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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Behind the Scenes with FOX NFL Crew: The Packers-Cowboys thriller


By Richie Zyontz
FOX NFL Lead Producer

Editor’s Note: Richie Zyontz has been an NFL producer for FOX since 1994 and the lead producer for the last 20 seasons. He has more than 40 years of experience covering the league and has produced six Super Bowls. Throughout the 2022 NFL season, he will provide an inside look as FOX’s new No. 1 NFL team makes its journey toward Super Bowl LVII.

GREEN BAY, WI. — The soundtrack of big NFL broadcasts has been narrated by a select few voices. When you hear Al Michaels , Jim Nantz or Joe Buck, it’s safe to assume you’re listening to an important game.

The late, great Pat Summerall could order breakfast and make it sound like fourth and goal.

It’s a tough club to join.

Enter Kevin Burkhardt — a 10-year play-by-play veteran now in his first year calling FOX’s top game. In my opinion, that exclusive club has a worthy new member.

Sometimes you just click with people. Maybe it’s based on common interests or background. Perhaps it’s a similar sense of humor or a shared love of the New York Mets. But you feel the comfort immediately, and that’s how I feel nine weeks into my first season working with Kevin.

The secret sauce

Knowledge, preparation, relatability and likability are solid starting points for a successful broadcasting career. A strong voice that cuts through the sound of the crowd helps. But there’s another crucial element: enthusiasm. I enjoy listening to announcers who sound like they’re enjoying themselves. A sound that tells the viewer I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else other than calling this game.

KB has an ease about him that is a producer’s dream, and a collaborative spirit that was evident from our very first conversation . In that talk, he asked for a list of names of our entire technical crew so he could get a head start on learning who’s who and who does what. A very nice touch!

The palace guard

There are important support players all broadcast teams rely on. For play-by-play announcers , the two most critical jobs belong to the spotter and the booth statistician. Fortunately, our crew has two talented, experienced people flanking Kevin.

Mitch Smith, a native of St Louis and a former editor with The Sporting News, has been in broadcast booths for 20 years, and at Kevin’s side for the last 10. As spotter, he not only serves as KB’s second set of eyes for identifying players, but is a trusted sounding board during the game.

When calling an NFL game, having someone beside you to turn to for context and strategy is a huge comfort. Mitch is that guy.

FOX NFL announcer Kevin Burkhardt (middle) with booth statistician Jeff Nelson (left) and booth spotter Mitch Smith (right).

The other member of KB’s posse is Jeff Nelson (Nellie), a native South Dakotan who began doing statistical work as a college student in the late 1970s. Nellie is the keeper of the numbers. This is no easy task, as games move quickly and the time to react and compute has become shorter over time.

Like Mitch, he joined Kevin when his FOX play-by-play career got underway 10 years ago.

They both offer wise counsel and have blended in seamlessly with our crew.

But here’s a key stat neither is particularly happy with: Mitch was a St. Louis Cardinals football fan, Nellie grew up cheering on the Minnesota Vikings. Their teams have never won a Super Bowl.

Thank you for your service

Veterans Day telecasts have always honored the connection between the NFL and the military. But we need look no further than our own crew to find two veterans with unique stories.

Randy Kenley, who drives one of our big-rig mobile units around the country, grew up in the 1960s surfing and sunning in Huntington Beach, California.

He was drafted in 1970 and expected to be shipped off to Vietnam. Of the 365 men in his company, 363 were indeed headed to Southeast Asia. Not Randy. Instead, the young man who never saw snow was deployed to Anchorage, Alaska. After several months of training, he served in the ski patrol protecting vital military installations in the frozen north.

U.S. military veterans and FOX Sports TV crewmembers Randy Kenley (left) and Jason Carter (right).

Jason Carter, who controls the yellow first-down marker and other virtual graphics on our broadcasts, spent six years with the Navy on a ship off the coast of southern Japan. He worked as a public-affairs official and journalist for Armed Forces Radio. Military service runs deep in his family, including a grandfather who fought in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II.

So while the NFL honors their connections with the military, we want to make sure we honor those we serve with, too.

Classic rivalry renewed

When your day begins with an old-fashioned tailgate party for the crew featuring beer-soaked bratwurst, chances are it will be a good day.

The FOX NFL TV crew, including Kevin Burkhardt, Greg Olsen and Erin Andrews, enjoys bratwurst outside of Lambeau Field before the Cowboys-Packers game.

Former Packers coach Mike McCarthy made his return to Lambeau Field, providing much drama and the major storyline for our broadcast.

Director Rich Russo and associate producer Rich Gross had our camera crew prepared for McCarthy’s early-morning appearance on the field.

Then, during pregame warmups, we were able to witness his interactions with his former players, including a big hug and smile with Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Mike McCarthy reunites with Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb at Lambeau Field

Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy reunites with Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb at Lambeau Field before his matchup against the Green Bay Packers.

All game long, our cameras captured the emotions of a classic game. From an irate Rodgers barking at head coach Matt LaFleur to an elated Rodgers doing a happy jig following a Green Bay score.

From a jubilant McCarthy in the first half enjoying a Dallas lead, to a furious McCarthy slamming his headset in disgust as the game slipped away.

A new hero emerged for Green Bay as rookie receiver Christian Watson caught three touchdown passes.

Packers’ Christian Watson DOMINATES in victory over the Cowboys

Rookie receiver Christian Watson caught three touchdown passes to help the Green Bay Packers pick up a 31-28 overtime victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

We were able to replay Green Bay’s first play of the season when Watson let a surefire TD slip right through his hands.

From goat to hero — what a terrific story.

Ultimately, we were treated to a classic overtime thriller as Green Bay prevailed 31-28, breaking a five-game losing streak. Kevin Burkhardt’s outstanding calls matched the excitement of every big moment — and there were many.

Aaron Rodgers on Packers’ comeback win vs. Cowboys

Tom Rinaldi talks to Aaron Rodgers about a big win at home against the Dallas Cowboys, bouncing back after a rough couple of weeks and how they can use this game to fuel them moving forward. Rodgers also talks about his special relationship with Mike McCarthy and what it meant to have him back at Lambeau Field.

Now we head east for our first look at the surprising 7-2 New York Giants, who battle the suddenly hot Detroit Lions.

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