"Cue the ref!"
By barking that ironic command, ABC-TV "NCAA Game of the Week" producer Ned Staeckel put into motion the umpteenth interruption of Saturday's contest between Harvard and UMass. Indeed, television's presence at Harvard Stadium touched all in attendance.
"We weren't too pleased with the script ABC gave us," Crimson head coach Joe Restic commented yesterday. Normally, Restic's crew finishes its pre-game drills at 1:20, returns to Dillon Field House for some last minute instructions before retaking the gridiron at 1:27.
But Saturday found ABC's "NCAA College Football Today" thrust in the way. The pre-game show (chock full of lucrative sponsor money) dictated appearances by the Harvard and UMass bands, basically for "their background noise effects" Staeckel says.
Meanwhile, as Restic termed it, Harvard's cast of characters tightened up during the 25 minute wait. "We left the field feeling 'up,' but the guys seemed to waste adrenalin and lose that extra edge."
Restic believes that the lengthy interlude contributed to Harvard's first quarter woes, but he is not about to badmouth the TV folks. "It's a motivational factor in itself," a necessary evil in any non-league affair. "Unlike the Brown game, however, TV really didn't add any pressure because we were confident that we could execute properly."
Last year, ABC covered Harvard's romp over the Brown Bruins in Providence, a game in which TV heated the battle for the Ivy crown. Restic, who says he's not even conscious that he's on the tube once the initial whistle blows, believes that players lose sight of the TV aspects as the game progresses.
The Henry Clay of Coaches
Actually, Restic's lone concern about the ominous presence of the ABC crew revolved around the politics of coaching. The largest question mark in the minds of the Harvard braintrust was "Who do we send out for the introductions?" Not about to tee-off either his defensive or offensive units (an intense intra-squad rivalry in itself), Restic affected a classic 'great compromise' by sending out the starters on the 1975 Ivy League championship squad.
Quarterback Jim Kubacki displayed typical nonchalance when questioned about the tube's influence on his performance, noting that the deliberate "official" time-outs served as a constant reminder that the game was being beamed. Still, his biggest disappointment came after the affair, when the Fairview Park, Ohio native learned that the telecast was only regional in scope. "I thought my folks and friends were watching the game, he said.
But with the regional set-up, only the immediate New England area (excluding Connecticut) were privy to the dulcet tones of broadcasters Bob Murphy and Jack Mildren.
Murphy, the voice of the New York Mets, and color partner Mildren, a former All-American quarterback at Oklahoma, huddled with producer Staeckel at the ABC control truck three hours before the game. Mildren, a graduate of the "Don Meredith twang school of broadcasting" diligently arrived in Cambridge on Thursday.
"I tried to take a crash course in Restic's multi-flex offense," a still perplexed Mildren said in a post-game interview. "Let me tell you, it wasn't all that easy," an understatement of sorts when one listened to his fumbled commentary on the complicated system during the clash. Joe Restic chuckles when he recalls meeting Mildren. "We showed him a few films, but only really scratched the surface," Restic said.
Murphy flew in from New York early Saturday morning, after a four-inning stint on TV for the Mets' meaningless tangle with the St. Louis Cards at Shea Stadium. The 25-year broadcasting veteran quickly scanned a fact sheet on both squads before settling in for rehearsals.
Football is a game of seconds for TV. One of the clock watchers was Amy Sacks '76, a former Crimson sports reporter who landed a production assistant job with the network. Sacks was in charge of co-ordinating the on-field festivities, shuttling between the control truck (nicknamed "war headquarters") and the field.
Although a relative rookie to the field, Sacks's responsibilities were increased because Staeckel felt that she could handle "her home turf" better than most.
"Put down the crowd mike," Staeckel screamed as the Harvard partisans chanted "Bullshit, Bullshit," in response to a controversial penalty call. The network has never had a love affair going with the rowdy Harvard faithful and the more outrageous band. Last year, ABC refused to show the Harvard halftime show because of a 1973 incident in which a rather spicy presentation embarassed the ABC brass.
This year, the emphasis was on the UMass band, their tacky spats and "Hometown, USA" costumes glistening in the Cambridge sun.
The Harvard band's show was obscured by the "Prudential College Scoreboard" up-date, during which Murphy read scores over zoom shots on individual members of the band. Both bands were mere instruments of the ABC sound crew, as Staeckel cued them as well: "Okay, Bob, have the band pad out the commercial and tell them to stop when the QB brings 'em to the line."
The final touches came with seconds to go in the contest. The Harvard telecast was running ahead of the regional game in the New York area. "Hey, Ned, Chet [Forte, the producer of the New York area game] is two minutes and a commercial behind us," the assistant director relayed. A harried Staeckel ordered a time-out from the ref. And it was decreed. But while Bob Murphy read a promo about the "Wide World of Sports," 20,000 fans sat and wondered why the clock was stopped with 0:01 showing and Harvard ahead, 24-13.