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GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH
James Murray
November 26, 1956
TV's Game of the Week moves west to watch USC play UCLA. Artist Joe Kaufman illustrates the enormous preparation it takes to put it on
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November 26, 1956

Greatest Show On Earth

TV's Game of the Week moves west to watch USC play UCLA. Artist Joe Kaufman illustrates the enormous preparation it takes to put it on

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"That illustrates one of the important differences, video versus radio. On TV the audio must supplement the video but not overpower it. We must try to keep out of the way as much as possible. It's a funny thing, but audience preference in video-casting breaks down regionally. In the East they don't want you to talk at all—just shut up and let them see. In the Midwest they want you to talk your head off. They get nervous if they can't hear you chattering. Last week we got a letter from a man who was sore because we talked over the band music. Only there wasn't any band music [Navy-Notre Dame]."

There are almost as many people who watch the TV Game of the Week for the peripheral goings-on as for pure football, Nelson has found out. He wisely tries to let the audience in on the rooting sections, card stunts, band tricks and assorted hoopla. But he never indulges in half-time interviews and bars the door to incoming telegrams from "the gang at Joe's Bar and Grill" or the old grad from Sweetwater, Texas who reports "game coming through loud and clear here."

Nelson is trying to profit by a generation of mistakes in sportscasting. A profession pioneered by the late Graham McNamee, whose broadcasts roamed the wonders of nature, only occasionally pausing to rest on the action of the field, sportscasting traditionally has been the domain of a cluster of velvet voices who disguised what was going on beneath a mass of alliteration and misinformation which enriched the language but not the sport. Lindsey Nelson was picked for his job by NBC Sports Director Tom Gallery because he was tired of this turgid tattling and wanted a man less noted for his mellifluence than for his football acumen. Nelson, brought up in the football tradition of the University of Tennessee, a spawning ground of modern football techniques which saw Coach Bob Neyland send such other cadets to the football wars as Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd, Minnesota's Murray Warmath and Tennessee's Bowden Wyatt.

"I can't ever say 'Coffin Corner,' 'fourth and final period,' 'whole host of tacklers' or any of the clich�s anymore," admits Nelson. "On the other hand, I can't aim specifically at the technical audience either. We don't conduct a football clinic. The basic things a football fan wants to know are still who carried the ball? how far? and who stopped him?"

Nelson does not even conduct the time-out critiques, turning these over to a co-worker whose credentials are in perfect order—Harold (Red) Grange. Red comes to the game armed with a sampler's assortment of oddments and statistics so that he can—at the drop of a ball—tell the audience that they just saw ol' State fumble for the umpteenth time this year or that the naked reverse which just fooled Tech was the same play that won last year's game for the old master of the single wing.

The team of Nelson and Grange arrive on the scene of the Game of the Week simultaneously with the sound truck (which, fully loaded, is a 14-ton mobile studio whose drivers groaned in Baltimore two weeks ago when they learned they had just five days to drive to Minneapolis for Minnesota-Iowa). Grange's main job is to add color and the second-guesser's touch to the action and, unofficially, to divert the heavy public relations load from Nelson by taking on the luncheon and cocktail party good-will appearances. "I've covered so many homecoming games [six so far this year] that I just couldn't take one more maudlin old grad!" groans Nelson.

TOO BUSY FOR CHICKEN

Nelson is actually too busy out at the practice fields acquainting himself with the vying squads to take on the Martinis and the vulcanized chickens anyway. The first thing he does in town is inscribe the names of all (three-deep) personnel on a Rube Goldbergian contraption he got up himself—two pieces of sheet metal cut in the shape of a football with 11 "windows" cut in for the names of the players. Nelson inserts disks bearing the names, numbers, hometowns, weights and heights of the players into these. The disk inserted into the left tackle spot, for instance, will have the first-, second-and third-string left tackles listed so that Nelson—in the heat of the game—can have a correct lineup in front of him by simply spinning the disk to allow the correct name to appear in the window.

Nelson must prowl the home-team campus for days before the game for valuable tip-offs on the host team and a study of the motion pictures of the opposing team. Coaches are normally hospitable and trust Nelson implicitly. In the Kentucky- Georgia Tech game Coach Bobby Dodd told him his team would run several series off an unbalanced line in the second half. Forewarned, Nelson was able to call his downfield players more correctly than the home-town radio broadcaster.

At the Minnesota-Iowa game Nelson became aware of Iowa's predilection for using a trailing flanker and was able to caution Smith and Davis not to let the cameras go up too close on apparent pass plays: " Iowa might lateral the ball right out of the picture."

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