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JUMBO DREAMS
JACK MCCALLUM
January 26, 2009
THE GIANT VIDEO SCREEN, THAT ELECTRIC MIRROR OF OUR SPORTS CULTURE, HAS TRANSFORMED THE WAY WE WATCH GAMES—AND EVEN THE WAY THEY'RE PLAYED
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January 26, 2009

Jumbo Dreams

THE GIANT VIDEO SCREEN, THAT ELECTRIC MIRROR OF OUR SPORTS CULTURE, HAS TRANSFORMED THE WAY WE WATCH GAMES—AND EVEN THE WAY THEY'RE PLAYED

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"I feel it too," says Fernandez. "My hand is on number 1." Hitting that button would cue up the Red Hot Chili Peppers hit. (But there will be no Patriots turnover.)

After a personal-foul penalty against New England, graphics specialist Heather Pearson yells, "Get ready for Naughty, Naughty, Eddie," referring to the John Parr song. On it goes.

As they have evolved, giant scoreboards have assumed one principal function: to provide a home field advantage. Yes, they give the score, the time, stats, out-of-town results and franchise-burnishing info such as how bountifully the players feed the poor on Thanksgiving. "But priority Number 1," Griffith says, "is to help the home team, within the rules, win the game." That's true in any sport, but it's in football that the scoreboard has the largest presence—more personnel, more noise, more home-team help. "I love this job, and I wish I could do it every day!" Fernandez shouts after cueing up Metallica and watching some 67,000 fans start to gyrate. He is the wizard, the man behind the curtain. Says New York Giants center Shaun O'Hara, "The 12th man is definitely the fans, and if there was a 13th-man award, it would probably be the jumbotron."

League rules in all sports keep the wizards from unleashing anarchy. In Major League Baseball all moving scoreboard graphics must stop once the pitcher settles in to face the batter. NBA rules list 11 "traditional fan prompts" (such as "Charge," "Defense" and We Will Rock You) that are the only scoreboard noise allowed when the visiting team has the ball. In the NFL, once the play clock begins ticking, the boards must stop flashing or creating other distractions; when the huddle breaks, all graphics must cease—though live game action is permitted. If allowed, the scoreboard crew would show endless replays of bad calls against the home team, but there are restrictions. "The home club is ... to use discretion in the showing of replays that could cause strong fan reaction," reads the NFL game operations manual. "If the game is stopped for a replay challenge or review, no replay may be shown on the in-house video board except the network feed. Once a decision is made on a review, no replays may be shown of the play that was under review."

During the New England-- Miami game, Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss gets away with a push-off on a 29-yard touchdown pass—the Dolphins are actually called for pass interference—and cries of protest fill the scoreboard room. "If you got it," Griffith says, "show it." Up goes the CBS replay on the big board, followed by the predictable cries of outrage from the bleachers. But the Dolphins follow the NFL mandate and don't show it again.

Of course, scoreboard taunts are part of the game. As New York Giants placekicker Jay Feely prepared for a potential game-winning 36-yard field goal at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia in 2005, the Eagles' scoreboard crew rustled up video of Feely missing three field goals two weeks earlier, which had cost the Giants a victory over the Seattle Seahawks. Feely says he sensed what was happening but didn't look up. He then made the kick to give the Giants a 26--23 overtime victory.

Back at the Dolphins-Patriots game, there is gloom in the scoreboard room. Miami has self-destructed and is about to lose 48--28. "There is nothing we can do up here if things are going bad down there," Griffith observes. A few minutes remain in the game, though, and Clark stares glumly at his bank of screens.

"What else do you want to use, Jeff?" he asks Griffith. "Crowd? Out-of-town scores?"

"Just stay on the game," says Griffith. Finally, inevitably, he adds, "If you have kids or cheerleaders, show them."

Kids and cheerleaders—the last refuge of the defeated.

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