Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Football, football, more football....

Since 1997, I've been working as a subcontractor for Simoni Systems, an audio contractor, doing the visiting coach's headsets for Detroit Lions games. The first few years were at the Pontiac Silverdome using a system that involved long cables for each coach. We are now on a second-generation wireless system, and the games are played at Ford Field. I also do occasional college games that are played there, and this year I did the mixing for two days of high school championship games. My position on NFL days has been refined by the NFL the last few years as they have become more sensitive to technological issues. I am the "VST" or Visitor's Sideline Technician. I am stationed at the Telex intercom rack on the sideline and wear a yellow hat so the coaches can find me quickly if there is a problem. I am not allowed to have any other duties on game days, have had background checks as well as factory training on the Telex wireless systems. On weeks when there is a home game, I receive the headset diagram and electronic files from the visiting team 5 days before the game. I burn the electronic files to an SD card that is used to configure the wireless transeivers in the Telex rack. The coach-to-quarterback and coach-to-defensive-captain communications start with my Telex gear, are sent to Motorola radios attached to my rack, transmitted upstairs to a repeater, then re-transmitted to the helmets. There is a cutoff switch on the repeater to prevent coach-to-player communications except when allowed by rules. All radio transmissions are encrypted, so even if unauthorized personnel had the frequencies, they would be unable to understand the messages. There are numerous other security safeguards including periodic sweeps for bugging devices by FBI agents.
Monday, December 13th, 2010, was one of the most memorable football games played at Ford Field. The New York Giants had been scheduled to play the Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis on Sunday the 9th. The Giants left New York, but a winter storm kept them from reaching their destination and they only made it as far as Kansas City. The game was rescheduled for Monday. While they were working on their travel dilemma Sunday morning, word came through that the Minneapolis Metrodome roof had collapsed under the weight of the heavy snow. By noon Sunday the decision had been made that the game would be played at Ford Field. An unbelievable number of logistical challenges were overcome jointly by the Giants, the Vikings, Lions staff, and Ford Field staff, and over 45,000 people were in the seats for the kickoff Monday night. The Vikings did their best to make it a home game; painting their logo on the field and in the end zones, bringing their home production crew and announcers, even their cheerleaders. I worked both with the Giants headset tech and my old friend Gary Bosiacki, the Vikings tech who worked for Telex for many years when I was a Telex dealer as Cook's Music. The most memorable thing about this game was what did NOT happen- Brett Farve did not start the game for the first time since he started his career in 1992. A copy of the "inactive" roster (an original is going to Canton for the Hall of Fame display on Farve) released at game time is posted with the photos here:!/album.php?aid=261676&id=689831554
Think about that for a second. Brett Farve started his chain of consecutive NFL starts 5 years before I started working NFL games and I am now in my 14th year. I once read a quote by an NFL player who compared play to walking onto a highway full of speeding volkswagens. For the most part, these guys are not only BIG (many are 6'5", 275 lbs and bigger) but also armored and it is incredible how fast they can move. Many quarterbacks who starred in college never make it in the pros. Very few actually can claim to have had a successful career of 5-10 years. I doubt that very many of Farve's records will ever be broken and I'm grateful to have spent time on the sidelines so close to him.