than decrease, as I'd wind up flying all across North America and not just driving to Leeds with the odd sojourn to Vienna, but working as a salaried employee for a team or television/radio station has many benefits of its own relative to the freelancing life I live at present. Also, traveling with colleagues is generally rather more fun than having to go everywhere (and organize everything) on your own!
After this bit of introspection, before I left the studio last night I really did stop to ask myself what I might practically do along these lines. And as a tentative first step, I thought I'd text Conor McNamara - the BBC soccer commentator who presented my Milan-Juventus game a few weeks ago, and who I also chatted with on Sunday (he was in the studio to call a pair of Serie A games, including Juve's 3-2 loss at Sampdoria) - and ask if he wouldn't mind starting an email conversation along these lines. In the four minutes it took for me to walk back to my hotel after sending that text, he had already emailed me and offered to help, so I wrote him back before going to bed asking for some general advice and also a specific question about keeping one's vocal intensity levels consistent throughout a match. He responded this morning and couldn't have been more gracious, saying that when he first joined the BBC, it was a relief for him to discover that he wasn't the only person thinking the same sorts of things I've been thinking myself. The real revelation is that the BBC does employ a commentary coach of sorts who works with most of their top commentators and pundits; Conor has worked with him several times and says he's got a real ear for commentary and how to help make you better. This coach (who also moonlights as a commentator, presenter, producer and after-dinner speaker himself - I know both his name and his voice from BBC radio) does some work on a freelance basis, and Conor offered to introduce him to me; I'm wary of paying through the nose for any tuition, particularly given what I'm earning at the moment and the fact that so few people would likely notice any improvements I might make, but I've asked for that introduction all the same. Because *I* will notice and feel better about any improvements I make, and hopefully others eventually will as well, and maybe this might have the indirect advantage of being a good networking opportunity.
Meanwhile, I'm calling the SKA St. Petersburg vs. Yugra Khanty-Mansiyisk game today. When these two teams faced each other in September at Yugra, SKA won 9-1, and coming into this game SKA's record is 31-3 and Yugra's is 10-22. If that wasn't enough to demotivate me, I made the huge mistake of doing prep work on the game until well after midnight last night, to the point where I thought I might just stay up and watch the start of the Falcons-Seahawks game (1:30 a.m. start in the UK). I have watched prime-time Falcons games before and been able to switch off after a quarter or at worst at halftime, but that game last night was so watchable, I couldn't get to sleep at halftime and wound up staying up for the entire thing. Which may have been just as well, given some of the noises I heard while I was still awake that might have woken me up - including someone drunkenly shouting into a megaphone around 3:30 a.m. - but of course I was so jazzed up by the ending that I couldn't drop off straightaway thereafter, and so I've had maybe three-and-a-half hours' sleep. Definitely a game for me to just battle through ahead of my drive back to Scotland tonight.
FWIW, the SKA-Yugra game yesterday looked like a blowout in the making, with SKA up 4-1 after two periods...and then Yugra got two goals in the third period and had some 6-on-4 power play time at the end of the game with a chance to tie. They didn't quite get there, but it certainly became interesting enough to hold my attention!
I've now exchanged emails with the BBC commentary coach, and it looks like that's going to happen. We're going to start with a phone call and see where we go from there.
Man, I'm in a foul mood today ahead of my next KHL commentary game (Jokerit vs. Admiral Vladivostok). A high-spec laptop I was planning on buying this morning, after first making sure I couldn't get it at a reduced price in the Black Friday sales, went out of stock overnight at the place from which I was going to buy it, and I can't find the same machine at anything like the same price elsewhere. My drive down to Leeds was into a low sun the whole way and took that much more out of me. When I got to my hotel near the studio, there were no parking spaces available for me to use, so I've had to park my car much further away from the hotel and the studio. When I tried to log onto the PC in my commentary booth, all the login details had been changed, which means all the browser favorites and proxy servers, etc., I'd set up have all disappeared...and the printer in the office is no longer mapped to the computer (which needs to be sorted out ASAP). And now I've discovered that DAZN is featuring the Falcons game on Sunday, when I'm not around to present it! Ugh. I wonder if I can harness this negative energy in a positive way for my broadcast in just over an hour's time...
Sorry if this is too personal, or if I missed it earlier, but I'm curious how long you've been doing this, especially how long you've been doing it fulltime. You mentioned in an early post that you were calling soccer matches more than 20 years ago, and you've intimated a few times that it's not currently as lucrative as you'd like. If your career stays at its current level (i.e., no major network promotions or pay raises), are you content to keep grinding, or have you set yourself a personal deadline for "making it big" before going into the insurance business with Dad, like Tom Brady?
I've only been doing this full time more or less since I started this thread - I worked a few soccer matches for ESPN International back in 1997, but after that my next professional commentary gig wasn't until August 2014 (when I started my CHL job in Vienna), and it wasn't until this August that I started getting regular gigs outside of the CHL stuff. I don't think what I'm doing at present is doable indefinitely at this pay rate and travel schedule, but I think I can give it at least a few years like this to wait and see what happens; I don't have a set deadline as such.
I tried something slightly different in my KHL broadcast on Saturday, which was to start from a lower intensity level - beginning with my sound checks at the start of the game - and try to stick to that baseline level more consistently (except when things get exciting). I think the main issue with my commentary at present is that my standard intensity level is so high, when I fall below it - e.g., when trying to say something as an aside - I become almost inaudible. My hope is that by starting lower, I can still go nuclear when I need to, but hopefully the listener doesn't experience such extreme variation. I didn't have too much time to listen to the broadcast, but I'm pretty pleased with what I've heard so far.
My wife and kids met me outside the studio after the game on Saturday - I was able give them a quick tour of the studio and my commentary booth (and let my kids have each have a shot on the headsets and microphones) before we set off for London, which they seemed to enjoy. I've now got my schedule through to the end of December; it isn't as packed as I'd like it to be, and in particular I'm frustrated a) that I'm not getting to call the outdoor "Winter Classic" game this Saturday between Jokerit and SKA St. Petersburg even though I'm coming down on Sunday for my NFL duties, and b) that our two analysts, Ron Shudra and Paul Adey, are working several matches together this week when I am available. They very much seem like a "break glass in case of emergency" pairing, but anyway...I can probably use the rest, so it's not a big deal, but there are a few bigger gaps than I'd like in the schedule.
Meanwhile, Agent Tim asked me the other day if I could do him a favor and record his match broadcast of Real Madrid vs. Malaga from this past Saturday with a view to helping him get a demo reel he can send across to BT Sport (with a view to getting him some soccer commentary work there). I don't think he quite realizes how big an ask that is of me - my current laptop is barely powerful to cope with capturing 3-5 minutes of onscreen video without pausing or glitching, never mind a full 90-minute match, and while I do have a new gaming laptop on order, to do this I'd basically have to leave my laptop focused on recording his match for two hours and nothing else. So I kinda blew him off at first, then felt bad about it (he is sort of responsible for my current commentary career) and offered to try and help out if and when I get my new laptop up and running. I haven't heard back from him since, but hopefully that silence is not borne of anger!
We've also chosen our NFL game for this upcoming Sunday - we're stuck with Chiefs at Jets, which I suppose at least has some real car crash potential.
I'm willing to bet someone here could help him out with recording something. Hell, there may be pirate-stream sites on the web where he can just download it himself! What network / geography is he broadcasting on? It's not like Real Madrid matches are some backwater.
It's on DAZN, just like my stuff - the site isn't really pirate-able, as far as I can tell, and I've never see any illicit broadcasts originate from it. Not that I'm an expert on such things, but I do look around from time to time...
(Agent Tim did respond to my email from earlier this evening, btw - not a malicious silence at all.)
So you need a canadian to DVR something and then rip it to digital format? Yeah, that does seem like a challenge.
I had a really good day presenting the Chiefs-Jets game (the Falcons loss to the Vikings notwithstanding). First of all, it was a wild game with at least a dozen highlight-reel plays in it and quite a few lead changes, so that was nice. But I also had what I'm pretty sure is my best NFL performance thus far: I absolutely nailed the pregame show, was solid at halftime, and really good during our three highlights inserts during the second half and also through the postgame show. The only thing I did wrong, really, was botch my signoff at the very end of the broadcast, but that's not really the equivalent of failing to stick the dismount in a gymnastics routine. I mean, it wasn't completely perfect, but it was pretty close to where I want to be. Also, my new laptop works perfectly in the studio, and I was able to record all of my segments from today, which will be invaluable both in fortifying my highlight reels and when I eventually work with that commentary coach I had referenced previously.
Today starts a very busy period for me - here's my schedule over the next week-and-a-half:
Today: Drive down to Leeds, present the Chiefs-Jets game
Tomorrow (4 Dec): Drive to Manchester Airport, fly to Vienna
Tuesday (5 Dec): Possibly visit a Christmas Market or two in Vienna, then call SC Bern vs. Vaxjo Lakers in the CHL Quarterfinals first leg (and voiceover two highlights packages)
Wednesday (6 Dec): Fly back to Manchester, drive to Leeds, *and* call Ak Bars Kazan vs. SKA St. Petersburg.
Thursday (7 Dec): In Leeds, call Spartak Moscow vs. CSKA Moscow.
Friday (8 Dec): Call HK Sochi vs. SKA St. Petersburg, then drive back to Scotland.
Saturday (9 Dec): (at home)
Sunday (10 Dec): Drive down to Leeds, present another NFL game, possibly drive back to Scotland (if the NFL game is a 1 p.m. Eastern start)
Monday (11 Dec): Possibly drive back to Scotland (if the NFL game is a late start), fly from Edinburgh to Vienna
Tuesday (12 Dec): Call CHL Quarterfinal second leg game (and voiceover two highlights packages)
Wednesday (13 Dec): Fly back to Edinburgh, drive home
Then things are a bit quieter - nothing until the NFL game on 17 December, and then another gap before two more KHL games on 21/23 December and the NFL on Christmas Eve.
Oh, I meant to ask...would any of you be interested in watching my segments from today's game? I can probably make them available in a day or two if you are interested, but not I won't rush.
I'll take the silence to my previous question as a "no".
I arrived in Vienna on schedule yesterday, and although I was tempted to have a quiet evening in my hotel room, I figured it was finally time to be a tourist for a while: sometimes you have to work hard to have fun. So I went to the State Opera (Staatsoper), buying a €3 standing room ticket in the upper gallery to see Daphne by Richard Strauss - not my favorite opera, as it turns out, but still great value for money as ever. And then today I worked hard in the morning to prepare both for my CHL game today and my KHL game tomorrow, particularly after I found out that my direct flight from Vienna to Manchester tomorrow has been cancelled, and that I'll have to change planes in Frankfurt and hope for minimal delays along the way to ensure I get to the office on time for the 4 p.m. start. That preparation allowed me to escape and see a tiny bit of Vienna, including a tour around the biggest Christmas market and also a free half-hour organ concert at St. Peter's Church (Peterskirche), near St. Stephen's Cathedral (Stephansdom), which is held most weekdays at 3 p.m. and is a great place to relax and be in awe of what mankind can create. If you're ever going to Vienna on a budget, I highly recommend both the standing room opera tickets and the free organ concert - that was my third trip to the opera and my umpteenth visit to the Peterskirche, and they're both really fantastic.
Anyway, my CHL game today features the best team in Switzerland (Bern) against the best team in Sweden (Vaxjo), so I'm very excited about that; I'm less excited about the 8 p.m. start time, which means I'm not likely to be back to my hotel before midnight, which means I'm almost guaranteed to get around four hours of sleep tonight thanks to the unexpectedly early start on account of my flight change.
I'm thoroughly exhausted after a hard 24 hours or so, but a few quick notes on my current trip:
--I've had a pair of 3-2 wins to call over the past two days: Bern over Vaxjo yesterday, SKA St. Petersburg over Ak Bars Kazan (in OT) today.
--Yesterday my voice was surprisingly husky - I didn't notice it at all in the moment, but listening back a slight rasp is definitely there, if not an altogether unpleasant one. My health has been very good since I started full-time commentary work, touch wood, but there's no guarantee that will last forever.
--Last night I got about three-and-a-half hours of sleep. Not optimal, but I fought through today well.
--Today I learned that the CHL isn't doing English guide commentary for the semifinals - only the final. Translation: I don't get to travel to any cool venues in January. (Probably more trips to Vienna.) Which sucks for several reasons, although I can understand the logic; I assume it's a cost issue, mostly.
--I tried to talk at some length with my color commentary partner today about the Russian Olympic hockey situation in the aftermath of the IOC ban, but it was stilted insofar as I'd done my research and he hadn't. It may actually be easier for do the topic justice myself tomorrow, when I'm back on my own.
--My vocal approach of starting from a lower base and making sure I never go below that base seems to be working very well so far. My next project is, to quote Rusty's advice to Linus in Ocean's Eleven: "Don't use seven words when four will do." I had a goal call today where I should have just said, "Shirokov...scores!" instead of "Shirokov, in all alone - he scores!" I have to stop adding extraneous words at key dramatic moments.
--Our featured NFL game for this Sunday is Chiefs-Raiders. Chiefs two weeks in a row, but I can't complain - it's a rematch of that amazing three-untimed-downs finish in Oakland earlier this season, and it's two teams tied for a divisional lead this late in the season, which given the parameters we're working under this season is pretty nice.
It's funny how some days I feel in great form and some days I just don't. Yesterday I had CSKA Moscow vs. Spartak Moscow; you'd have thought a Moscow derby would be a big occasion, but I just felt sluggish right from the start - not helped by CSKA's indecipherable uniform numbers - and just never felt up for it. (Didn't help that the game was pretty non-descript, a 3-0 win for CSKA.) Then today, even though it was a bigger mismatch on paper - HK Sochi vs. SKA St. Petersburg - I was up for it and felt really on top of the entire broadcast. That was true even before Sochi took the lead in the second period, hung on after Kovalchuk tied things up for SKA, and then Sochi scored the winner five minutes from the end and hung on for the final whistle.
That was the tenth time I've commentated on SKA this season. Their record is now 7-3 in the games I've called, which is pretty good...until you consider that in the games I've not called, they're 30-1. I referenced this in my commentary when the score was 1-1 in the third and wondered if perhaps my presence might be an omen, and so it came to pass!
Meanwhile, the weather forecast for Leeds and most of northern England on Sunday is heavy snow and possibly a bit of ice. So that will be fun for my drive down and back on Sunday for Raiders-Chiefs...why can't that be the weather in Kansas City instead?
It turns out that the weather yesterday wasn't bad at all - a few minor flurries, but nothing to stop me from setting a new personal best in terms of driving time from Leeds back home after my NFL assignment. Chiefs-Raiders was a clunker, but I did fine despite our RedZone editors combining highlights thicker and faster than they ever have at halftime and throughout the second half. Some truly breathless voiceovers for me yesterday! I was amused when the sound engineer complimented me after the game on how I kept my levels constant throughout the broadcast and therefore made his life easy for him, given that this is the main issue I've been trying to remedy in my play-by-play commentary. (I'm not convinced, FWIW.)
I'm now in Vienna for my last CHL game of the calendar year - I've got the second leg of Vaxjo (2) vs. Bern (3), and because we're calling three of the games live instead of two, I now only have to voice over the highlights of my own game. So tomorrow would be easy except that I have some corporate communications work to do on deadline while I'm here, and the hotel I'm back in for this trip has had WiFi difficulties all year and is having them again now; it's too patchy for me to expect to get the work I need to get done during the day here, so I'll probably have to head up to the studio before lunchtime and do my work there instead of waiting until the late afternoon.
I was in pub in Tokyo a couple nights ago (thanks @TokyoSox !) and one of the ex-pats I was watching the Merseyside derby with casually asked me if I had heard of DAZN before. I said something like "I think I've heard of that"
I had a really great CHL experience last night. My game was really entertaining, back and forth between Bern and Vaxjo - the teams were tied on aggregate going into the final period, then Vaxjo scored two quick goals to seemingly take control before Bern struck back and even had a brief 6-on-3 power play late with their goalie pulled, but it finished 4-2 on the night and 6-5 on aggregate to Vaxjo. And I felt switched on right from the start: I knew I was in good form and in good voice, and it's so much fun to feel like I'm really good at this in the moment and not just when reviewing my work after the match. I need to keep getting reps and keep getting better, but I feel like I'm only a bit of elbow grease and one or two lucky breaks away from really making a proper career out of this.
A few other random points:
--The CHL Final Four now consists of Vaxjo (southern Sweden), Jyvaskyla (central Finland), Trinec (eastern Czech Republic) and Liberec (northern Czech Republic). I don't get to travel to the semifinals - I'll be in Vienna again - but I really don't know if any of these options for travelling to the final excites me. Vaxjo means travelling through and probably seeing a bit of Copenhagen again, but I did that last year; Trinec isn't far from Krakow, so I think I'd probably fly via Poland; Liberec is sort of between Berlin and Prague; and Jyvaskyla is in the middle of friggin' nowhere.
--I was asked by Agent Tim today if I want to take on two extra KHL assignments on 27 and 28 December, on top of the other KHL games I'm already doing on 29 and 30 December and the NFL game on 31 December. My mother is coming over for two weeks on Christmas Eve...I can't get away with five days on the road like that while she's here, can I?
--My next NFL game this Sunday is the game I actually lobbied for earlier today (among the games which I thought might not be chosen by Bell Canada): Titans at 49ers. Looking forward to my first Jimmy G feature! I signed up for NFL Game Pass on Monday, and in my travels I've now downloaded and watched the 40-minute version of nearly all of the Week 14 games; today I made sure I watched Titans-Cardinals and Texans-49ers, with a particular focus on a) evaluating Mariota's footwork and whether he's stepping into his throws correctly and b) just how good Garoppolo's performance on Sunday was (answer: even better than his raw numbers). It tickles me pink to realize that my Game Pass subscription is properly tax deductible as a business expense!
CP: your mother, or your mother-in-law?
I'd suggest watching JimmyG's Pats games from last year as a point of comparison. The throwing-off-his-back-foot thing is a trend that may have accelerated. Plus you'll have a nice moment of schadenfreude in the middle of the Dolphins game. Maybe your guys can queue up highly similar plays that the two teams run, if any, and show his growth in (say) pocket presence, accuracy, target selection, blocking adjustments etc.
My actual mother, flying over from the States. (My mother-in-law lives just up the road and has been helping to look after my kids in my long absences.)
By the way, the throwing-off-his-back-foot comment was about Mariota, not Garoppolo. In any event, we don't get into the weeds at all like you were suggesting in our pregame show - I'm not Ron Jaworski trying to break down film or anything. I just thought it would be nice to do a bit of my own mini-film study and be able to make an informed comment of my own during our pregame segment that isn't stats-based. And while I will confess to having felt a twinge or two of schadenfreude when watching this week's Dolphins-Patriots game, only because I believe infallibility should not be part of any fan's NFL experience, I took no joy when Jimmy G went down last year, and indeed I will certainly be (secretly/off-air) rooting for the Pats to thrash the Steelers this Sunday.
We had an odd pregame show today for the Niners-Titans game. One issue we had is that the CBS feed didn't come on until about 30 seconds before the opening kickoff - normally we get a wide shot of the stadium 20-30 minutes before gametime and use that right after our opening voiceover to set the scene for the game, but today we didn't have that and had to cut a quick intro together at short notice from shots we were planning to use to transition from one pregame feature to another. Then, all of our timings somehow got away from us: we were in the middle of our last pregame feature, two minutes on the Titans in the context of their playoff chances, and suddenly we realized the game was about to start. We had to crash out of the last 10 seconds of our feature, ditch the AFC playoff standings graphic we had queued up altogether, and immediately get over to Santa Clara - I had about five seconds to transition to CBS and Andrew Catalon/James Lofton. We got there just before the kickoff, but that's not how this was supposed to happen; I don't think I did anything particularly wrong, but I'm not entirely sure. That's showbiz, I guess...
Just had a truly manic halftime highlights package to narrate - because we're doing a late afternoon game, we had lots of early games to recap, and so I had to narrate a five-minute segment consisting of 29 different highlight scenes. And that was only the middle of a sequence started with first-half highlights and stats of my game (Niners-Titans), and then followed by all of the Week 15 scores and a transition out to a preview of El Clasico next Saturday (Real Madrid-Barcelona). I felt really solid about it, though...very happy with how things have been going so far, not counting the timing glitch at the end of pregame.
That sounds incredibly difficult, about 10 seconds per scene, non-stop? Did you do the highlights alone or was there a color guy to play off of?
The Classico preview must've felt like a breather.
Our postgame show...yikes. I started to introduce the game highlights, and three seconds in the feed suddenly cut back to a live CBS ad break for a good 5-6 seconds (that felt much longer) before normal pictures resumed. I was flustered and misidentified the first highlight of the sequence but just about recovered...and then, well, I think whoever edited the highlights montage was new to DAZN and new to the NFL more generally, because I don't think he knew what he was doing. He included two, three, four or even five replays of each of the final three field goals in the game, which confused the heck out of me - to the point that I jumped ahead and mistook the third replay of Gould's fifth field goal for Succop's late go-ahead Titans field goal, and then mistook the fourth or fifth replay of Gould's fifth field goal for his sixth and game-winning field goal. I managed to just about cover for my mistake thereafter, but that was the equivalent of receiving a hospital pass: I had a reasonable expectation of what I should have been seeing on my screen from past experience, but I was made to look stupid by the way the edit was cut because it wasn't reasonable. Then, we went to our normal "play of the game" feature, which was the 54-yard Jimmy G pass to Kendrick Bourne that set up Gould's fifth field goal, but for some reason the clip kept running into the next Niners' play in that drive, which was also a nice Jimmy G pass to the sidelines; again, that shouldn't have been part of the edit, and its inclusion left me fumbling to understand what I should be looking at and narrating.
From there I got through to the end of the game more or less unscathed, but when I came out of my booth to say goodbye to the production team, it was clear our producer and director weren't happy with quite a bit of what had transpired this evening. I think this is a case where I just need to keep my head down and move on to next week; I'm satisfied with my own performance under the circumstances, but I'm irked in that Titans-Niners was the last game of the day to end, and therefore there might have been people tuning into the end of our game after switching over from Steelers-Pats who would have just seen our postgame screw-ups and not all of the stuff that went right, particularly at halftime. Oh well...
Thankfully, I wasn't doing the Clasico preview - all I had to do was say, "Before we get back to San Francisco and the second half of our NFL game, let’s switch gears from FOOTBALL to FUTBOL: this Saturday is El Clasico, Real Madrid against Barcelona, and let’s take a fan’s eye view of Spain’s biggest soccer game." And then we had a two-minute canned preview that took us to the end of halftime, although after that feature and a 30-second promo, we decided to squeeze in a look at the current AFC playoff standings as a way of leading us into the start of live coverage of the second half.
As for the 29 highlight scenes: yep, that was just me. Nobody else to bounce off of - which is probably just as well, as there wouldn't have been time for anyone else to get much of a word in. I've been doing similar highlights narration for a while on NFL Sundays (e.g., go to the 1:30 mark of this video for a sample of similar work I did back in Week 6), but never so many clips all at once; at first I'm given a shot list with basic facts like the player's name, number of yards gained, score at the moment of the touchdown, etc., and then I add my own facts on top to help with the narration. For example, the first four clips of the 29 were from the Vikings-Bengals game, and the shot list I was given read as follows:
--Vikings: Latavius Murray 1yd touchdown run. 7-0 Vikings.
--Vikings: Eric Kendricks pick 6, returned 30yds for the score. 14-0 Vikings.
--Vikings: Case Keenum to Stefon Diggs 20yd touchdown pass. 24-0 Vikings.
--Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater returns. FINAL SCORE 34-7 VIKINGS
Before I went on air, I quickly scribbled that Keenum's final stats were 20/23, 236 yards, 2 TD (which I looked up on ESPN.com), and also that Bridgewater's first pass in his return was intercepted (reminding myself of something I saw live on the RedZone Channel), so I was able to drop those stats in to the sequence in addition to narrating the basic action. I do feel pretty comfortable doing this now, but I'd agree these are quite difficult skills to master, and I do want to keep improving all the time, both to be as error-free as possible and also to make sure I'm mixing up my vocabulary so that I'm not always repeating the same words or phrases over and over again (e.g., in that link above you'll hear me say "Meanwhile..." quite a lot when transitioning between clips).
My Week 16 NFL assignment: Panthers-Bucs. Could have been worse - Producer Phil was worried in looking at this Sunday's slate, and bearing in mind that we can't choose a late afternoon game because we'll have no staff availability (myself included) as everyone rushes home for Christmas, he was thinking we might get stuck with an even worse clunker. As it is, we can now focus on the NFC South as a whole with Saints-Falcons also going on at the same time...and who knows, maybe Jameis will throw the ball again like he did last night and luck will go against Carolina. It doesn't hurt me that I've already watched the Bucs-Falcons game twice today! (Once in 40-minute mode on NFL Game Pass, and then the full broadcast with it mostly in the background as I did other things.)
I'm back in Leeds today on a day trip - just finished calling my first KHL game in 13 days and my first hockey game at all in 9, and I definitely felt a bit rusty. I took the train down, and I always feel as though I'm much more at risk of catching an illness in that sort of environment...and I had a very slight tickle in my throat to start the day, so I wasn't feeling 100% optimstic. But as the game went on I warmed up, and everything was fine, and I once again ended a KHL team's long winning streak with my commentary presence. (CSKA Moscow had won 12 in a row but lost 4-1 to Metallurg Magnitogorsk in a rematch of the 2016 Gagarin Cup Finals; Metallurg got two empty-netters, so it was much closer than the score indicated.)
More interestingly, and sadly, it looks like DAZN isn't going to be able - allowed, really - to cover any of the NFL playoff games because Bell Canada won't let us add our own stuff to their coverage from Fox/CBS/NBC. All this will change next season, and I really can't wait to be presenting at least one marquee game every week (assuming I'm retained, of course...) and carrying on throughout the playoffs. But this decision might literally cost me thousands of pounds. I can make up for some of it by doing extra games in other sports, and even if I don't, it won't be the end of the world as I'll get to stay home with my family more, and it'll be easier for me to travel to Vienna for the two CHL semifinal legs in January. That said, this does give me a small bit of direct insight into what commentators go through when the TV rights change hands from one network to another. I've thought more than once about Clive Tyldesley, the excellent British soccer commentator who used to be an up-and-comer at the BBC before ITV hired him away to become their #1 commentator. He had some great years with ITV, but then ITV lost their Saturday night highlights program, and then they lost the Champions League, and now instead of being basically the voice of English soccer, he pretty much only calls the occasional England national team game and the World Cup and European Championships in the summer. I'm sure you can think of American examples of the same phenomenon as well...and that's not really what has happened to me, but it does suck in my own small way.
Had a pretty blah KHL game today - SKA St. Petersburg defeating Dynamo Moscow 5-1 - and I'm now taking a break from prep work for my forthcoming game on 29 December. (Just getting some player research done on Dinamo Minsk; I have another game on the 27th, but I've done everything I can do for that game so far already.) I popped out after the match to buy a Christmas card for my wife and think about some last-minute shopping, but I'm more or less ready for Christmas - I spent much of yesterday shopping for food and cooking a pumpkin pie and parsnip/brussels sprout side dishes for the big meal on Christmas Day, insofar as I'm the chief cook and didn't want to face all of that after a long trip home tomorrow night with more commentary work still to come on the 27th, 29th, 30th and 31st. I'm glad I get to be home with my family for Christmas and Boxing Day, but if this is the life I'm going to lead going forward, I (and my wife and kids) have to prepare for the possibility that I might miss Christmas at some point.
As it happens, it looks like I'm going to be home much more than I'd like in January. I've received my initial KHL assignments, and I only have six games to call next month; insofar as it seems I'm not doing any NFL games, that means I have only those six games plus the two CHL semifinal legs to call in January. By comparison, I have 15 assignments this month, and I had 12 in November and 20 in October. That's not the end of the world, but I do want to work more; hopefully I can get some soccer or possibly basketball work at some point. (I'm not sure what February will look like either, insofar as the KHL has no games from 29 January to 25 February because of the Olympics; I am of course working the Olympics and also traveling to the venue of the CHL Final, assignments which will be fun and also quite lucrative, but I don't want to be quite so underemployed next month.)
Also, I'm irked not to have been asked to be involved in KHL All-Star Weekend on the 13th and 14th; my Canadian counterpart got to call the outdoor Winter Classic game at the start of December, and I assume he's been penciled in for the All-Star Game as well, so I can only hope this is down to random assignments based on availability and not a reflection that I've fallen down the pecking order somehow. I've had no feedback or reason to believe the latter is true (or false), but I have mentioned this to Agent Tim and will see what happens.
Incidentally, NFL Producer Phil is also becoming NFL Director Phil for tomorrow's broadcast of the Carolina-Tampa Bay game. I think we're a bit short-staffed on that front (for obvious reasons), so it's quite possible that we might pre-record most of the pregame show and not just my introduction. That's not something we've done before, but that should make Phil's life easier...and I won't mind getting several chances to get everything perfect in case something goes wrong.
I've checked out of my hotel and come into the office more than five-and-a-half hours before I go on the air today - not that I mind at all. I've just finished watching the highlights of my KHL game yesterday, and apart from my goal calls (all of which I liked), my favorite moment happened when SKA was on the power play but lost the puck and Vladimir Bryukvin broke up the ice with the puck shorthanded. Even before he had crossed the red line, I mentioned that Bryukvin had scored two shorthanded goals on the season, and then he dodged a couple of defenders and managed to fire off a high quality shot from less than 20 feet out that easily could have gone in had he not targeted the chest of the SKA goalie. It's pretty rare that I can recall a fact I've researched so quickly as to anticipate events on the ice rather than react to them, but that really paid off for me.
Anyway, I'm really looking forward to my NFL duties today, and reminding myself just how blessed I am (and feel) to be involved in commentating on and/or presenting one of my favorite sports. I know there are many reasons to hate the NFL, but I love the sport's complexity and strategy, and I love how most of the action is contained within that one seven-hour block each week...and now I love that I'm getting paid to memorize playoff scenarios. That really is my number one task today, I feel: when I'm coming out of our NFC South pregame feature or narrating halftime highlights or adding a postscript to our halftime Seahawks-Cowboys preview, I need to know exactly what each game means and how to succinctly relate that to our audience. I feel as though this has always been one of my greatest strengths as a sports fan, never mind a commentator - I'm always aware of every in-game situation - and I hope I can help those (few, tortured) souls watching the Bucs-Panthers game make sense of everything as the game carries on.
I rather doubt I'll be posting during tonight's game, and I'm certainly not going to dawdle in the studio after the game - my target arrival time at home is 45 minutes after midnight. So let me wish you all a Merry Christmas and ask that you spare a thought for everyone involved in sports broadcasts today, tomorrow and on the 26th who won't be home for Christmas because they're dedicated to making your holiday experience that little bit better.
Just to catch up on my last few assignments for DAZN...it's been a crazy few days for me. On Sunday, we had a better-than-expected NFL game, with Panthers-Bucs coming down to the wire; I of course had Saints-Falcons on a separate screen, and not just for personal reasons (as we were heavily featuring the NFC South), and man, it's been a long time since I remember getting so angry at any sporting contest. I definitely felt worse during Sunday's game than I did at any point during the Super Bowl: the Saints had so many lucky breaks and so many borderline to outright dodgy refereeing decisions go in their favor that I was literally hitting walls in the studio in frustration. Not while I was on air, of course - I remained thoroughly professional - but the drive home on Christmas Eve night felt very long despite the speeds at which I was able to travel.
After making the Christmas meal on Monday and trying to recover both from my exertions and an oncoming cold on Boxing Day, on Wednesday I made a day-trip to and from Leeds which really took a lot out of me. I had a decent enough game to call, a 5-2 win for Ak Bars Kazan at Barys Astana, but I was plumbing the depths of my podcast library to try and survive the trip. Oddly enough, I really like how my obstructed voice (I sucked down a cough sweet during each intermission) sounded when listening on the playback - I didn't and don't feel good, but as long as I sound good, that really is the important thing!
Yesterday, we took a family trip to see friends about 20 minutes' drive away, an outing which involved a fairly length walk outside in the cold (with me having left my winter hat and gloves at home) and also time indoors with our friends' pet cat (with me being allergic to cats). So I felt pretty rough when I woke up this morning. I wanted to sleep in as long as possible - the plan was for me to leave at 11 a.m., on the basis that the drive normally takes three-and-a-half hours at most, getting me down to Leeds two hours before the opening faceoff of Dinamo Minsk vs. SKA St. Petersburg. I knew there was a snow warning in effect for southern Scotland and northern England, but it wasn't until I saw the BBC News story showing a snowy photo of Leeds itself that I realized I needed to get up and out as quickly as possible. I managed to escape by 10 a.m., and the drive started OK, but by 11:30 I was literally motionless in traffic as quite a bit of snow fell around me. I began thinking that I wasn't going to make it for the start of the match, or perhaps wouldn't even make it at all: I tried phoning two production assistants at the office in Leeds, but their phones didn't answer, and then I phoned Agent Tim, who I was able to reach. He told me that conditions had improved nearer the Manchester-Leeds corridor, and that I should be OK, which helped calm me down...and indeed, the roads did get better, and after crawling for around half an hour I was able to resume driving at or even slightly above the speed limit by the time I reached Newcastle. I made it to the car park of my hotel about two hours before the game started, so the extra hour I gave myself was a good and much appreciated cushion. (In retrospect, I should have left even earlier, just to be safe!)
And as for today's game...wow. I had Ron Shudra as my commentary partner today, and I think we worked off each other pretty well. The game itself started as you might have expected, with SKA leading 1-0 and outshooting Minsk 12-3 after one period, although Minsk had created better chances than those stats might suggest. And then at the start of the second period, Minsk scored at 2:36, 3:27 (power play), 3:34 (! - see below) and 5:51 (shorthanded) to take a 4-1 lead. Our host broadcaster in Belarus completely missed the third goal: we were still watching replays of the second goal when suddenly the camera zoomed to a shot of the SKA goalie, illuminated by spotlights as the crowd went crazy. I did what I could to retrieve the situation, screaming "They score again! Unbelievable! Shestyorkin beaten a third time, right off the faceoff draw - this game has done a complete 180 here in the second period. Look at the panic on the face of SKA coach Oleg Znaroks...", and so on. We never saw a replay of the third goal at the time, and the only replay we ever saw was from the overhead camera angle normally used on video review to indicate whether the puck has crossed the goalline. None of the cameramen in the arena had filmed the third goal...and because we weren't in the arena to see the incident myself, all Ron and I could do is talk around the goal and eventually tell our audience who the scorer was. I've never been a situation like that before, but I think we handled it about as well as we could. And when the fourth (shorthanded) goal went in, I called the goal and then literally started laughing off-mic, so crazy had the game become. SKA eventually struck back with a goal late in the second, but Minsk held on and scored two empty-netters late, with the final score eventually 6-3 in their favor; I can't remember ever calling a game with a passage as wild as that one in any sport, and it has rather lifted my spirits ahead of the prep work I have to do this evening for my final KHL game of the year tomorrow (Slovan Bratislava vs. Jokerit).
One other note: my NFL assignment on Sunday is Steelers-Browns. We could have taken Chargers-Raiders or Titans-Jaguars, but they are both late games and we simply couldn't get a big enough crew late on New Year's Eve to make those games manageable; in the end, I'm pretty happy to have a game with playoff implications, interesting storylines (e.g., Harrison to New England) and the 0-16 likelihood for Cleveland. I also have to narrate both of our pregame features, as our normal voiceover specialist - who is based in Canada - is out of action with the flu. I can only hope my own voice remains fighting fit by Sunday evening!
My KHL game today between Slovan Bratislava and Jokerit started as normal with the players skating out onto the ice and taking their position for the Finnish and Slovakian national anthems...but after the second anthem, all of the players for both teams remained on their respective blue lines. I didn't know what was going on, but an extra pregame ceremony of some sort was clearly underway, with a blue carpet rolled out and a presentation party of sorts in place. Of course, everything spoken was in Slovakian, but eventually I saw someone holding a jersey with the number 18 and the surname "KAPUS", so I quickly visited eliteprospects.com, searched on "Kapus" and discovered that Richard Kapuš had played 12-plus seasons for Slovan over several different spells between 1990 and 2011, and I started talking about his career as though I knew who he was. Eventually a banner was unfurled and started being raised to the rafters, at which point it became more or less clear that his number was being retired. The ceremony lasted a good 9-10 minutes and delayed the opening faceoff about that length of time; there was only so much I could say during that time period, and when Kapuš addressed the crowd I went silent even though he was speaking Slovakian. Eventually he finished by saying "Ďakujem", which I translated to my audience as meaning "Thank you" - somehow I happened to remember that word from my visit to Bratislava with my wife last December, which I thought was a nice touch, although I also half-jokingly apologized for my grasp of Slovakian otherwise not quite being up to scratch.
Apart from that, the most notable element of today's broadcast - in a game that finished 3-2 to Slovan in an upset - was me being interrupted during the first period by someone in the control room who had effectively dialled the wrong number. Agent Tim is actually commentating as I type on Inter Milan vs. Lazio next door, and his game began an hour after mine; there was a mixup before the game in that the signs on booths 1 and 2 said I should be in booth 2 and Tim (and Barry Horne) should be in booth 1, but the local controllers here in Leeds were under the impression that it should have been the other way round. And I guess the message never got passed to the other remote control room - which I think is either in London or in Ireland somewhere, not sure which - because in the middle of my commentary I suddenly had to pause and pipe back at the person who had introduced himself, saying "I'm in the middle of commentary!" Not a big deal, but you do have to think quickly on your feet in this business.
Anyway, I was so shattered after yesterday - after my fraught drive through the snow and my crazy commentary game, I worked for another three-plus hours preparing for today's game - that after I got breakfast at the hotel this morning, I went back to bed there and stayed there until nearly 2 p.m. My voice feels rougher than it sounds; hopefully I can hold out for one more day's worth of NFL duty before heading home for five days off.
I'd always wondered if announcers did that! This thread really is a goldmine. There were definitely some long pauses of dead air during, say, Patriots games in 2007, where I suspected the announcers were muted and sitting there cackling at the absurdity of it all. I guess most of you are actually human.
I'd think the fun part of that tomorrow will be monitoring the Patriots game and seeing who takes which players out of the game based on the respective scores. "Oh look, the Patriots are now up 21-0, and it seems Big Ben has suddenly been pulled, and the stadium is now running a lucky-fan lottery for who gets to come down to the sideline and go in at QB for Pittsburgh..."
The Steelers-Browns game wound up being very watchable - much better than any other game we could have chosen in the early window. And with Falcons-Panthers or the RedZone Channel on my phone in the car on the way home, the drive absolutely flew by, and I was home in my kitchen to watch the end of the Ravens-Bengals game. Really perfect...although I'm already missing the fact that I'm not involved in the playoffs in any way. Hopefully next year (please please please). I do have two KHL games this weekend and am flying to Vienna for the first leg of the Champions Hockey League semifinals on Monday, but still.
Meanwhile, earlier this evening I received possibly the weirdest job offer I can imagine from Simon at Eurosport. Here's the email he sent me in full:
Baseball is obviously one of my favorite sports - I wouldn't have made it to this website if it wasn't - and I called a few Beanpot baseball games on radio from Fenway back in the day, plus I've been meaning to prepare a proper MLB demo tape at some point. So I can absolutely do this job. But you could have given me a million guesses as to where my professional baseball commentary debut would take place, and I still can't imagine I would have gotten around to guessing "Jakarta, Indonesia". I'll definitely keep everyone posted about this one!
Just in the middle of my second KHL game of the weekend - Jokerit against Metallurg Magnitogorsk - and I managed to drop a Rene Rancourt reference after Pekka Kuivalainen sang the Finnish national anthem. I think this is my fourth Jokerit home game I've called this season, and I've noticed this same tenor (Kuivalainen) come onto the ice each time to sing the Finnish anthem after a recording of the Russian anthem is played for the visiting team; I haven't yet seen him pump his fist and exhort Jokert on after he's done singing, but then, I haven't seen a Jokerit playoff game yet.
I got to call a nice, tight game yesterday which Ak Bars Kazan won 3-2 at Spartak Moscow, and we're 0-0 so far after 20 minutes in Helsinki. Weird that on what is Christmas Day in the Eastern Orthodox Church, I'm covering a game from a non-Orthodox country, but it is a good matchup and should be pretty close the rest of the way.
I thought I'd give your book a plug here. I read "A Golfer's Education" over the holidays, and found it very entertaining. It's only a good read for a golfer, I suppose, but your thoughts on the game and on the golf courses you have played were terrific. As one who has organized my share of golf trips and taken heaps of criticism for overdoing the travel between courses, I very much enjoyed your description of the blow-out tour of Scotland. And the Prologue, describing how you presented a year in St. Andrews as a scholarly endeavor, is priceless.
Why thank you - your check is in the mail. I really enjoyed writing A Golfer's Education, but more than that, I really enjoyed experiencing everything in it. (I've also written a novel called Do You Want Total War? about a history-obsessed high school kid that can be found and bought on Amazon, FWIW, if anyone is interested.)
I'm now in Vienna for the first leg of the CHL semifinals, having enjoyed my KHL game on Sunday - in which I got to call an overtime winner (for Metallurg Magnitogorsk), which is never not fun. Re: the aforementioned novel, I do love me some history myself, and I was pleased to have a chance to talk about a Metallurg player on Sunday who was born in Murmansk, which led to a brief soliloquy about that Arctic port's importance as the destination of many Allied convoys to the Soviet Union during World War II. I feel like I could bring more of that into my commentary, really.
My main commentary-related "swing thought" at the moment involves saying less and being sure to evenly weight each and every syllable I speak. It can be very easy for me to speed through certain words or phrases or parts of sentences to get to the more interesting bit or the punch line, but I need to remember that those latter elements only truly work when my listeners don't have to strain to hear every last word I'm speaking. Joe Buck is actually a very good object lesson in this regard: I tend to think he would benefit from being a tiny bit less monotonic, but having his voice in my head can help me concentrate on becoming more monotonic and less sing-songy.
My game tonight is between Vaxjo Lakers, top of the Swedish league, and Bili Tygri Liberec, 11th in the 14-team Czech Extraliga (and in danger of missing their domestic playoffs despite reaching the European semfinals). On paper it's a mismatch, but Liberec knocked out two far superior teams in the previous two rounds, including the two-time defending champions Frolunda Gothenburg, so I'm hopeful that they can keep it close. That said, Vaxjo would be by far the easiest potential venue for the Final for me to get to, so I don't mind too much if I wind up calling two blowouts over the two semifinal legs. This time last year, when the CHL was pretty much the only commentary gig I had,, that prospect would have frightened me: I want to be involved in close games and calling as many dramatic moments as possible, and the semifinals and final are the games where the most dramatic moments can happen. But now, I know I'll be involved in the KHL's Gagarin Cup Playoffs in March and April, and possibly some late-season soccer games, and many more jobs in general going forward. So I don't need to worry: I'll get plenty of chances eventually even if they don't come immediately.
Three (vaguely) interesting points about my CHL game tonight, which finished 1-1 and at least means the second leg next Tuesday will be evenly poised:
--The Liberec rosters were all over the place leading up to the match: different sources gave different jersey numbers for different players, and in some cases multiple players were each listed as having the same number. I knew there would be trouble, particularly given the lack of a readily accessible printer in the office, so I hit upon what I thought was a creative solution: I printed off three copies of the Liberec roster and three copies of a list of the backup and junior players whose numbers I thought would be problematic, and when the lineup came in I used a pair of scissors and a bit of blu-tack to put the two missing players on my main sheet of roster prep where they should be. Worked incredibly well, although it was a source of some hilarity when I asked my German producer if he had a pair of scissors and he stared at me blankly - "What is 'scissors'?" That's one of those words you learn early on when studying a foreign language and then immediately forget.
--During the first period, I made a comment on air about how each coach very much wanted to win this game, but that when a coach gets fired it's usually because of poor domestic results rather than how they do in the CHL. When I checked my emails at the end of the first period, I had an email waiting for me from my contact at the media company that oversees the whole CHL (and who will be onsite with me at the Final next month), mentioning that someone in CHL marketing had heard my comment and asked me not to say that domestic leagues are more important than the CHL. Which isn't what I said, really...a quick exchange of emails sorted that out, but in truth, I'm more happy to know that *someone* out there is watching than I am annoyed that my statement was misheard!
--The person at the controls for my game this evening had a habit of arriving at just the last minute to count me on air at the start of each period. Before the third period, he was so late arriving that I found myself chasing to the far end of the studio to find him; he would have just been back on time, but I don't want to take those sorts of chances. And because I was running around, I found myself somewhat short of breath when the third period began. Not a big deal, but not ideal...and long after the game, I still have a slight cramp in my side from trying to cope with that situation on air.
Another vaguely interesting stat I just compiled back here in my hotel room this evening: in my first three years of working on the Champions Hockey League, I commentated on a total of 59 live hockey games. Since August, I have already commentated on a total of 50 hockey games as well as 6 soccer matches, not counting the 14 NFL games I've presented (pregame/halftime/postgame) or the one basketball game I called back in March. It's so, so much easier to learn as a commentator when you're getting so many opportunities to work in rapid succession!
Today I made another day trip to Leeds to call the Jokerit (Helsinki) vs. Kunlun Red Star (Beijing/Shanghai) in the KHL, which started at 11:30 a.m. Eastern. Overshadowing the game itself to some extent - in my mind at least - was the noon ET press conference being held to announce the Canadian ice hockey team roster for the forthcoming Olympics. So while I prepared to call the game as normal, I figured I would have to cover this bit of breaking news in some way as well, and during the first period I mentioned to my audience that I would talk about the Canadian roster and the many KHL players sure to be on it in some form or fashion as the game progressed.
During the first intermission, I started watching a live stream of the press conference in question...and it was one of these bureaucratic affairs that almost would have put the FIFA World Cup Draw ceremony to shame, with meaningless members of the Team Canada backroom staff coming out to thank everyone and their mothers about everyone and their mothers. The press conference started before I switched on at the start of the intermission, and it was still going at the start of the second period without any players having been named in the squad yet. So as I went back on the air, I mentioned that I would talk about the roster during the third period, although as I glanced over at the still-running press conference on my laptop I saw video clips being shown of various players who were included in the squad, and I couldn't help but mention a few of them before returning to "focus on the players on the ice" - one of whom (Kunlun's Gilbert Brule), I soon discovered, had actually been named in the squad. So I mentioned him, but then I tried to turn my attention back to the ice.
During the second intermission, then, I had a full list of players in the squad, but I only had the list of names and nothing else. So for about 10 or 12 minutes I researched all 25 players on eliteprospects.com, so that I knew which teams they were currently playing on (I knew many of these already myself) and also which NHL and KHL teams they might have played on previously and roughly for how long. My plan was to scatter some discussion and analysis of the squad by position - goalies, then defensemen, then forwards - throughout the third period, and although there were some power plays and a goal to deal with along the way, with eight-and-a-half minutes left in the game I had talked through the first two position groups and was basically waiting for the next stoppage in play (hopefully including a Russian TV timeout) to go through the list of forwards, which is of course was the largest group and encompassed 14 of the 25 players. So what happened next? Play continued without a single stoppage from when there was 8:30 remaining until Jokerit scored an empty-net goal to clinch the game with 30 seconds left. Of all the rotten timing...I wound up blitzing through the list of forwards during the final 30 seconds of the game, helped thankfully by a stupid icing infraction with six seconds left.
I suppose that if I this had been a Hockey Night in Canada (or America) broadcast, I would have gone through my timings with a producer and had help in making these editorial decisions with other people speaking in my ear along the way. But nope, I had to very much wing it myself...and I took a gamble that sort of failed, albeit through no real fault of my own. I was pleased, though, to be able to function as a journalist of sorts and not just as a commentator: one often wears many hats when working as a solo play-by-play commentator.
I've just picked up my first basketball commentary assignments for DAZN. They're quite awkward, really - I have go to down to London and call two games in the FIBA Americas League, a sort of basketball equivalent of the Copa Libertadores in soccer except including Mexican and Central American clubs as well as those from South America. The pay isn't great, and both matches take place on the night of Saturday January 27 as part of a doubleheader from the same venue - or rather, the first game starts at 10:15 p.m. on the Saturday, and the second thereafter at around 12:30 a.m. on the Sunday morning. And then I have to get to Leeds for a KHL game which starts about 12 hours after the second basketball game ends.
Hmmm...the more I type this up, the less attractive the assignment seems to me! But it's good to get a foot in the FIBA basketball door, and I'm keen to get a couple of full games under my belt that I can use as demo tapes above and beyond my Eurocup half-game (slightly less than half a game) for Eurosport last March:
So we'll see what happens.
Congrats on the basketball gig!
Hope you got to travel to the Canary Islands for that previous game. Love that you're citing the imperial units for players' height... I'd be amused to learn if that's an export of ours when discussing basketball.
FWIW, I wasn't in the Canary Islands, but rather Eurosport's Feltham (London) studio.
Anyway, just a quick note here regarding this thread I started in BBTL: one aspect of being a commentator is that you *have* to be capable of emotionally detaching yourself from sport. I remember Nick Hornby writing in Fever Pitch that one of his darkest fears involved becoming a sports journalist and getting paid to write about the sport he loved, on the basis that for him, fear and loathing were (are?) essential elements of the experience of being a sports fan, and he would never want to have to endure that degree of detachment. I get plenty emotional about sports (particularly regarding the teams I support), and I obviously commentate on sports with a fair amount of emotion, but at the same time I find it quite liberating to take my fan's hat off and commentate on sport with no real rooting interest. I may root for the story of a match, and get a bit more excitable when a team scores two goals to go from 4-0 down to only 4-2 down than when the other team scores the next two goals to go 6-2 up again, but that sort of excitement should mirror the neutral fan's perspective. Of course, guessing what "the neutral fan's perspective" is at any moment can be problematic...and when fans of any team complain that Joe Buck or Jim Nantz or Cris Collinsworth or Commentator X is biased against their team, 999 times out of 1,000 (if not more) I reckon that even when there is solid circumstantial evidence of bias (which is far rarer than most partisan fans will admit), such bias will be rooted in this "neutral fan's perspective" concept. Of course, no commentator is ever 100% accurate in correctly ascertaining what the neutral perspective actually is at any given moment, but I'm pretty tired of hearing fans complain that commentators are biased against their teams.
Meanwhile, just to echo another post of mine (in Omar), I'm delighted to report that my daughter has secured a small acting role in a forthcoming episode of Outlander. I've certainly reflected a bit in recent years about the parallels between acting and commentating, and perhaps I'll share those thoughts some other time, but I'm delighted that my daughter will shortly earn her own a freelance paycheck for a performance on television! This did cause a fair amount of grief for me today, though: I deliberately didn't watch either of yesterday's NFL playoff games live, instead downloading them to my phone (on NFL Game Pass) so I could watch them during my two flights to Vienna today. I accidentally spoilered myself for the Steelers-Jags game last night, so I watched that whole game knowing that the score would be 35-28 Jags at some point, but I was fine for Saints-Vikings until I emailed my mother to tell her the news about my daughter, and she responded with great joy but then also asked in the same email if I'd seen the ending of the Saints-Vikings game, which she didn't understand was a pretty hard spoiler in and of itself. Grrrr.
Vaxjo defeated Liberec 6-1 in the CHL semifinal second leg game I called tonight, and 7-2 on aggregate - it was all over very early. But I still really enjoyed commentating on it: there's a real thrill for me in setting the scene of an important game, putting it into historical context, tracking the other semifinal with a view to discussing the potential final matchup and which team might get home ice advantage for it, etc.
As it happens, JYP Jyvaskyla (which is missing several umlauts and which the SoSH spell-checker quite hilariously thinks should read "Skylark") defeated Ocelari Trinec in a penalty shootout, so we have a Sweden vs. Finland final, and I get to return to Vaxjo the day after the Super Bowl, probably via a direct flight to Copenhagen and then a train or car journey over "The Bridge" of Scandi noir fame. I probably would rather have gone to Trinec and seen a new city in a mostly new country for me, but as I have become a more regular commentator, the lure of new adventures begins to pale in comparison to more straightforward logistical calculations. And Vaxjo is a very nice, small Swedish city - barely more than a town - that I enjoyed walking around 12 months ago. So I'm already looking forward to that.
One rather less pleasant logistical note: I returned to my hotel this evening around 10:30 p.m., only to discover that I had AGAIN left the charger for my laptop in the studio I had just left (albeit here in Vienna rather than in Leeds as I did a few weeks ago). Such an idiot! I had to make a quick call and decided to rush back to the studio, via subway and a lengthy walk (about 25 minutes in total from the subway station there and back again), to get it before the last subway trains headed back into the city center. I made it OK, and it was probably good exercise for me, but why did I have to choose to be so stupid on the last night of my last trip to Vienna this season?