Show The Guys When They’re Happiest
11:38 AM EST on February 12, 2024
Sports are proof of empathy. Despite having no actual stake in what's happening on the field or ice or court—not being part of the team, not standing to earn a contract, not getting endorsement deals, not being invited to the afterparty—a fan rises with their team's wins and sinks with their losses. Even when the game does not actually feature our guys, like most Super Bowls, we understand how the people on screen are feeling. We're acquainted with Disappointment; we've met Elation before. We can smile when the winners jump around and hug each other to celebrate the greatest moment of their lives. We can feel that twinge in our hearts when one of the losing team covers his face with a towel. It's a rare thing we actually have in common with these extraordinary athletes—if we can never touch the physical, we all have the emotional.
To say that television plays a key role in how we process these moments would be a tremendous understatement. It is the machine that brings the game and the players to us. It's also a limiting factor: You can only react to what you see, and as such the decisions behind what to show or not show actively shape our memories and stimulate our emotional responses.
I would love to hear other suggestions, but I think the best-produced moment in sports history is Kirk Gibson's home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. Master storyteller Vin Scully lending his voice to the drama is obviously a tremendous help, but every shot is impeccable. The ball sails over the right field fence and the view lingers on pandemonium in the bleachers. Cut to Gibson rounding first base, dragging those bum legs, which tells the story of how anything but a long ball would have been useless. Cut to Tommy Lasorda running out of the dugout like he just won the lottery. Cut to Gibson again—fist pump, hat tip, high five, joy at home plate with his teammates. Cut to the masses, so we're reminded of the magnitude of the crowd. Cut to the A's for contrast, heartbreak amid the ecstasy. Cut to Gibson celebrating with a succession of interchangeably delirious pals before Scully returns with an all-timer of a line. Everything we see has a clear purpose, builds the story on what came before, and has an immediately legible emotion attached to it.
A walk-off touchdown to win a Super Bowl is as good as it gets in the NFL. In a player's wildest dreams, that game-ending pass cannot be topped. Mahomes to Hardman won't be forgotten anytime soon, but the CBS broadcast crew didn't meet the moment like I would have hoped. It was as though they purposely kept us away from the heart of the catharsis, leaving us only to imagine what it might possibly have felt like while Tony Romo rambled over disconnected pictures.
After about four seconds of holding the shot on the field, the first cut was to Taylor Swift's box, which is an explicable choice but one that fell flat in execution because no one's faces were even visible. The next cut was to Jauan Jennings of the Niners, by himself, looking like he was waiting for a bus, followed by Kyle Shanahan ... walking. Finally, we got just a couple of seconds with the winning players themselves in the aftermath of their triumph before the backs of a couple of bald heads took up most of the screen. In those few dozen seconds I kept willing the cameras to go back to the scene of once-in-a-lifetime, but the direction mainly seemed concerned with sloppy or bland cutaways that implied what they were cutting away from wasn't dramatic enough.
Surprisingly, it was the kids' broadcast that did a better job here. They didn't cut to any individual players, but for their slime gimmick, they needed to hold a wide shot of the field, and as a result the children got to see everyone hot-footing it off the KC sideline to share in the moment. The first cut was to Andy Reid howling with delight, which we didn't get on CBS.
That silly face, and this warmth it sparked in me after I saw it early this morning, is what I had wanted last night. The closest I'll ever get to winning the Super Bowl is watching someone's face immediately after they do it. CBS failed to capture that lightning. It's a chaotic scene down there at the end of the NFL season, and sorting through all that stimuli in seconds is a hard job for a director. But it's not as hard as winning a championship. Show me the guys who did that.