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“This,” Monday Night Football director Jimmy Platt remembered thinking to himself on Saturday, Dec. 4, “is going to be a game like no other.”
With the monster AFC East New England at Buffalo game still two days away, Platt was well aware the wind and weather conditions in Orchard Park, N.Y., were only a preview of Monday evening’s forecast for 40 mph wind gusts and snow.
“During that Buffalo Bills practice is where our contingency plan became our new game plan – both from an operations and safety standpoint,” Platt said. “The story surrounding the game was evolving, and we had to position ourselves in the best way to capture that for the viewer.”
The Patriots, throwing only three passes, outlasted the Bills, 14-10, enduring wind-chill temperatures reportedly dipping into the mid-20s.
The ESPN telecast from Highmark Stadium was successful thanks to the production crew’s preparation and teamwork.
The crew decided to do a few things long before game time:
- The popular Sky Cam, controlled on cables, was taken down
- Camera positions inside the stadium were altered
- Camera operators’ isolation assignments were revised
- The replay strategy and focus were re-formalized
The new game plan would be an adjustment for the broadcast booth, too.
Quarterbacking the Monday morning production meeting, MNF analyst Brian Griese had a clear message for the production group: Communication is going to be key.
“We were so well-prepared going in, and our crew did a great job of making adjustments,” Griese said a few days later. “Yet, we knew there would be elements that would develop, and we had to make sure we were always talking, always on the same page. I am so proud of this crew and what they accomplished on Monday night. Their effort was extraordinary.”
Once on-site for the game on Monday, it was clear the conditions would be, in a word, abysmal.
“In challenging conditions, looking after your colleagues is heightened,” Platt said. “Everyone in our business knows your co-workers are your second family. We care about one another; we look out for one another.”
Colleagues were particularly concerned for Dourrian French, the high-end zone camera operator who would have the game’s “coldest position.”
Fortunately, MNF’s “E-Unit” trailer is stocked for such occasions and serves as a warming tent.
“We have our ‘end-of-the-world’ winter clothes bags in that E-unit,” said camera operator Greg Logan. “Those bags were utilized this week and in a true act of kindness; fellow camera operator Todd Marshall made sure Dourrian had everything and anything he needed, from heated vest to heated socks.”
The E-unit was buzzing all pregame and into the night. The Monday Night Countdown crew battled the elements in the run-up, too, seeking cover in E-Unit as crew members came and went, taking breaks when needed and also scouting out the evolving weather.
ESPN's Monday Night Countdown panel had to deal with quite the wind in Buffalo. pic.twitter.com/Bx772pRzoU
— The Comeback (@thecomeback) December 6, 2021
“On a night like that, the mental challenge is significant, too, in addition to the physical challenge,” Platt said. “We wanted everyone to be as fresh as possible and made adjustments in the pregame to best ensure that.”
During the telecast, play-by-play commentator Steve Levy had the idea of reading the names of certain crew members battling the conditions to bring fans the unforgettable contest.
“It was a small way for us to show our gratitude,” said Levy.
With 15 million viewers watching the historic affair on MNF, the production crew had several key moments that helped document the game:
- Brian Griese demonstrating the adjustment Bills QB Josh Allen would make to help him succeed in stormy conditions
- The use of different camera angles setting up field goals, giving viewers a sense of the wind impact
- The high-end zone camera – a credit to French – becoming the key replay of the game
Sideline reporter Lisa Salters and her producer Eric Lundsten worked out in the elements first in pregame and then throughout the matchup, providing specific reports on the weather
— ❌❌❌ (@FTB_Vids_YT) December 6, 2021
Tonight, as Monday Night Football returns, the crew will be far from Buffalo, in the elements-resistant comfort of State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., as the Cardinals host the Los Angeles Rams.
It’s a welcomed change of pace.
However, with games in Chicago and Pittsburgh on the horizon, you better believe the E-Unit is being restocked and will be ready for anything – just like Platt’s team.
“It is for the love of the job,” he said.