Sam Flood '83: The Captain of NBC's Football Night in America

(l. to r.) Dan Patrick, Tiki Barber, Bob Costas, Cris Collinsworth, Jerome Bettis & Keith Olbermann
(l. to r.) Dan Patrick, Tiki Barber, Bob Costas, Cris Collinsworth, Jerome Bettis & Keith Olbermann

Former Williams ice hockey captain Sam Flood '83 is coordinating producer of NBC Sports, which includes producing Football Night in America (FNIA) on Sundays.

 
His resume of major sports events produced looks like a bucket list for a sports fan as it includes the last four Summer Olympic Games, The Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, World Track & Field Championships, the Daytona 500, NASCAR, Notre Dame Saturday, and the Wimbledon studio show, all of which have resulted in Flood becoming a 10-time Emmy Award winner.

Time is your best friend and your worst enemy as a sports producer and proper preparation is your best weapon.
 
The Players’ Room on the fifth floor of NBC's 30 Rockefeller Center is where preparation begins for that night's Football Night in America show, but this 11:30 AM production meeting cannot take place until Flood has locked himself in his office from 9 a.m. until just after 11.

"I basically hunker down in there with absolutely no distractions and read the wires, check the Internet to be sure we're up on all the stories in the NFL, and see if there's anything that'll affect our plan for the night," said Flood. "Then I memorize the show." Keep that last line in mind as you go through this day at Football Night in America.

On Wednesday and Friday there are production meetings that help to sculpt the landscape for Sunday. "Hundreds of minutes of preparation go into putting on one minute of what is seen on the show and that minute is valuable so you don't want to waste it," noted Flood.

More people than can comfortably fit into the Players’ Room are in the Sunday morning production meeting. There are some 30 people, from producers to editors to researchers, but no on-air talent.

Flood stands against a wall and speaks about how Peter King would be in Dallas for the day's game vs. Tampa and would have a live comment after the game on the status of the eight players suspended by the NFL for having a weight-loss drug known to mask steroids in their system. "This is key, folks, because it gets us out of the building," said Flood.

He also speaks about a feature interview with Jerry Jones, the owner of the Cowboys that is scheduled for 5 p.m. and he then checked with those on that game to see if they were ready to make it happen.  Would Jones speak if the Cowboys lost?  Who was going to find him and get him to the room?  Would it all happen on time?

Time is the enemy of preparation especially when this interview with Jones needs to be taped and stored (aka "canned") so it can be featured in the show.

"Acts 1 and 2 will be Peter King and Jerry Jones so hopefully we get Jerry on time," says Flood "Bob (Costas) will throw it to Chris (Collinsworth) out of the second act and then we open Act 3 with highlights."

"Brian we need sound out of Giants-Pittsburgh and we want Collinsworth to react to that."

Next Flood calls out another 1 p.m. match up and the next voice you hear is the person responsible for the game talking about the game spouting off things that were being watched for in that particular contest.

"Janikowski needs nine points to pass Blanda as the Raiders all-time scorer." 

"We may need a B roll on Blanda if this happens, does anyone know if he'll be at the game?"

"San Diego is last in the league in pass defense, this could be a day for Drew Brees to get revenge on his old team in London"

"It's pouring in London and if it gets as bad as last year we may need that tape, Flood says."

"Last year's winner in London went on to win the Super Bowl," but this line met with groans as last year was the first London regular season game.

"We have to have sound from the Jets-Chiefs, because if the Jets are losing the boos will rain down on Farve and we'll have Herm Edwards winning in New York."
 
"Finally win in New York you mean."

"Matt Marvin Bucs at Cowboys," says Flood.

"Matt Marvin?"

"He's been stuck in traffic on the bridge for 45 minutes, should be here soon."

"Cardinals and Panthers?"

"The Arizona Cardinals have outscored the opposition 108-33 at home," to which Flood interrupts with, "But if Antoine Anquan Boldin gets hit in the head again we need that tape from last week."

"Matt Casey here yet?"

"Not in yet from his show in Connecticut, should be here soon."

Then there's a comment on one of the 4 p.m. games:
"Giants-Steelers could be a Super Bowl preview."

"Giants rush for 169 yards a game and Steelers only allow 61 a game, so something has to give there."

Flood concludes the production meeting asking everyone to come up with some fresh ideas NBC can use on their six-hour pre-game show for the Super Bowl and then he says, "Let's go get'em."

Only two folks miss the production meeting and wouldn't you know it – they are both Williams grads and both veterans of Eph Sports Information. Flood shrugs off the lack of attendance by Matt Marvin '98 and Matt Casey '03, because he knows them and he knows they'll deliver. "I know I can trust them, they're Williams guys," states Flood. In fact that's exactly why Marvin is on the key game this week for FNIA – Tampa at Dallas.

The production meeting lasts about 30 minutes and then, almost as if on cue, as soon as the room is cleared and the cold drinks (juice, soda, and water), hot tea and coffee, and sandwiches are replenished, in come the on-air talent every few minutes to stake out a spot to watch the games on a wall that will feature all of the 1 p.m. games simultaneously.

Asked what's the best preparation for being a sports producer for TV Flood quips, "Getting a BA in history at Williams and taking as many classes as you can from Professor John Hyde, oh and being a hockey captain. Professor Hyde was a great influence on me as a teacher and how he related to his students."

For the early games Flood sits on the left side of the Players’ Room in the second of two rows. To his right are Olbermann, Patrick, and Costas when he's not in motion, which is rare. In the front row from left to right are Tiki Barber, Bettis, Collinsworth, and his young son Jack.

To Flood's left is Bruce Cornblatt who for 20 plus years has been Costas's right hand man and standing a little bit in front of them is the man who wanted to be described as "that guy in black with the trim beard," Michael Weisman, the executive in charge of production for NBC Sports. Weisman is a long-time friend of Flood's and one of his biggest fans.

"I call him 'The Captain' because he carries himself like a leader," says Weisman. "He has a real sense of what is right and wrong and he cares a great deal about the people he's responsible for and people sense that and everyone in TV sports at all of the networks knows he's a good guy."

"A large part of his success is his wife Jane," continues Weisman. "In this business, that's filled with divorce, long hours, many, many days away form home, Jane has kept the family together, supported and encouraged Sam's career."

(l. to r.): Ast. Coach Chic Johnson, Flood, Bob
Brownell and Head Coach Bill McCormick

 

Only Costas is not assigned a game or two to observe and extract notes from as he's the host of the show and his role is to keep the ball rolling and get everyone involved.

Even when the games begin there's ample time for folks to fire off one-liners about the action on the screen or ask a friend what he did or didn't do since he was last seen in the Players’ Room.

Olbermann is congratulated for signing a new contract with MSNBC and while his long-time friend and sidekick Dan Patrick is happy for Keith he's pretty much going toe-to-toe with the flu or a bad cold.  Fifteen minutes later, after a bowl of hot soup, Patrick decides he needs to go lie down to save his strength and rally for the show.

Flood asks one of the many helpers to take Dan up to the Green Room for Saturday Night Live. Moments later Flood confides, "Dan will be back – he's a gamer. Why don't you sit in Dan's seat?"

Introduced to Olbermann as from Williams College, Olbermann snorts, "Oh no, not another one of those guys who thinks Williams is better than Cornell."

"There's a debate about this?"

About five minutes later Olbermann said, "Aren't you going to ask me anything about Sam as a producer?"

"Of course, is this a good time?"

"Yes."

"I came to NBC on October 1, 1997 and two and a half weeks later I was assigned to the pre- and post-game shows of the World Series with a person who had much more experience at NBC than I did. In our production meeting with Sam this person said something snide about the way the pre-game show was set up and my role in it and Sam just crushed this person with, "that's not the way we do things around here.

"I learned two important lessons from that little scene," continued Olbermann. "1) a producer that I had no prior personal experience with just supported and respected me in front of an experienced NBC worker and 2) if I cross him I'll be the  next one struck by lightning.

Olbermann, who now has a popular show on MSNBC called Countdown but has worked for Fox Sports and ESPN was just getting warmed up about Flood. "I was an executive producer of one of my shows at Fox so I know a little bit about that, but on this show, with the guys we have in this room, trying to direct all this talent is like herding cats.

"Sam sets the tone here and everyone knows he respects each person and he appreciates any suggestions we have. We all know he's the one who's going to make the final decision, but he's going to do it in a way that's more of a partnership than just saying, 'because I said so.'

"Everyone in here has had a 'welcome to the NHL' moment [that moment where the rookie gets blindsided by a clean but unseen hit in what is a notoriously physical game] and there's another hip check for everyone here. Flexibility is the key to his leadership – he knows us and he trusts us and we know him and we trust him. When things go wrong, and they will, I need to know he'll make the right decision. He's never let me down."

While the early games are being played and the talent periodically scribbles down notes, other conversations break out around the room that aren't football related.

"Tiki, sorry I didn’t get to talk to you last night at Matt Lauer's roast at the Friars Club, how many people were on that dais, 50?

Tiki, who wears earphones to hear the game he's most interested in says, "It's alright Bob, you're one of the few I recognized up there with me even though you were way down at the other end."

Flood expresses incredulity that Fox Sports and baseball would start a World Series game at 10:07 pm on a Saturday night after a long rain delay especially when the weather forecast indicated a start earlier than 10:00 PM was unlikely. "What were they thinking? They're sure to have the lowest rating ever."

"They could've moved it to Tuesday," suggests another voice.

"We need a Saturday day game in the World Series," says Costas.

"Was the last one 1997?" asks Olbermann.

"Yeah, in the Metrodome of all places."

Bob Costas is a man in constant motion as he moves about the room in search of food and drink and to burn off some energy. "Sundays I just graze all day long," he says. "Hey, Dan, how's the soup?"

"So, have you recovered from your trip to Williams last year?"

"It was difficult, but I managed to do it by taking a little side trip to Beijing."

Costas and Flood have teamed up on innumerable events over the last 20 years. "One of the best things about Sam is his demeanor – there's not a lot of angst with him. He assumes everyone working for him is capable and prepared. There's no micro-management. I know that if he tells me with 10 seconds to go in a commercial that we're making a change, that it's the right thing to do and I know he trusts me to make the change work."
 
"He's one of the best to work with because he is very knowledgeable about sports. Believe me, a lot of people know TV production but to have someone who knows sports and TV production is just a great combination to work with."

Back in The Players’ Room comments about the games in progress abound.

"Uh-oh Favre with the interception and now the boos begin."

"It looks like [Chad] Pennington is going to throw for over 300 yards and win and Favre is going to lose to Herm Edwards!"

"Any of Pennington's passes over 9 yards?"

"Touchdown Jets – the Jets win!"

"Matt Cassell would not get sacked every play if he would ever release the ball."

"Tampa guarantees you an ugly game."

"Sorry Bob the Patriots have taken the lead on your Rams late," Flood said.

"Why is that guy trying to run out the end zone with 20 second left," Costas asks.

"Deltha O'Neal with the interception for the Patriots, thank you Cris Collinsworth [former Bengal]," says Sam Flood.

"First good thing the Bengals have done all year," notes Collingsworth, "and you're welcome." 

Down the hall there is a room that is much larger than the Players' Room and it is also a beehive of activity with researchers gathering highlights of every game on tape and producers overseeing their efforts. There is also the requisite impressive array of food and drinks. All told there are 85 or so folks working on FNIA each Sunday.

This is where Matt Marvin and Matt Casey are located. Marvin was a broadcaster for Eph sports and lettered in football and baseball at Williams graduating in 1998. While he has worked for Flood numerous times over the years he prefers to be a freelancer.

Flood has had upwards of 30 Williams students and graduates work for him either as summer workers, interns, Winter Study students or as full-time staffers.

"I can afford to do this as my wife teaches at Sacred Heart Academy and she has the medical plan for the family and that let's me work games for ESPN, ABC and NBC every week and the Mike Francesa show on WNBC," noted Marvin.

"Sam gave me my first shot about a year and a half after I graduated from Williams when I found myself on the way to work the World Track & Field Championships that he produced. Sam must have liked my work because he has been giving me lots of work ever since."

Marvin's inspiration to continue on in the world of sports came from playing baseball for Dave Barnard and Dick Farley in football – "their love of sports really made an impact on me and I haven't shaken it yet."

Marvin will be watching every second of the Cowboys – Bucs game and he needs to capture and log sideline action of Jerry Jones as well as all of the key plays in the game, because he does not know which play will be the one they call for upstairs when the show is put together.

Matt Casey sits not 10 feet from Marvin and he will also be responsible for capturing a game as well, but he is already about halfway through his day after taking an early morning train from the City up to Stamford, Connecticut to put together his fantasy football league show for NBC.com.

Casey also played baseball and football for the Ephs and he got his start through Flood who used him on NASCAR and the Olympics.

"Its crazy how many moving parts go into putting FNIA on and Sam does a great job controlling it all and making it work," said Casey. Casey's future goal is to become a producer.

As the clock moves closer to 4:00 PM the folks in the Players Room are getting ready to head up to the 8th floor production booth and the studio to start working on putting the six acts of the show together to air at 7:00 pm. Tonight will be a little different as there is no Sunday night game so the show will just run from 7:00 to 8:00 PM and there will not be the usual scramble to put together a halftime show with highlights form the 4:00 PM games and the Sunday night game highlight package and comments. No one refers to this as a night off or a short day.

Dan Patrick returns for the Green Room looking refreshed and he receives a little teasing just so he knows he was missed, but everyone in the Players Room has been in his shoes before so they are generally kind.

For Dan Patrick one of Sam Flood has many gifts as a producer. "He's a good listener. He is willing to let us have our say and he is always asking what we think. He's a selfless person and that's hard to do in this business, but it works because then we're all invested."

Jerome Bettis, "The Bus," wanted to do TV sports since his fourth year in the NFL and he had a successful show in the Pittsburgh area. "Did he tell you how I beat him on his home golf course and then because he knew you were coming today he tried to quickly schedule a rematch?"

"Sam runs a tight ship, but he understands the different issues with the on air talent in this room and he navigates that really well. My goal is to keep getting better and better each year and I feel comfortable Sam can help me with that."

On the way to the 8th floor production studio Flood stops by a tape booth to check on a clip he needs to be just the right length and then he pokes his head into to where Matt Marvin sits and says, "Marvin, the Pats came back and got a win. Did you get what we needed on Jones and the Cowboys?"
"Aces Sammy," is the reply.

Sam Flood has season tickets to the New England Patriots (he grew up in Dedham, Mass.) but he has not been to a game in Gillette Stadium. "We've had those tickets a long time and I'll use them later in life. Right now my dad (Dick, Class of 1955) and my former teammate Tim Connelly '81, another hockey captain use them."

To the untrained eye the production studio has no shot at getting a show on the air with any sense of continuity – it appears to be more like the floor of the stock market when folks are bidding on futures in oil or corn or soy beans.

Voices from everywhere bounce off the walls and on the wall at the front of the room 50 or so monitors and screens are in constant motion.

Flood sits in the front of the room with his assistant director Carol Larson and the timing assistant director Brian Orentreich along with eight, maybe 10 other folks.

Betsey Lazzeri the graphics production assistant sits in the center of the second row where there are another 6-8 folks.

The third row has another half dozen folks and everyone is talking either to other people in the room or the people downstairs who have captured tape and sound on the games of the day.

As the clock ticks toward 5:00 pm the conversations only seem to elevate in number.

"Belichick and Cassell is what we need."

Olbermann asks, "do we have a problem with the shot sheet?"

"Where's Jerry Jones?"

"Can somebody call Dallas and find out what we have?"
Flood, "Do we even know if Jerry is on his way down?"

"No."

"Ahhh!"

Bob Costas is working on the open and he receives a "5, 4, 3, 2, 1…"

Flood "Can we put 16 back up? Guys I need to remote on 16."

Flood, "Let's cue up and rehearse the open."

"Jerry Jones is pushing us back to 5:30 PM."

"Tell him we can't go past 5:30."

Cornblatt, "Remind Bob that we'll have to piece this together because we just lost a half hour."

5:34.40 PM – "Hey Jerry its Bob can you hear me?"

"Hi Bob."

Moments after the start of the interview Jerry Jones needs to call for a towel to wipe the sweat off his face and the interview begins again at 5:35.34.

Trouble rears its ugly head at 5:36.15 when the screen with Jerry Jones on it goes blank!!

"What the heck just happened?"

"Somebody call Dallas and explain to Jerry we just lost the satellite feed and we're working on it."

"What's the problem down there – how did we lose the satellite?

"I've got the uplink guy from the truck going down to the locker room to figure this our."

Costas, "This is star crossed."

"Let's get the highlights up and keep going."

"What have we heard from Dallas?"

"We'll know in a minute."

"The guys from Fox shutting down from their game knocked us off."

You would think that comment would provoke an avalanche of disparaging remarks towards Fox, but everyone here knows these kinds of things can happen and it was just an accident.
With the satellite link restored Bob Costas tries to put Jerry Jones at ease by saying, "It took us less time to do Spartacus."  Jones chuckles and peace returns to the production studio, but the chatter over other pieces of the show never stops for an instant and the show keeps grinding towards its show time of 7:00 PM a little behind schedule, but not in terrible shape.

Costas is probably America's best known voice when it comes to sports, He has a supreme gift of gab and an impressive knowledge of many sports, but he sometimes goes on too long with his interviews so it is not a shock to anyone when Bruce Cornblatt pipes in, "Let's get out of this. We're going to have to piece it together and we've already lost over a half hour."

It will be Cornblatt's job to chop up the Jones interview into cohesive 5-minute segment and he does not have time to dilly-dally.

"We'll do Act IV as soon as Jones is done," says Flood.

Keith Olbermann teases Dan Patrick about not being able to hear himself and fakes a bad rendition of the National Anthem to prove his point. Patrick smiles sheepishly.

Costas finished interview with Jones and flawlessly tosses to Cris Collinsworth for a reaction.

"Somebody has 5 open, please close it. Roll 7."

"Do we have Giants highlights yet?"

"Roll Elvis."

Elvis is a special tape machine, he hasn't been hiding out on the 8th floor of 30 Rock all these years.

"No Bob at all in Act 6," says Betsey

"We have a problem with Keith's mic – it's not working!"

"Tell Dan to lean closer to Keith and we'll pick him up off his mic."

"That's good, we can hear it."

On the screen in front of the room, but not seen at home because a highlight from a 1:00 PM game is rolling, Dan Patrick leans way over so Keith can talk closer to the mic. This scene would be money on You Tube, but only those in the production studio were privileged to see it.

All the time in the world that the team had at the morning production meeting is going to come down to a bit of a scramble now that there was a delay in getting Jerry Jones and the satellite link went out. Flood, however, emotes zero concern, continually calling for the next segment to be run, taped, timed and saved for insertion into the show.

Bruce Cornblatt cuts the Jones interview precisely and it gets dropped into the show in plenty of time. "I've known and worked with Sammy for along time and I really enjoy it because he is decisive, unflappable and a dear friend," notes Cornblatt. "He knows what he wants and he also has the ability to anticipate where he may need to make changes. He is always prepared."

"Dan will do the Halloween tribute and it will be his voice over the pumpkin," says Flood.
"My count on this is real Dan, you cannot run through this stop sign," says Flood. "Add in Giants highlights to close."

"Roll it. Slow it down."

Flood, "That worked out fine – sigh."

It's done and on time and will appear virtually seamless when NFL fans point their clickers to FNIA at 7:00 pm.

This will be a relatively early night with no halftime show and highlights to put in all while the first half of a game is being played.

Walking away from the production studio Flood is asked on a scale of 100 what do you score tonight's show? "Somewhere in the 90s."

Outside 30 Rock thanking Sam for the rare glimpse inside the inner workings of the show he is advised that to a man everyone interviewed about him raved or gushed about him as a producer, even Keith Olbermann who can be a bit testy at times. Flood shrugged his shoulders and said, "I learned everything I know about people at Williams and being a hockey captain and that's the truth. When I lived in Dewey House there were 12 of us and we captained 14 sports and we all got along."

"When it was known that Keith was joining the show people wondered if it was the right move and I never thought twice about it," commented Flood. "Keith and I have never had an issue and I think that’s because we respect and trust each other. He's a good guy."

Olbermann must be a good guy if everybody's favorite good guy, Sam Flood says so.

Nobody is as unflappable, respectful and highly-regarded, certainly not as a producer of live sports, as Sam Flood – just ask the all-star team of on air talent he works with each Sunday at Football Night in America -- Bob Costas, Cris Collinsworth, Keith Olbermann, Dan Patrick, Tiki Barber, Jerome Bettis and Peter King.