07/12/2022

Behind the Scenes with FOX NFL Crew: A slice of Detroit

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.

DETROIT — Motown is not a frequent stop for our crew. We usually make the trip every other year for Thanksgiving, and that is usually it.

Therefore, a logical place to start this week was pizza.

I’m a native New Yorker. I think I know good pizza. I’m a sauce guy and a crust guy. Don’t even bring up that deep-dish mess they call pizza in Chicago — it’s not for me.

Years ago, my friend, FOX Sports colleague and Detroit sports historian Larry Lancaster introduced me to Buddy’s Pizza in Detroit. 

The production truck had the distinct aroma of Buddy Pizza’s during the trip to Detroit. (Photo courtesy of Richie Zyontz)

Now, Larry’s a very nice guy, but I never took him for a gourmand. But lo and behold, this pizza is damn good.

Served in squares — what we always knew as Sicilian style — Buddy’s pizza has a unique taste, especially the crust. 

No trip to the Motor City is complete without a stop at Buddy’s.

No place like home

We have two native Detroiters on our crew.

Long-suffering Lions fan Willie Holmes grew up on the city’s West Side, cheering for Barry Sanders. Willie joined our crew as a runner in 2006 and worked his way up on the technical side to a full-time utility job.

Willie Holmes, left, of the utilities team and cameraman Don Cornelli are Detroit natives who got to return Sunday. (Photo courtesy of Richie Zyontz)

Our utilities team sets up the remote — laying cables and equipment throughout the stadium. Regardless of the task, Willie performs it efficiently and with an ever-present smile. On several Thanksgiving Day broadcasts from Detroit, we had Willie share that smile with a national TV audience and offer holiday greetings on behalf of our crew.

While Willie was still in grade school, Don Cornelli was already well into his Broadcasting Hall of Fame career as a handheld cameraman.

A native of suburban Sterling Heights, Don has worked every major event on the sports landscape.

How’s this for a career résumé? Thirty-five consecutive NFC Championship Games, 26 Super Bowls, 20 Masters and 10 Final Fours.

With his handheld camera, Don Cornelli has captured the scenes from countless major sporting events, including 26 Super Bowls. (Photo courtesy of Richie Zyontz)

As a handheld cameraman, Don is constantly on the move up and down the sidelines. He has remarkable instincts to always be in the right place at the right time. Humble to a fault, Don’s enthusiasm and dedication to the job are just a few of his Hall of Fame qualities.

And best of all, Willie and Don both love Buddy’s Pizza.

Information overload

Our crew had yet to cover a Detroit Lions game this season before Sunday’s visit from the Packers, so our week became a crash course.

In addition to watching the TV copy of Detroit’s game last week and reading the daily clips from every online outlet, we get materials from a variety of sources. Our terrific researcher, Jarret Klein, provides interesting notes and nuggets on both teams.

The crew had plenty of homework to do in preparation for its first Lions game of the season.  (Photo courtesy of Richie Zyontz)

Our meeting room at the hotel was piled high with media guides from the Lions and Packers, the NFL, Pro Football Focus and Next Gen Stats.

We try to cram it all in before our big exam Sunday afternoon.

The art of listening

As producer, there are many voices in my ear during a broadcast. First and foremost, the announcers, Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen — whether they are speaking on the air, or on their talkback switches to our production truck. These switches (or keys) allow for sidebar conversation that doesn’t go out over the air.

I have speakers placed next to me so I can listen to sideline reporters Erin Andrews and Tom Rinaldi, and rules analyst Mike Pereira. There is also a phone which connects me to both teams’ public relations staffs and an NFL official in the replay booth.

This phone only rings at the worst times.

My headset connects me to the 12 operators in the replay truck and the graphics area, which is located at the backend of the main production truck. In addition, I communicate over headset with our Los Angeles studios to coordinate updates from other games.

The producer can communicate directly with the reporters and both teams’ PR staffs throughout the game. (Photo courtesy of Richie Zyontz)

This all is on top of the back-and-forth dialogue that takes place between myself, director Rich Russo, associate producer Rich Gross, technical producer Pete Chalverus and technical director Colby Bourgeois — all happening within the cozy confines of our production truck.

As you would expect, there are multiple voices to monitor. This requires filtering skills to determine what is crucial to listen to at any given second. Each and every voice matters. As hard as we try, our listening skills don’t always succeed. Talking and listening simultaneously can be a challenge.

I often use the words “one second, please” to one voice while attending to another. Good manners and civility shouldn’t suffer, even amidst the chaos of a live broadcast.

Rough day for the Pack

This NFC North game was choppy and sloppy to start. Penalties and injuries prevented any type of rhythm to develop in the broadcast.

This can be frustrating for a production crew. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, where the pieces don’t fit together. The only remedy is patience — eventually the rhythm changes … in a positive way.

While there was very little offense, there were loads of drama. 

Packers offense frustrated in 15-9 loss to Lions

The Lions defense forced Aaron Rodgers to throw three interceptions, including two in the red zone, as the Packers lost their fourth straight.

Green Bay desperately needed a win to potentially salvage its playoff hopes. Reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers was frustrated all day with himself and his underperforming offense. The pictures told the story again for Rodgers and the Pack. Frustration, anger and the reality of a season gone sour.

And yet the Packers had a chance to win in the final minute, but fittingly the game ended on a misfire between Rodgers and receiver Sammy Watkins.

During commercial breaks, the announcers and I would continually remark on Green Bay’s offensive ineptitude.

The Lions, meanwhile, played with fire. One of the day’s best pictures was jubilant Detroit defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn celebrating his unit on the sidelines.

“That tells a lot about our team”

Lions rookie defensive end Aidan Hutchinson talks with Tom Rinaldi after the Detroit’s second victory of the season.

Next week, we stay with the disappointing Packers as former coach Mike McCarthy and the Dallas Cowboys come to town (4:25 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports App).

Cowboys-Packers is one of the most storied rivalries in the game, and there always seem to be memorable moments when these two teams meet. Hopefully, we add another chapter next Sunday.

Get the grill and the bratwursts ready. We’re coming to Lambeau! 


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