When Lomas Brown was a broadcaster for ESPN, he once interviewed a tiger.
But broadcasting the Detroit Lions’ 42-21 loss to the Packers on Sunday might have been stranger than trying to get a good quote out of a jungle cat.
That’s because Sunday’s game was played in Green Bay, Wisconsin, but Brown and the rest of the five-person 760 WJR-AM team broadcastfrom a third-floor suite on the 50-yard line of a empty Ford Field.
Brown, the analyst for the broadcast, and Dan Miller, the play-by-play announcer, spent the game looking at three monitors that displayed different video feeds. Meanwhile the crew sorted through audio feeds to include crowd noise and referee announcements and to discern when commercial breaks were approaching.
“This is by far the weirdest thing,” said Nick Roddy, who is in his fifth year producing the broadcast.
The NFL is trying to limit how many media members attend games amid the conoravirus heath crisis. So WJR decided to have its crew broadcast from Ford Field.
“The reason we’re doing it in the stadium,” Roddy said, “is because they can easily transmit the video feeds because they’re linked to all the TV networks, they’re linked to all the NFL. They have that fiber capability. We don’t have that in our studio.”
The crew also included longtime engineer Al Rosenberg and statistician Mike Bratta, as well as another industry vet, Joe Abramson, who works as a spotter to help identify names, numbers and anything else that happens on the field.
If you listened the broadcast, which included Fox’s simulated crowd noise for the television broadcast, you wouldn’t have known Miller and Brown weren’t in front of a sellout crowd at Lambeau Field.
In reality, Lambeau was empty and Miller and Brown shouted into the cavernous abyss of an empty Ford Field.
“I’ve caught myself a couple times today looking to the clock in here at Ford Field, thinking that I’m going to see how much time is left,” he said. “And then I remember: We’re not playing a game here.”
That illusion was welcomed.
“I think it benefits our broadcasters, too,” Roddy said of the stadium setting. “It kind of feels like a football game.”
And WJR’s crew actually looked and felt like a football team. Miller functioned as a quarterback and called the game based on of Fox’s television broadcast feed. But he called an audible after the first drive and got the full-field “All-22” video feed switched onto a larger monitor.
Miller stood next to Brown, Abramson and Bratta. Behind them was Roddy, who kept track of logistics. He handed cards to Miller, like a coach sending in a play, with advertisements for him to read.
Standing above all of them was Rosenberg, managing the technical requirements like a coordinator watching the action from the press box.
“So it’s just all the technical stuff that makes it challenging,” Rosenberg said. “All the feeds that you normally get at home games, no problem. You have to find some other way to get it on the road.”
Throughout the broadcast, the team was just as into the game as any fan might be. When Miller announced the Lions’ first touchdown, he and Brown both raised their arms to signal the score.
After Lions left guard Oday Aboushi cut defensive tackle Tyler Lancaster with a low block, Miller mentioned the Packers wouldn’t forget it.
“Oh, no, Dan,” said Brown, the Lions’ former Pro Bowl left tackle. “They’re going to get him back. I know I would.”
The game was perhaps the most challenging for Brown, because he relies on seeing the field to provide insight into how a play develops or breaks down. He relied on the full-field feed, but that still had its limitations.
“… People think all the action is where the ball is,” Brown said. “But man, there’s so much more going on away from the ball that can affect that play, too. And a lot of times when you want to break it down and explain it to the fans you want to also give them the total picture. You don’t want to just give them a small part of that picture. And I think that’s what being able to actually be there in person and see the game you’re able to do that, depending on TV or depending on the camera views for that game.”
At halftime, Miller said most of his concerns were gone because of the crew’s teamwork.
“We have a great team between Joe and Mike that help me figure this out,” he said. “And between the two screens, you’re able to see what you need to see. So it’s different and there’s clearly a difference in being there. But for 2020 and what we have to do, it’s very doable.
“I’ve done it for all of 30 minutes now. But I think anything that I was really concerned about, probably I’ve figured out we’re OK between the two screens.”
As the Lions began melting down in the second half, the frustration was palpable in Miller and Brown’s voices. Miller mentioned the need for the Lions to stop hurting/ themselves with mistakes.
“Dan, it’s just what you talk about,” Brown said of a Darryl Roberts penalty that wiped out a Packers third-down incompletion. “ “It’s shooting yourself in the foot.”
“There’s no foot left!” Miller shot back.
Miller managed to keep his sense of humor and joked about how Aaron Rodgers catching his own tipped pass for a 6-yard loss would hurt his receiving average.
As for that tiger that Brown interviewed, it happened in 2012 when ESPN sent him to a Connecticut Zoo as a gimmick for a college football game involving the Auburn Tigers.
“They had me doing some of the remote shoots and I had to interview a tiger,” he said. “And I was scared about getting up on the cage next to that tiger. That was a big animal in there.”
Brown managed to set his fear aside and scored a quote from the ferocious feline.
“He said, ‘Roar!’ ” Brown bellowed. “That’s all he would say.”
Contact Carlos Monarrez at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.