By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – September 12, 2018)
Who plans for a nearly nine-hour performance? How do you prepare for something so absurd? What could adequately account for that broad a swath of time? Unless you’re filibustering on the Senate floor, voice recording an audio book, dancing all night for charity, the world’s biggest narcissist, or trying to break some kind of obscure record, the answer is simple:
Somehow, one of the more astonishing realities surrounding the debacle that was the Tennessee Titans 2018 season opener on the road against the Miami Dolphins had nothing to do with the football game itself, as strange as that sporting event was. It might be the weirdest football game in history, with all due respect to the Heidi game, the Fog Bowl, or anything else we’ve ever seen. It’s definitely on the short list, featuring the delays, a melee, multiple injuries to key players, and other factors.
Sunday, as the minutes became hours, not once but twice, during a pair of weather delays totaling over four hours, Fox Sports simply switched games. It made sense of course, and it gave television announcers Sam Rosen and Cris Carter, not to mention their network staff, a lengthy break. All the hard-working beat writers and media covering the game found their way to a lunch or dinner table, watched other action, chatted amongst themselves, or got ahead of some other work.
One entity, however, managed not just to do its job, but do it in a way no local or team specific broadcast ever has in NFL history. It’s a tale worth examining. The following is the oral history of this entity’s trip to Miami, Florida, from the lead-up to the game to stepping off the plane in Nashville. It’s the complete, unabridged explanation – from the frequencies to the folder pockets to the help from afar to the suite-jacked pie to the loneliest hoagie in the world – as to why this talented group was able to pull off something so impressive (and unprecedented), and how it went down from long before the first crack of thunder through the final sign off.
It’s also these people’s thoughts on each other, and it’s their belief that while some others might deem the performance to be an accomplishment, they must stop short of making such a declaration.
On Sunday, this crew didn’t toss back to Nashville or any other network affiliate. The group never broke away from the broadcast at any point. The longest game in NFL history spanned 7 hours, 8 minutes, and Titans Radio coverage stayed live…
…the entire time.
While I could just write a story about their collective experience and craft a bunch of academic sounding phrases and multi-syllabic descriptors, it just isn’t up to par. Not even close. Hearing from them, in their own words, is what this crazy ride deserves, and thus that’s what you have before you to enjoy.
I spoke with the entire Titans Radio crew, and every one of them attempted to shift all praise to the rest of the team. Always humble and always pointing all possible fingers of accolade elsewhere, each member believed the stars should be his or her colleagues. Subjectively, as I know all of them quite well and am lucky to be able to state that factually, none of these reactions surprised me in the least.
***Included in the article are comments transcribed directly from Titans Radio Executive Producer Rhett Bryan, WGFX Program Director and Titans Radio Producer Brad Willis, Gameday Host Jonathan Hutton, On-Site Producer and Engineer Phillip Noel, Titans Radio Play by Play Voice Mike Keith, Color Analyst Dave McGinnis, and Sideline Reporter Amie Wells.
— I sent a text to gameday host Jonathan Hutton during the first delay, while there was a Jevon Kearse feature playing and I knew he might have a chance to see it. It basically just said you guys were doing a really good job and it was seamless considering the circumstances. His response was succinct. He thanked me and said, “We had a plan.”
What was the plan?
MIKE KEITH (MIKE): The plan was to make sure we had a duty roster and that everybody knew what their role was going to be, that we understood how we were going to roll through things and how we were going to communicate, and that we would have the set pattern enough to understand what we had and what we were trying to do. It was all those things along with having the flexibility to go where we needed to go.
It’s really the whole thing that you do in any kind of broadcasting, and that is you understand that everybody’s got to know what they’re supposed to do, understand what we’re trying to do, but not be rigid enough that we couldn’t switch up when we needed to. We didn’t want to be tied up in any one thing to a point where we couldn’t get out of it to get the people the information they needed to have. We’re just going to keep working the plan, but the communication is paramount in all of it.
BRAD WILLIS (BRAD): To back up, this weather plan has been in place for three years, since 2015, and it came basically from Mike Keith. It came from a place where we had heard too many broadcasts get thrown into these situations. As the delays got lengthier, there was no plan to sustain delays of real length. Where this started was we decided we couldn’t allow ourselves to be put in situations where we’re caught with our proverbial pants down. And so, from that conversation three years ago, a plan was hatched. It has since been revised…as a matter of fact, it was actually revised this week because of new people sitting in different roles.
But in three years, we had to use it one time for a very slight, like 38-minute delay.
RHETT BRYAN (RHETT): The closest we ever got to playing any of the audio would have been in the preseason last year against Kansas City. It was a lightning delay right before the end.
BRAD: Right, and we only used part of the feature about the Titans weather history, but that was it. It was raining sideways. So here we have this plan and we feel like now that we created it, we’re never going to use it.
— It’s like when you buy a new TV and you get the insurance plan. If you don’t have it, it conks out in three months, but if you do, it’s still perfect five years later.
BRAD: That’s a great analogy. It’s the insurance plan you never think you’ll need because it’s just too good.
RHETT: It’s like a life insurance policy. You pay those premiums every month hoping you never have to use it, but if you do your family is taken care of.
DAVE MCGINNIS (MAC): It’s like you spend all week as a coach preparing a game plan. The best coaches in the league are the ones where whatever point in the game, it doesn’t necessarily have to be at the start, but things start to happen that you didn’t draw cards for during the week…the best are the ones that are able to adjust when the unexpected happens and still function at a high level. That’s when you know you’ve got real people in place.
The action and direction between Brad and Rhett and Mike Keith and Jonathan was special…and Phillip Noel did a great job too. The conversations are fluid, but everybody up there is so good at what they do, anytime we were in a commercial it was a discussion of what we were doing next and asking the room whether they were all good with that decision. “Coach Mac, here’s what we’re going to talk about. Can you respond with this and this and this?” Yes.
JONATHAN HUTTON (HUTTON): It was totally Mike’s plan that got us through it, but the whole key with everything is this: We all have a certain role to fill and everyone knew immediately what they needed to do. That’s the big thing with all of it. At one point in time, it hit me that we’re probably going to have a second delay, and that’s when Brad and I talked about what we would do. And it was simple. It’s kind of like shampoo. It’s just rinse and repeat. That’s all it is. Looking back on it, it was kind of fun. I enjoy the challenge in that spot because I love going to work when I know we’re going to crush whatever’s in front of us because of the people we have assembled. That’s why I sent you that text. We’d been waiting on this for a while, and now it’s time to do it.
AMIE WELLS (AMIE): If I didn’t trust the group’s preparation and that they knew the plan better than I did and could help guide me through it, I don’t think it could have been as smooth. I had read the plan and gone through it, but when it says for example, “Amie gives update to official,” who is that person?
— How prepared were you for this instance specifically, meaning weather that might lead to something like this in Miami on Sunday during the opener?
BRAD: We’d been watching the weather all week. As a matter of fact, we’d been watching it for two weeks, because it’s hurricane season. Rhett and I had been talking about weather for weeks.
MAC: I had been through this before with the Rams. It happened right at the end of the half against Tampa Bay. Down there that time of year, it happens.
RHETT: I had made mention of it to Brad two weeks ago. I said, “They’re worried about a tropical depression.” And, of course, that became Gordon that came through here. But obviously we were stunned in the end. The longest weather delay we’d ever had was a 2003 preseason game in Green Bay that was 2:47. That was a horror story we all knew. I mean we touched down after that trip and it was daylight, but now it’s dwarfed. It’s nothing. And the reason for that one happening was because Paul Tagliabue was on vacation and couldn’t be reached to call the game off. We hadn’t seen anything even close to that again. Kansas City was only like 20 minutes or something like that. It wasn’t long.
BRAD: Rhett’s our in-house meteorologist. He’s a weather nerd, and I mean that in the most respectful and praiseworthy sense. I mean he loves weather, and when I have weather questions, he’s the guy I ask. I’ll just say, “Hey, what’s it going to do,” and he’ll tell me, or if he doesn’t, he’s got something he goes to and finds out and it’s always true. So, I said, “This weather is going to be really questionable…”
RHETT: It’s so silly to the point that Hutton would ask me what kind of gear he needed to pack to do sidelines. “Do I need to pack rain gear?” I’d say, “I’d bring it just in case,” or I’d say, “Nope. You’re good.”
BRAD: And that would be enough for Hut to say, “Okay, I feel good about it.” So here we are watching and paying attention and three days before it showed a 60% chance of scattered thundershowers on Sunday afternoon, and that was as high as the number got. So, we’re doing a couple of things on the broadcast. People are phasing out the ISDN technology (Integrated Systems Digital Network) and it’s still really reliable, but it’s more expensive as phone companies are phasing it out.
This is the first game in 20 years we haven’t done on ISDN equipment, because now the standard is IP, and there were some technical things with our affiliates and automation that we had to work through. We have 53 Titans Radio affiliates in four states, and so we were working and field testing most of last week to see if we could get it to do what we wanted it to do. And we still weren’t sure. We had a plan to make it work, but we weren’t sure if it was going to work on its own. There was apprehension. Ironing out the bugs.
***(EXPLANATION: IP runs on a private internet network provided by specific backhauls, in this instance a network that covers all 32 NFL broadcasts. It’s arguably better and more stable, but it’s still new and somewhat unproven, and Titans Radio (among many other NFL and radio stations) isn’t familiar with it, so there’s more danger of not being able to fix issues as quickly due to lack of experience with the tech. Thus, there is extra anxiety entering the first ever regular season broadcast using that equipment. Think of the initial pain of a new pair of sneakers before you break them in. It’s a comfort thing. You know how to wear shoes, but there could be some soreness until your feet acclimate to them.)
— Take me through the lead-up to the gameday broadcast itself, which, due to external factors, I know was an adventure in its own right.
BRAD: The new tech. I’m nervous. To make that a little more problematic, the Miami Hurricanes are playing Savannah State Saturday night at Hard Rock Stadium, which means whereas we typically set up on Saturday, so we can at least sleep through the night knowing that everything is set up and that it works, plus if there are problems what the plan is…here we’re not going to know until gameday, which I don’t like at all.
I told Phil something when I woke up on Sunday and got downstairs. You know how you have bad dreams right before you have a test or something like that? Like you don’t get on the bus, you’re late, occupational hazard dreams? Stuff like that? I woke up stressed out because I had them all night long. And we had to get on the bus with the equipment guys at 5 CT. We are at Hard Rock Stadium at 5:30 central. So, we get there. We set up the equipment, Phil and myself, and after we hook up the COMREX, it works.
From that standpoint I’m pretty psyched. I text Rhett and tell him, ‘We’re all good here. See you in a couple hours,” because they’re riding the team bus. By the time they walk in the door, around 10 ET, a long day that we don’t realize is about to be longer than we think is already pretty lengthy. In fact, at one juncture Phil looks at me and he says, “We’ve been here for 12 hours.” I looked at the clock, did the math, and realized it. When we arrived, it was dark. When we left, it was dark.
We went out on a deep-sea fishing excursion on Saturday night for three hours, because we couldn’t go to the stadium. There was a pretty good lightning storm happening, you know over the city, while we were out there, and I remember we all kind of looked at each other and we said, “Well I hope that’s today and not tomorrow.” We were thinking about weather then. Didn’t realize at the time that it would be as involved as it was.
(The below photo was taken from the fishing trip on Saturday night.)
RHETT: And you want to be prepared for everything you can wrap your mind around, and this weather thing, Mike’s idea and the thought you’d never have to use it…I can’t believe it worked as well as it did for as long as it did during the longest game in NFL history in a situation you absolutely cannot control.
MAC: They had to be there at 5:30 in the morning. Seriously.
— Going back to my original question, you’ve got new people doing new jobs and some shifts in the team. You have a plan, but what was that plan in broad strokes? How was it mapped out and structured?
RHETT: Well, the original plan was I would get with our scoreboard producer, Jordan Tinkle, and we would come up with long scoreboards, heavy laden with stats, fantasy stats, whatever, and the places where Coach Mac could jump in and talk about what that player’s been doing lately or in his career…he would. Actually, we ended up doing the scoreboards but Hut (who replaced Rhett in the hosting chair) said, you know, he’d go longer than that and we ended up doing 4 or 4:30 scoreboards several times during the delays. Brad would shift to the role he did yesterday where he directs traffic and figures out where we’re going nex. I’m communicating with the team on procedure and protocol. I would be talking to the weather people, and Phil would be talking to Amie and keeping everything in front of us.
MAC: I’m the newest as far as being involved in the broadcasting end. I’ve been in the league for 33 years. As a coach you’re prepared for a lot of things. You always have contingency plans. Everything is so time sensitive in a National Football League game. Anything that disrupts it, as a coach you have a plan. It involves the whole unit.
When I first came on with Mike Keith, he handed me a bound notebook, and in that bound notebook were maybe 20 tabs, and I mean detailed sections, and one of the tabs was “Gameday Procedure – Weather Delays.” It was delineated from top to bottom…everybody by name, everybody’s responsibilities. If it takes this long, here’s what we’ll do. If it takes THIS long, here’s what we’ll do. If we have to throw it back, here’s what we’ll do and yeah, I’m sure when anybody is hired, they’re given an employee handbook. You’re always handed those things, but this was something.
Mike Keith is so prepared in this business. I mean look, I’ve been in owner’s meetings. I’ve been a head coach. I know what it means to be an executive at the top level of a big-time organization. And so, when you’re in charge of something, you recognize good from bad. His organization is impeccable. As soon as that delay went, Mike Keith reached into his backpack and pulled out that manual, popped it open, and here it went. It was impressive.
I know what good coaches are. I’ve been on the sideline with people that are great. I’ve done that. But in this business, to be able to see the professionalism that this group had, and the cool thing about the group we have is that everybody is very talented. Everybody is multi-faceted except me. I’m limited. I’m Coach Mac. What I’ve got is a lot of years of experience that people will never get, but as large as everybody’s expertise is, that’s as small as everybody’s ego is. There’s not one job too big or too small for any of us to take on.
Teamwork is huge. It’s an overused adjective, but when you see it in progress and you’re involved in a group of people who know what the hell they’re doing and don’t care who gets the credit…man.
The thing Mike Keith kept saying was we were the eyes and ears of our listeners. Television’s gone. Our stations and listeners? We were it.
Preparation is hard work, and you’ve got to be dialed into what you’re doing. You’ve got to be able to go as a coach or an executive into a six or eight or ten-hour interview with ownership. If you’re not prepared, they’ll chew you up. You’ve been in our booth, J-Mart. You’ve seen the stuff he puts up on the walls. The stuff he gives to me…I mean he says, “Coach Mac, I got you.” The things he pitches to me during a broadcast that we may or may not have talked about, even though he’s prepared, he also likes the spontaneity of it. It’s real. It’s a conversation. That’s how this was. This was a plan, but it was spontaneous, and we were talking to our listeners. It all tied in.
PHILLIP NOEL (PHIL): I don’t know when it became a parameter of the eight-mile radius and the 30-minute clock and the lightning rules. That would be fascinating to look into, but now we have a clock and we have a minimum. We’ve always had pieces at the ready, but the structure of the flow is something Mike put into play a few years back. Nobody thought we had a weather delay planned and also considered it might need to cover more than four hours. It had never happened before. We knew we could fill the time.
Even when we knew it would be lengthy, the cycle fed on itself and we just kept reworking it. By the end of it all, the plan was strong enough that we were able to turn 30 minutes into a four-hour working operation.
AMIE: Mike prepares for every single game at the highest level, at the level of having enough if we need to talk about this game for ten hours. Just what he has in his brain about the Tennessee Titans and Tennessee football overall is amazing. The reason it’s in his brain is because he grinds it in there. That man works harder than any person I’ve ever seen work at their job, and it’s for moments like this.
He was able to pull things out of his head and he had facts and he knew exactly where he had notes on everything, because he puts it all together every single week. My office is right next to him. I see it. He is so good at finding Tennessee and Titans storylines and anything that could relate to our listeners, because he cares. For him to pull it all together and make all these Titans connections Sunday is a testament to what an incredible storyteller he is.
BRAD: The biggest thing in the plan is you’ve got to make sure that you’re providing people listening with the info they want, and what is that information? Well, it’s how long has this gone on, how long is this expected to last, what is the story of the game leading up to this, what’s going to happen when we start back up, what else is happening in the league, etc. When you tune into a Titans game, those are the things you care about and expect.
So, if you turn into a talk show, you run this risk of kind of filling the air. The way we mapped out the plan was with a very organized pattern where we reset the game to this point, we go to the sideline for an update and make sure that we’re relaying everything from the locker room in a timeline, and then we check on scores from around the league. We play highlights from our game, then we get you up to speed on other games, what it looks like here, what’s happened.
RHETT: It’s cyclical.
BRAD: You can kind of keep doing that, but then we also had four to five pieces put away, almost in a “break glass in case of emergency” box. It was a weather vault. So, we had these elements where if we had to get 15 minutes of content at a time where we’re not having to throw it back to these local stations for them to fill, how do we do it? And stuff that’s compelling. Some of these things have sat. There are things that we did for the plan two years ago that we couldn’t use anymore because of people that have changed locations.
RHETT: We had a long form interview with Dick LeBeau that I had (LeBeau left the team in 2017). Mike had one with Casey Kramer, the former linebacker, who was the chaplain for a couple of years. He is no longer the chaplain. Things like that. They were as evergreen as they could be, but as personnel changed, they changed. They were all around ten minutes long, but Brad’s right, Mike is so good at what he does in this thing, it’s the same deal.
Mike does play-by-play so well and is so great at telling us the time-down-distance, time-down-distance, and then filling in all those things around it as we’re following along whether it’s an offense or a defense possession or drive. This was the same deal. It’s reset the game, here’s what happened in this game, here’s where we are, we are currently in a weather delay and here’s why. So, we had this and that and we bring Dave from NashSevereWx in to tell us what’s going on.
The second delay, I told him on the phone, “Now Mike’s going to ask you about the first delay. What happened? Why was it extended. Then what’s happened with the second delay and what do you see there?” He knew what Mike was going to ask him and he could take it and run with it.
***(EXPLANATION: Evergreen in media is some piece or article or feature that isn’t time sensitive and can be held to use anytime. It doesn’t require a specific situation and isn’t breaking news. It always fits if needed and can be pushed from one day to the next without affecting its viability or value.)
(The subject shifts to Dave McGinnis, who has rapidly become one of, if not the most popular guy in the entire building.)
BRAD: McGinnis was an absolute rock star here too, because when you’re talking about the game, he can obviously talk about that, and then Mike would question him and say, “You’ve been a coach during a weather delay. What are you doing and telling the team in the locker room?” And he’s got that information to where he says, “Well you’ve got to remember you got to get these guys fed. They haven’t eaten since team breakfast at 8. Their body is telling them it’s time to eat.” Having that perspective was so valuable in that scenario. And he never once said anything like, “Man, I’ve been talking forever, I’ve got to get out of here.” I mean he was all in.
MAC: (Note: Mac ignores these comments when I mention them to him and deflects all praise). The only person that sat was Phil, because he has to in his job. The rest of us were on our feet the whole time. It’s a good team that knows what the hell they’re doing. I’ve been in this business at the highest level for 33 years and that’s who you want to surround yourself with. What we’ve got is really good.
HUTTON: Make sure you put this in there. We could not have done it without Dave McGinnis in that booth with us. He’s experienced things like that, he’s been a director of football operations, he knows the planning behind the scenes as it relates to hotels and flights and things like that. He’s been a coach, so he’s seen it and done it, and he’s looking at it from a lens of the information we need, and he’s also doing it from a broadcast perspective. He shined bright.
He’s really the underrated piece of this puzzle. He had been in so many different seats, so you could turn to him regardless of any angle, whether it was, “Okay, they’re thinking about maybe not playing this game,” or “They’re passing out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.” Whatever it was, Mac’s been in that role before.
PHIL: Coach Mac’s not going to give you fluff. The stuff he brings is always very animated. He can be humorous or very direct, but throw that all together, the fact remains that everything he says is relevant to whatever we’re talking about. It doesn’t matter if it’s the personnel package coming out of the huddle or how teams handle delays. It doesn’t matter. This guy’s done it and lived it for 30-plus years. He’s not just talking to move the meters or click the minutes off. Let me tell you, this guy was all in. He’d have gone for eight delays if he had to. He might have outlasted all of us.
MIKE: Dave McGinnis. To have him there, to have him engaged the way he was, the fact that outside of swiping pizza and taking an occasional restroom break, he never left us was invaluable. He also never mentally left us. He never just sat down and started watching the Cowboys-Panthers game on TV. He was available to us in every situation. It’s amazing to me he’s never done this before. He was so good last year just walking in off the street, and he’s improved so much from year one to year two. I guess it just proves if you apply yourself, you can be good at a lot of different things.
It probably also proves that what I do is not very hard. (Laughs)
— I don’t know if this is something that would come into your process, but when you’re hosting a radio show, especially if you’re on a national platform, but if you’re hosting any show for four hours, you’re going to have to reset a lot of your takes. There’s only so much to say that’s intelligent, and you also have to remember the listener that just tuned in and try to avoid making him or her feel like, “You had to be there.” Is there an art to that process as it relates to a game broadcast like this, particularly with such a ridiculous delay, where you’re saying the same thing but you’re trying to do it in a different way so it’s less noticeable for the people that have been with you since the second the game started?
Meaning do you give thought to how you can make it sound somewhat germane and live, like you didn’t just put 20 minutes in, can it, and then just replay it over and over for two hours at a time? I know it’s fluid because of the weather angle, so things are changing, but not asking the same questions or regurgitating the same exact info with similar words and making it all sound more on the fly and authentic?
RHETT: That goes back to Mike and him setting things up. When we ran that first cycle of going through it, we then know it’s going to be long, so let’s go to a longform interview and then where we want to go and what we want to do next. I’m sure he thought, “Now I didn’t say this the first time around. I need to recap this. I probably could have said this better.” That’s just the pro in him, so he’s got it recycled and it all sounds completely new. He’ll bring some other little thing into it so that even if you’ve been sitting there listening since the beginning, this new stat or flare or piece he’ll use or toss to the next time enhances it all.
MIKE: What I’ve found, and you know this too, when you prepare for a show or a broadcast, people will ask how much of your stuff you actually use. I find it’s usually 10-15%, right? If you’re ahead 59-0 or you’re losing 59-0, you’re going to use a lot more. In this situation, you probably are too, maybe 80%. I made a joke during the broadcast that we were going to start reading horoscopes and mentioned I was a Virgo, but the truth was I knew we wouldn’t have to do that. Yes, we’re doing a lot of things, but what I’m proudest of is we don’t have to resort to schtick. We were still doing a Titans Radio broadcast and I hope Larry Stone was proud of that. I think because he chose to help us from afar like he did that he probably was, but I just hope we met his standard.
HUTTON: For me in the hosting chair, Mike lays out the plan and I look at it and my immediate thoughts shift to one question: What does the Titans fan want and need to know from each individual piece of this? That means scores and updates from around the league, not to mention what’s happening in Miami with us. That was my mindset. I knew the Titans fan wanted to know first about the AFC South and the Week 1 games in the division, then the current games across the rest of the league.
If you’re driving around in your car, you want to know first when the Titans are going to play again and then after that, what else is going on? If I’m not listening to a game, I want to know about the other games in a more detailed way. That was my biggest challenge is making sure we had lengthy updates. There was no scoreboard too long in that situation. But they had to be well put together. All I’m doing is going through scores, make it informative for as long as possible, but I can cut it off at any point with a wrap-up if Amie has something.
From that point, I’m in contact with JT about the next possible scoreboard and injuries and headlines across the NFL, then broadening that to the Top 25 in college football and the SEC. I knew the AP Poll was coming out that afternoon, so we were looking for that release. Also, I was thinking back to what features we had from the past that were evergreen and could run.
BRAD: We had an interview with Earl Campbell that Rhett did specifically for this purpose. He knew we had it. We had talked about how we were going to get to Earl Campbell, and the conversation in a commercial break from Mike was this. He said he would talk about all these names in Miami’s Ring of Honor around the stadium, their Hall of Famers, and then he would start talking about our Hall of Famers and then he said, “I’ll bring in McGinnis to talk about Earl Campbell.”
RHETT: He explained it to Mac where it made total sense. “You’re a Texan. Tyler Rose.”
BRAD: Coach says, “Oh, Tyler Rose?! Absolutely. I can talk about him forever.” Mike joked that it’s a good thing because he might have to.
MAC: It sounds fresh. When he went to that part of it to get to Earl, I was just like, “Wow, you are good.” He asked if I could just add a little on it and I said I could. I don’t know much, but I do know the NFL. The way he segued it and the way it was put together was unreal.
— Basically, Mike is going to segue from one Ring of Honor to the Titans and their Hall of Fame history to get to the subject of Earl Campbell, to then get Dave McGinnis involved in the storytelling phase, to then toss to this 17-minute interview Rhett did. You’re going piece by piece, creating a radio timeline, so you don’t just out of nowhere say, “Hey, Rhett talked to Earl Campbell. Here’s that interview.”
MIKE: Two things that jump out to me. One is I am still awed by the fact that I am in some way associated with the National Football League. When I sit there and look at that 17-0 from 1972 and I’m standing in that hallway next to Bob Griese fixing coffee, I’m blown away. Growing up in Franklin, we never thought we’d have the NFL, so the whole part of the NFL experience never, ever gets old. Those elements and having those things to talk about is just very honest and very genuine. When you get a chance to talk about Larry Czonka and Bob Griese and Paul Warfield and Dan Marino and guys like that, Dwight Stephenson who I watched in the SEC, it’s an exciting thing.
The main part of the job with Titans Radio, and it really started out working with Larry Stone and Pat Ryan, and it continues today, is we assemble talented people and we put them in positions to take advantage of their talents. If you’re doing what I’m doing well, you’re playing point guard. You never really need to shoot. If I’ve got Dave McGinnis, he’s going to give me LeBron James-type offense, so I’m going to get him the ball. Jonathan Hutton, Rhett Bryan, Brad Willis, Phil Noel, Amie Wells…these are people that have skills I don’t have. Amie showed us through the entire process this summer that she was up to this. She’s been working up to this point for six years. She has a lot of skills as a broadcaster. My number one job is to play point guard, whether that’s doing the play-by-play, whether that’s doing a show, or whether you’re in that whole delay situation.
That was the plan. I can play point guard. I can do that. I can handle the ball. I understand that we’ve put people together that can fill a lot of roles. But, it’s funny, I didn’t have the plan fully fleshed out as good as it could have been. I’m sitting here working on the new one right now, and there are two elements that will be different when it happens again that I think will make us stronger. There are a couple of things I really did not do well as far as planning, so I learned from that and I changed them.
HUTTON: The beauty of that is you can make that idea work in any stadium in the league. They all have a Ring of Honor or Hall of Fame or retired numbers everywhere. That segue was foolproof. You can get it anywhere. I set that Earl Campbell interview up two years ago and Rhett recorded it, and we had planned to run it in either a late preseason game or maybe a month one game against Houston. We never got to it because of different storylines. So, it became an evergreen weather delay piece we put in the vault.
BRAD: Right. Exactly right. It’s one of those things where we very easily could have said, “We’re in a lightning delay ladies and gentlemen, so here’s an interview with Earl Campbell.” It just didn’t happen that way, because of the plan. When you’re scrambling, you’re constantly like, “Oh thank goodness.” It’s just something to put on. But the plan in place meant we knew what we had, everybody knew it. Earl Campbell. How long is it? It’s 17 minutes long. Two segments. We knew that.
RHETT: Mike turned around and asked me during the first delay, “Okay, Jevon Kearse, how long is that?” I said it’s 11 minutes exactly. We knew.
— There are always those moments that take no time but feel like they lasted forever, or vice versa. You think you just dreamed all night, but it was actually five minutes. Sometimes for us who work in radio, because we’re trained to hear it differently, we’ll have like two seconds of dead air and feel like it’s an eternity, but it’s totally normal. In this situation, I can’t even imagine which side it would have been. How long did the delays feel on your end?
BRAD: To me, the first delay was tougher than the second delay. The first one, we kept getting times and the league kept pushing it back.
— Right, because over and over it shifts. “We’re going to back on the field at 3:45, then a 15-minute warm-up period and play resumes at 4.” And then it changes 50 times.
BRAD: Yes. So that felt longer because they give you a time and you look at the clock and you think to yourself or say, “Okay, alright, we’ve got to cover this much time.” And then ten minutes go by and they give you another time and it’s 45 minutes past that, and you’re like, “Wow. We just did 45 minutes and now they’re telling us it’s going to be another 45.” It’s crazy too that both delays were two hours. (2:01 and 2:03 to be exact). It was ridiculous how close they were to each other in total time.
MAC: It didn’t feel like four hours. There was nothing that seemed that way. It was fast.
PHIL: Time moved fast once we were in it because so much was happening. We were so concerned with keeping the listener informed with everything as we knew it. The two hours didn’t feel the same to us as it did to the players, the coaches, or the folks sitting at home.
HUTTON: It was four hours, and it would feel long sometimes and other times it wasn’t at all. The trick to it was keeping it fresh with the cycle Mike laid out and keeping everyone involved and engaged. No one element of our crew could have made it work without everyone else doing their part. Brad directing traffic and Phil communicating and timing and Mike crushing it on air and Coach Mac’s insight on being in a situation like that before and Amie’s sideline reports and Rhett’s multitasking and calm and just everybody that was involved.
The time keeps getting pushed back and the response for us is we push back the time we have in the plan to reset the game itself before football resumes. I believe we always tried to give ourselves 10-15 minutes of reset time with Mike and Coach Mac to get us back to the down and distance. Coming back from the first delay, it was going to be 3rdand 1 with 1:11 left in the half. That’s a big drive for the Titans because Miami gets the ball to open the third quarter. That’s important. Then coming out of the second delay, the Titans just had an interception in the end zone from Malcolm Butler and a chance to really reclaim the momentum of the game. Those were big aspects of the on-field action.
The question was when to begin diving back into that, and as the time began moving back, we’d have to shift it. You’re always building to the reset time, then the mindset gets back to football mode rather than delay mode, which is the theme of the plan.
RHETT: There were times where it felt long, but because there are so many of us working in communication with one another and the other parties involved and trying to figure out where the weather plan goes next, it didn’t seem that long. Certainly when we got through…we were beat. The bus ride back to the plane is about 25 minutes and for the first 15 or so, not many words were said. Then somebody cracked a joke about something that happened and we all started talking about that. But after it was all done, we all felt it. We were all just drained.
— Okay, what goes down when the weather arrives and the emergency plan changes from a hypothetical to the moment where Titans Radio has to actually execute it? And, secondarily, how much is simply having a plan a calming influence at that point in the day?
PHIL: It’s not something you set out and think can actually happen. You don’t set out to broadcast the longest game in NFL history. You want to be ready for everything, but once you get into it and the hours start to click off, it becomes more of a reality and then it becomes a question of just how long it’s going to go.
AMIE: My initial thought was that the loud clap of thunder might be from the Jumbotron. I’m hearing multiple things. But maybe it’s the Dolphins promotional team doing it to elicit some emotion in the stadium. I thought that was awfully aggressive. Then it happened again, and I realized it was coming from the sky. (Laughs) But nothing else happened yet.
RHETT: I heard the first clap of thunder and nothing happens. I hear the second one, Brad heard that one too, and then I thought, “This is real.”
BRAD: I heard thunder after a big play. I looked at Rhett and he looked at me and I mouthed the words, “Was that thunder?” His eyes got big and he nodded, and I sighed a little.
MAC: As soon as I saw and heard anything, I knew because of the Rams experience in Tampa there’s lightning somewhere nearby. The way the stadium is configured, we couldn’t see the top or much above us.
AMIE: Well, from where I was, I had the broadcast in my ears obviously, so I couldn’t hear much of what was going on in front of me on the field itself. I have Mike to tell me that, and I’m listening so if I hear that someone goes down or went to the sideline, I know to get over there. I didn’t even realize it had happened until Phil is in my ears asking what Jerome (Boger) just said. I said I didn’t know and laughed. I was super casual with him because I had no idea. He then told me it looked like people were clearing the field and asked if he said there was a rain delay.
I looked up to the jumbotron and the warning popped up. There’s weather in the area. Clear the stadium. Head to the concourse. The first thing Phil said to me was, “You need to get your thoughts together.” I told him I didn’t know what my thoughts were. I wasn’t sure yet. He told me to be alert, look around, and just describe what I was seeing. After the team left, I came on the radio and said the teams were headed to the locker room but that I didn’t know anything else yet and would let everyone know something when I could.
At that point, I decided I’d just follow the team as there was nobody on the field left to talk to, and that’s when I first realized I was going to lose everybody in my ears and would have to specify, “Okay, I’m going to the locker room area now. I’ll come back out in a couple of minutes.”
RHETT: You could see Jerome Boger turn and explain that there had been a lightning strike close to Hard Rock Stadium and that the game was now under a weather delay. He asked both teams and their staffs to leave and head to the locker room.
BRAD: So, at this point, everybody in the room says, “Weather Plan.” But I couldn’t find it.
— I didn’t realize until this conversation that it was actually written down and not just mentally noted.
HUTTON: I’ve kept my own copy printed off and with me because we thought we might run into one of these in the preseason for the Minnesota game here at home or who knows where else. (Jonathan shows me the now famous Weather Plan, and it’s as if I became Indiana Jones in that moment based on the lore surrounding this thing. Luckily, however, no snakes.)
BRAD: It’s an actual piece of paper. I freaked for about 30 seconds because I’m looking around and I don’t see it and I’m thinking that if we don’t have this paper, we’ll get through it, but like right now I just want 30 seconds to look at it and go, “Okay.” And I couldn’t find it. I looked at Rhett and I asked where it was.
RHETT: Brad asked quickly about it, not knowing that the updated weather plan from earlier in the week…I have all these readers and sponsor reads and things. I put it in that same folder. I put it in the same place I’d put it every week for the past three years and I told him, “It’s in the blue folder.” In that folder, we have sheets where in large print we can silently tell Mike about breaks or to go to a legal identification or a sideline report. The front pocket is where that thing stays. And I have an extra copy of it inside the rolling road case.
BRAD: To your question and your point, once I saw it, there was a calm. It’s like, “We can do this. There’s a plan.” But there was a period of about 15-20 seconds where I could not remember where it was, and Rhett saved me. I knew that we had all gone over the plan and spelled it out, but right there in that moment, you have this feeling of whether you remember the plan. We don’t want to wing this.
RHETT: There’s a map. But we don’t run tornado or fire drills. We didn’t run this plan. There’s no way to simulate it. It’s discussed, and everybody agrees with the flow, but no one memorized it.
BRAD: You’re not going to stop a broadcast and say, “And now we’re going to do the weather plan” if it’s sunny and 75. At that point, it comes down to a lot of background communication. The sideline reporter has to talk to Phil, who’s producing her, to make him aware a report is ready. He then has to decide if this is a report that actually gives us news or is this conversation. We know we’ve got these weather pieces, which we loaded to the computer in pregame. Hutton just clicks Tab 16 and there they all are and they’re ready to go.
RHETT: Right, and we did it just one other time in the preseason. It was the Vikings home game. There was a chance of some showers, and we have this thing where we load up any elements that are ready to run so they’re ready to go for network pregame. I thought we should open a back tab and put everything in there and have it ready at the click of a mouse.
HUTTON: Because Rhett had preloaded everything, I was able to create a separate folder specifically for weather delays, because during the pregame, it was pouring down rain. It was harder than at any point during the game or during the delay, but we started to think this might be a weird situation. We loaded up the page and had it ready, locked and loaded, and we will probably do it again when we go down to Jacksonville.
BRAD: We knew we had an hour’s worth of pre-recorded stuff if we needed it, but we figure this is just one of those pop-up storms that comes and goes and then they’ll be back out here in 35-40 minutes. Then you look up and you realize you’ve already gone an hour and they’re not even close to coming back, and then what you don’t realize is when you’re done, and you’ve put the plan back in its folder…you’re going to have another one of equal length less than an hour later. (Laughs) So, we did a two-hour delay, had 55 minutes of a football game, and then another two-hour delay, and you can’t even prepare yourself for the second one except you just say, “We have a plan.”
RHETT: And the common thread here is in the first delay, there was a strike less than a mile away from the stadium at 2:08 ET, and while we’re sitting in the delay and it keeps getting pushed back and pushed back, almost an hour into that, at 3:01 ET, a second strike that I think was less than five miles from the stadium pushed that even further. Same thing. Second delay. 4:53 strike, officially stopped at 4:55. Second strike six minutes later at 4:59 that was eight miles from the stadium. Ka-pow! Ka-pow! So, you had double lightning strikes that just kept resetting the clock basically to wait.
AMIE: Luckily for me, there was a radar on the wall outside the locker room, so I stood over there with their guys and made friends with them, and I’m looking at the radar and asking people to explain it to me. I don’t know this. I don’t do this, you know? And then I’ve got to run back out and tell them what I know. On one hand I felt bad because I’m new at this and I don’t want to have bad information and I want to make sure that it was accurate, but it changed so much that it was just never going to be accurate.
— What’s the very first thing in the weather plan? What is the first thing you go to, the first element, the first step in the procedure that’s been mapped out?
RHETT: The first step is we go to Mike Keith who informs the audience the game has been stopped due to a weather delay and then we reset the game to that time.
— With highlights?
RHETT: Not yet. Not this time.
BRAD: Mike resets the scene, including where we are in the game, why we are where we are, what the delay is, and that we’ll keep you posted but that we’ll also be staying on live. Basically, he sets the stage and everyone else goes into prep mode. I’m directing traffic to everyone, and everybody knows to prep because soon, it’ll be their time.
RHETT: All that plus the weather guy, plus Amie from the field, and then that is exhausted. Hutton is working with JT to put together a lengthy scoreboard so that’s then locked and loaded up and Mike cues him to do that scoreboard in no hurry. We are cruising through. I’m on the horn with weather people. I’m checking with public relations people at the stadium to confirm Amie’s information on times and other things we’re hearing. At some point, Mike asks the question, “Can we get somebody in PR to check and see what is the longest game in NFL history due to something like this?”
I text someone who gets in touch with the Elias Sports Bureau and he says to me this isn’t something they have handy, so we may not get this, but he’s efforting it. It’s so weird then, because later Brad asks if I’ve heard anything during the second delay and as I’m shaking my head, I get a ding on my phone with the information.
HUTTON: Yeah, I also asked Brad at one point if we could find out the longest game in league history, and I started searching online and I was able to find stuff with overtimes, but for simply a game that ended in regulation, it just wasn’t there. But, the one instance that did keep coming up was the Super Bowl in New Orleans with the power outage. It was somewhere around 1:50 or somewhere around there. We got in touch with Elias to try and make sure on all the facts. Another interesting fact about that is Jerome Boger did that game as well. But we were all starting to think about it.
BRAD: So, after Elias texts Rhett, we literally hand Mike his phone and he snaps into action and we find out Titans-Dolphins just eclipsed a 2013 game between the Bears and Ravens. He speaks into the mic moments later. “I’m being told that this is now officially the longest game in NFL history.” And you’re there thinking it’s kind of cool. I mean if we’re going to do this, at least you can say you’re a part of something historical.
— One thing I know that most people don’t is how the sideline reporter is used in Titans Radio. I’ve seen some crews go to those folks incessantly, like they’re a third member of the booth. I remember Duce Staley on South Carolina coverage when I lived there, just as one example, Basically, he was what Tony Siragusa used to be on Fox TV. That’s not how you guys handle it. But for this instance, it’s doubly interesting because you have someone new in that role.
Amie Wells is a total pro, and she’s been around the Titans media scene for a while, but she isn’t particularly experienced as a sideline reporter on this level, and now, she’s tasked with being the most important person on the broadcast. And unlike what’s usual or expected, she also has to know she’s going to be used on air quite frequently.
Nothing anyone else says on air is as immediately integral to the listening audience as her updates from the field as to the conditions, the latest on the potential restart, what’s happening in the hallways and outside the locker rooms, or for example Mike Vrabel and Adam Gase meeting with league officials outside the two dressing rooms and coming to an agreement on halftimes. She probably never does anything close to what she did yesterday ever again, and it happens in her first game? That’s baptism by fire right there.
RHETT: The odds of her doing that many hits in a game again are astronomical.
BRAD: We typically would go to a sideline reporter…if we go to that person five times a game, it’s really heavy and guys are dinged and there is big news. So, for us to go to somebody 20 times like this and need specific information every time…wow.
To her further credit, we’ve had the plan for three years. She’s had the plan for two weeks. We really didn’t go over that until we started watching weather and thinking it might be problematic. She had a CliffsNotes version of the plan.
MIKE: Totally not surprised, because we never would have put her in that role if she wasn’t prepared for that moment. In early 1999, Larry and I agreed that we wanted the sideline person to be for information. Some games, it’s twice and that’s it. Other games, it could be 20 times. You could have a ton of information that could be coming your way and you need that person desperately to get it in a hurry. It’s changed over time, because access to information is not as readily available as it was when we started. You just don’t have as much.
That role is still very important, and she was ready. You’re talking about somebody who has attended virtually every practice for five years. She’s built relationships with players and coaches and staff. Notice she didn’t go anywhere she wasn’t supposed to go, but she was able to get to places and have enough access to get us the information we needed. That’s what we expect Titans Radio to be. She made me very proud.
AMIE: It was an interesting first day on the job. I’d done it a little bit in the preseason, so having that experience was super helpful in framing how this was going to work and who my contact is. The first rain delay happened and like Coach Mac said, I had Mike Keith’s instructions and so we all pull them out of our binders. And I look at it about halfway through the delay and I realize we’ve gone through most of the plan. So, for me, a lot of what I had to do was kind of go back to where the guys were. I’m fortunate that I’ve worked with the team every day and they’re so used to me being around. No one really noticed I was there, so I was able to hang out in front of the locker room as I did for years and just listen.
So, I’m talking to this guy who says, “Oh, we’ve probably got ten minutes.” Then this guy over here says, “No, it’s probably going to be an hour and a half.” Okay, those are different. I need something more. I need real information. Then I realize the guys in the booth have no idea what’s going on and no one else from down here is talking to them. So, just as much as what I was saying was for the listeners, it was more to tell the guys, “Hey we’re going to be here for an hour and a half at least, so cue up what you got,” or if it was 15 minutes or whatever. As the delay went on, it became more about telling the people on our team what’s going on. There’s no information getting to the press box. There was a PR person back and forth, but communication wasn’t going that way.
The way the Dolphins stadium is set up, the area where our staff is and the radio booth are sit on opposite ends of the field. So, there’s no one running back and forth to our radio booth. Half of it was me calling up to Phil and saying, “Hey, here’s what’s going on. It’s not necessarily for publication,” and him saying, “Nope, say it. Let’s go.” Part of it was me having to shake the idea that I didn’t want to give away what the team was doing, although I did want to be cognizant of team information. What time the game is starting? There’s no competitive advantage. Once I broke out of that mindset, it’s like alright, I heard this just now, I’ll say it, and let’s keep this thing rolling.
MAC: It was massive. She didn’t care. She was walking out to the middle of the field trying to find a signal and it was raining and she didn’t care. A couple of times I’m saying, “There’s a huge jumbotron that says ‘DANGER’ and she’s out there with electricity attached to her.” It was like she had rabbit ears on and she’s constantly searching.
RHETT: It’s so big, because it’s info she’s gotten from team officials or the league like protocol and what the players are doing and what is being monitored. Several times she mentioned who was watching radar in the hallways. She said Titans General Manager Jon Robinson are conferring with this person.
HUTTON: Because I had done that job for the last few years, I could tell Amie knew exactly where she needed to be to get the right information and where to be to stay around the right people on the field. I had dealt with two delays before, one against Carolina and one with Kansas City. The brilliance in what she did was finding the proper people behind the scenes that were in the planning phase, like the ones associated with charter planes and where the food was coming from. That’s who you talk to, because those people have to know every piece of information for their own scheduling. She did it quickly. The toughest part is new, fresh information so often, but she had tons of content for us.
MAC: The fact that she is a Titans employee and is very well respected in the building and everybody knows her, she could get right down there. She could get information from people that had REAL information, and that was critical.
AMIE: I was very aware that these people were telling me things. Half the people don’t even realize I’m doing sidelines. Unless you see me there, I’m walking around with a microphone but nobody’s looking at my hands in that moment, so I’m very aware these people are talking to me as me. I tried to be cognizant of that, but at the same time they’re giving me valuable information. If we lose our listeners because nobody knows what’s going on, nobody wins.
MAC: It kept the listeners engaged. It was real. It was to the point. The way that thing came off, that part of it, I was impressed by the operation of the plan and the way everybody was able to subjugate themselves. She didn’t care how many times she had to walk in the rain.
RHETT: And there’s another thing you don’t know. She’s dealing with frequency issues. Every time we’ve ever done a broadcast down there, the frequencies are a nightmare because there are television towers just down the street from the stadium – five towers within eyesight of Hard Rock – and it’s always a lot of people covering the team, so frequency requests are made in advance of every game. There’s not much separation in channels and you have to really be careful not to step on somebody else’s signal and most spots on the field don’t work. She had to find the right spot, go back to it every single time, stand completely still there, so that she could hear Mike’s questions and deliver the news.
Back when Hutton was on the sidelines, he used to have to attach the belt pack to his shoe and hold one leg in the air, leaning forward, in order to maintain the frequency. It’s THAT bad.
(The below photo is one Jonathan Hutton took years ago in Miami to document the extra challenges created by that location. You can clearly see the pack attached to his ankle)
HUTTON: What Rhett said is right, but with the stadium renovations, we are finally in a little bit better location than we used to be for interviews and frequencies. We’re stuck in a corner, and years ago when I would be down there, the booth is on the opposite side of the stadium from me and getting the signal to me and to them was a chore. It’s still one of the worst because of the TV towers. It isn’t the Dolphins or their organization’s fault at all. Amie was excellent. She had 20 reports easily that were informative and unique in their own way each and every time she went on air. That was impressive.
PHIL: You know, until you just listed all of it, I had not taken an inventory of the grocery list of all the wild circumstances that we’ll get into. I never looked at it from an aggregate 30,000-foot viewpoint. When you throw all that in the bowl and that’s the cake you make, that’s crazy. We know going in that this venue is going to be the worst we’re going to see all year. It’s not Miami’s fault. They have a TV tower farm that’s half a mile away from the stadium. You see it driving up. With that much flying in the air, the power it all generates, the sheer wattage output, they just stomp on everything. They’re also limited by the frequency bandwidths that are available.
The Dolphins Radio producer will readily admit to us it happens to them and sometimes they don’t have functional frequencies themselves. Fortunately, we’ve lived it many times in the past there, we know what to expect, and we try to plan as much of a contingency as we can to mitigate that.
But yeah, the sideline reporter has the microphone in hand, but the belt pack tech attachment needed as part of the equipment to hear the broadcast and hear me, Hutton had to strap it to his shoe. We told her to hold it behind her back, look up to us in the booth just to try and squeeze every bit of that frequency we did. We actually ended up having a pretty clear connection when we needed it. The parabolic microphones, those guys, we weren’t quite as lucky with them.
AMIE: The most frustrating part was that for me, because there were frequency issues, I couldn’t hear the broadcast unless I was standing on the field facing a certain direction. I mean it really was like rabbit ears. I had to stand with my arm in a certain position and then I could hear. I knew I was going to get rained on. They’re screaming, “Get off the field, it’s unsafe,” and I’m saying, “Eh it’s probably fine. What could go wrong? This is okay.” (Laughs)
So, I’m having to run out, listen to the broadcast, tell Phil something, then get back in, get some information, but then I couldn’t hear anymore, so I’d have to text him that I got something, and then find a place in the tunnel where I’d hear glitches in broadcast audio start to pop in and out of my ears. Then I’d know I was getting closer and I’d have to just book it. So, from an info standpoint, because I knew it was fluid, that was fine. But my little body was tired. (Laughs) It was a lot of moving back and forth and people are always moving and shifting. I don’t go in the locker room at all, so I was relying completely on whoever emerged and kind of casually talked to me.
— I don’t even know what to say to that, other than it’s insane. Nobody on earth would know that without you mentioning it. There’s a bit more on Amie and that job I want to know. Just how much of a lifeline is Phil to her in those scenarios and specifically this one with all the extra challenges involved?
BRAD: It’s both ways. She’s a lifeline for us because she’s getting us the information on the field. When she goes in the tunnels, she disappears from Phil’s ears. She comes back out of the tunnel, Phil hears her and you can see him ask her what she has. She’ll tell him. He’ll tell us, “She’s got an update on times.” I turn to Mike. “Let’s go to Amie.” That’s information we want a listener to have. There were times where we went to her and asked what the players were doing during the break, which is compelling, but if she comes out and she says, “They’re going to make halftime six minutes long,” or what the teams had decided, that’s incredibly important.
RHETT: And it kept changing as well.
MAC: We had whatever Mike was saying and what else was going on, but anytime Phil would signal us and say, “Hey, Amie’s got something,” we knew that was big. Boom. Get to it. That was the whole deal.
AMIE: I’m so thankful for this team of people I get to work with. They’re all guys I’ve known for a while. I know they’re not going to let me fall. I know for a fact they’re not going to put me in a position where I look stupid, because then it brings the whole level of the broadcast down. Just that feeling is a huge deal. For Phil to come to me and say, “Do you have anything,” rather than “We need you to go now,” but asking “Do you have anything?” Just that phrasing is so different.
— Does that take some of the pressure off you that they’re not just beating you over the head demanding information.
AMIE: You don’t constantly feel like you have to come up with something. It’s more, “Do you have anything,” and I can say “No, not yet. Here’s what I’m waiting on.” The response then is, “Okay, great. No big deal. Let me know.” Then I could tell him when I did have something, and he could decide and tell me whether he’ll hand that to Mike to say or, “We want to come to you. Can you do that?” He left it up to my discretion and never put me in a position where I’m going to look unprepared or feel like I have to make something up just for the sake of talking.
I knew Mike wasn’t pitching to me if they didn’t think what I had was valuable. So, when they did, I knew the team thought what I had to say was valuable, so that gave me the confidence to say it.
PHIL: She had to do so much. She did a phenomenal job of relaying information and talking to the right people. It was so fluid. One interesting thing is that I thought all of a sudden as the day was getting longer that something was weird. It hit me and I had a few questions. Why is her mic even working? Her batteries should be dead right now. I still see her frequency, so it’s not, and that’s also what let me know if she was in earshot, but she could be dead in the water at any second and she is our primary conduit to the most vital information. I immediately turned to Rhett and told him we have got to get batteries down to her immediately, and he hopped up and took off with a fresh one.
To be her first game and be thrown into that? Holy crap. She just plowed through it like a champ. She gave us everything we needed. It was great.
RHETT: That battery pack, when I took it out to replace it, was so hot to the touch. It was like a hand warmer. It was on fire.
BRAD: Amie overheard one conversation and relayed it to us that the league was beginning to monitor the situation in New York. That led to a conversation about what expectation anyone can have for these players with all these breaks in action and their conditioning.
— Safety concerns. Injuries. Full speed to nothing to full speed. That kind of thing?
BRAD: Yeah, so then we have to think about the business of radio. What if it’s over? When you have 53 stations, you’re concerned about the network, but also all of them have sponsors that have paid to be in Titans games and we want to make sure that we get to all of those sponsorships. People have made investments. We started working ahead. Once that became a possibility, we started making sure that the local stations had an opportunity to take their breaks.
After the local stations were taken care of, then we started working ahead for our purpose. We started playing postgame breaks as part of our delay content, because we knew if we made it to postgame, postgame was going to have to go fast. A football team wants to stay on a schedule. They have a charter plane waiting for them. They have media and meetings. They have all these things. They’re losing valuable time, so we understand when this thing’s over, things are going to move really fast. So, we started setting ourselves up that if they come out and say this game is over, you’re playing 15 instead of 16 this year, we did not want to have 30 minutes of commercials to have to try and get through.
RHETT: The beautiful thing about getting ahead like this, and it gets technical, because Mike would have to deliver this down the line so the non-automated stations running board ops could understand…but he would say, “Now folks we’re going to take another local break here, this would be Break 32.” Specific numbers. He would say it was an extra local break for anyone who could do it, so stations had a chance with those sponsors to bonus their clientele.
HUTTON: Brad did an excellent job with the local breaks, making sure none of our affiliates would need any “make good” spots or considerations for their sponsors and advertisers. Getting those breaks in and moving some postgame things around so we could do two segments with all necessary elements in instead of five. That way we could get packed up quickly and get out of there and to the bus that would be leaving earlier than usual because of the circumstances.
The planning behind the scenes…while I’m doing a scoreboard, Brad and Mike and Phil can get their game plan in order and relay that to me and the others. At some point, it became me and Mike and Coach Mac talking about the league on air for a bit. Previewing Khalil Mack’s debut and what’s happened during the day. It was very comfortable even though we hadn’t done that before as a group.
***(EXPLANATION: A “make good” is a rerun credit on radio or television given to a sponsor of advertiser whose expectation for inclusion at a specific time or within a specific program was not met due to error or some other factor outside of their control. For example, if a game gets canceled, but there are still five sold and scheduled breaks. Those breaks can’t simply be moved from a higher rated show or time slot to a lower one, because the agreement guaranteed specific placement.)
MAC: Mike asked me on the broadcast if we were reaching a point where the game might be in jeopardy. “We’re getting close. I’m not saying it’s done, I’ve never seen it happen before, but we’re getting close.” So yeah, we were aware.
AMIE: There was a time where all of the officials came out, and this happened probably two or three times, and they pulled Vrabel out of the locker room. They pulled Robinson out. They pulled Adam Gase out and the Dolphins GM. They all stood in a mob in front of the locker room and talked for a long time and people leaned in and just tried to hear. The second delay went from an hour to 90 minutes to discussing an entire extra hour.
I looked to Brent Akers, our Titans ops guy, and asked him, because I didn’t know the answer, whether there was a scenario where the game could be called off. He said absolutely yes. The problem now is there’s no roadmap for this. No one has ever done it, so they’re talking to New York to decide what to do. “But we just pumped these guys full of mac and cheese, so nobody’s going to have any fun.” The food they were making…the ops guys came in at one point and each one had four loaves of bread in their hands, because they didn’t have enough food to last that long and feed these guys full meals. So, they’re on the phone ordering pizzas or wings or whatever can be delivered or pulled from concessions. They made 300 PB&J’s.
— Did any of the affiliate stations try to contact you at all during the delays, when things were more than mildly in question?
BRAD: Funny story. Larry Stone, who used to be the executive producer before Rhett, is now in charge of an affiliate. He was actually really helpful in that he was sending us old features that we had done in case we needed them. Just sort of like, “Hey, hate you’re in this situation. If you need this, know you’ve got it.”
HUTTON: You heard about Larry? With his help, I’m able to think of some of these other features around the scoreboards and other elements. We made it work. There were TWO two-hour delays that just felt like part of the overall broadcast more often than not.
That History of the AFL piece, we did that back in 2009 or 2010 whenever the 50thAnniversary was taking place. That aired that year during a Titans game against the AFC East. He still had it, so he sent it on. It made sense. We had several other things from him actually that we could have gone to and used but chose not to.
PHIL: Even though Larry hasn’t been with us for a few years on the broadcast, he’s always a part of Titans Radio and we all still talk to him and see him. We’re carrying on what he started in 1997. Kudos to him. He has radio stations that carry the games and sure, he has a vested interest, but he’s always going to be a close extension of what we do. It didn’t surprise me at all to feel my phone going off and see “Larry Stone” pop up on my screen in the middle of a rain delay. He cares about what we do, he cares about us, and he’s always going to help in any way he can.
RHETT: He didn’t even send me a message. I just hear my email inbox start popping, and I look and it says “Larry Stone via Dropbox. He has shared with you the 2000 Decade in Review, the first ten years of the Titans.” And then immediately right after that The History of the AFL. So, I’m staying with it to get it loaded on hot keys so we can take another breather or feel better. He’s the reason the second one went smoother than the first one did.
MIKE: The one thing I want to make sure ends up in your piece is the name Larry Stone. That’s the most important takeaway from all of it is his influence and his standard.
BRAD: He starts sending things during the second delay.
— Right, so he knows you guys have stuff in the can, but how much could you possibly have considering the length of the delays? It’s a question I had at the time listening. I’m sure anybody in radio would wonder the same.
BRAD: Exactly, and as somebody who sat in that seat and was part of that delay in 2003 in Green Bay, he knows how hard it is. In Green Bay, we stayed with it for two and a half hours. We learned a little bit from that, because what he did then is what we started to do here.
RHETT: When Larry was there in 2003, in that 2:47 delay, he went through every break they had for fear they would not finish that game. He was waiting for that call to come in and so he played every break.
AMIE: It’s a testament to the team that once you are involved with this group, you’re in forever. I was blown away. Larry knows. He wanted to help out even if he wasn’t physically there. He wanted to help from hundreds of miles away. That’s so cool. Everybody just wants to help each other and get it done.
MAC: The issue with the second one, the second delay, is that our weather expert told us that this new storm cell was sitting over the stadium and that this one was liable to be a while. We didn’t know how long the first one might be. It might be just a 30-minute deal or something. This second one, we knew it was going to be long. It got over top of us with several strikes. I’m very in tune with that because Jeff Fisher always was. We were in the mountains way up for practice, so every afternoon, I’d get on the Doppler and see where and when the strikes were during practices. We’d have three or four thousand people on three different fields at practice, so I’ve done pieces of this, but I’ve never done it for that long.
— How did you eat? How did you use the restroom? How did you do the basic things in life we take for granted? Was that included in the plan?
BRAD: I tell you, I think we started one of those interviews and almost all of us said we had to go to the bathroom. So, we’re going to the restroom in a big group and as we’re washing hands, Mike says, “Maybe I should just give somebody money and you go down to the club and buy burgers or something.” They typically have food in the press box, but our press box is far away from where the real box is, so that was his thought. Ultimately that didn’t end up happening, because they had some food in the hall.
But, at one point, we look up and here comes Dave McGinnis strolling in with a box of pizza like he had just visited a local pizzeria.
RHETT: And get this, it was left over from some box suite from a coach that he used to work with or knew or whatever. He said, “My guys are hungry. I need to take this.” (Laughs) He knows somebody everywhere. It’s six degrees of Kevin Bacon with Coach Mac.
MAC: Some of those guys had been there for over 12 hours, and that’s why I knew I had to go get them food. Those dudes had been up there for a long time. Now Mike Keith always keeps a stash of energy bars and so he pulled out his bag of those and I picked first, so I’d get the kind I wanted. (Laughs) Then everybody else…some took it, some didn’t, but everybody was really hungry. Mike was ready to give money, but some of the concession stands had closed because of how long everything had gone. So that was another problem.
I said, “I know some people.” Where we are, they’ve got a long stretch of suites in this secondary press box. I walk in there and say hello and then I see a big pizza box sitting there. “You guys done with that pizza? I got some hungry guys in there.” They offered it all and then said they had some hot sausage stuff too that they could go get. I told them I’d take the pizza first and then see. I was going to get them food. I’m pretty comfortable in every press box in the National Football League.
AMIE: Mac is a raccoon. He should’ve dangled me down a slice in a bucket.
PHIL: He’d gone out to stretch his legs and then just made his way into one of the nearby suites. He doesn’t meet a stranger. He talks to everybody. So, he tells us, “There’s pizza down there. I’m coming back here with a damn pizza at some point.” He just knew he was going to accomplish it. He was on a mission for pizza and he was not going to be denied. And it was pretty good pizza too, I wish I could remember what exactly it was.
BRAD: But food or that stuff included in the plan? No. Never been considered. It’s because of the time required for it to matter. The plan is only for like an hour and a half realistically.
RHETT: It’s like asking Matt LaFleur to point to you in the playbook what you’ve got for 3rdand 22. It doesn’t exist.
— Amie’s hungry and she has no pizza. You said 300 PB&Js a little while ago to me. Did you get a few of those?
MAC: I thought, by the way, that was one of her best updates. She told the audience about these sandwiches and it was great.
AMIE: No, I had nothing. But, I had my eyes on the head coach’s ham sandwich for the better part of an hour. What they did for the second delay, and if you didn’t know, it was freezing in the locker room. Guys were freezing. It was two degrees in there or something. People were complaining about it. Guys were wrapping in towels. I heard Will Compton was in the hot tub in his pads just trying to stay warm. What they did was they took folding chair storage racks, turned them on their sides, and draped towels over them to create a partition. It basically made an extended Titans locker room. Chairs were set up. Guys are coming out here and there and they start passing out food.
At this point I realize I’m hungry. I haven’t eaten since 10:30 and we’re rounding out the 5 PM hour. I’m thinking, “Okay, they’ve got pizza. They’ve got PB&J.” I’m like taking a mental note of what’s possibly available on the menu. They start walking around with macaroni and cheese and then Coach Vrabel comes out with this footlong hoagie that is everything I’ve ever wanted in my life. In that moment, there’s nothing but that sandwich. It’s like a cartoon steak, you know, where a bear’s hungry and everything he sees turns into a steak? (Laughs)
My whole life revolved around that sandwich. (At this point, Coach Mac, now also in the room, busts out laughing. This story was his favorite part of the whole day and he made sure she retold it for this article)
It was good that it was the head coach’s, because I still got ancillary information while I was staring down that sandwich. And he opens it up on top of one of the trainer’s crates near me and then someone gets his attention and he picks it up and sort of gestures to a few people with it, then puts it down and walks away. I think to myself that sandwich is mine. I mean there’s a whole other half, he’s stressed, and no way will he remember if he ate that or not. I’m just going to grab that sandwich.
I’m talking to the ops guys and I turned to someone next to me and I said, “On a scale of 1 to fired, how mad do you think he would be if I ate the other half of his sandwich?” They reply, “Well, it’s a tense time, so I maybe wouldn’t, but you could probably get away with it.” So, it became a big decision. My whole route during that second delay was ham sandwich, field, radar. I just did the triangle, but I stood right next to it and always had my eyes on where he was. If I could just snag it…
— Wait, are you telling me it never happened?
AMIE: I never ate the sandwich. I didn’t want to get fired, and that didn’t feel like a good way to start off my first time as a sideline reporter with a new head coach. At one point, I’m eyeing this ham sandwich. Beau Brinkley, our long snapper, is sitting on the ground reading the Bible. There are two guys on the ground co-listening to music on a pair of headphones. I looked around and thought we had reached anarchy. It had hit Lord of the Flies territory. Guys are napping and lying around.
— And I’ll bet Vrabel never ate the sandwich, did he?
AMIE: No. He never went back to it. I could have eaten it. Everybody could have been happy. Coach Mac told me I should have done it. But are you going to steal your boss’s sandwich in the workplace in a time of chaos? No, that’s probably frowned upon, but I would’ve done it man. (Laughs)
— Was there ever any panic? Did anybody start to show any exasperation as it dragged on or was it just a sense that this team knows what to do and how to get through this and that’s what’s going to happen?
HUTTON: Nobody tapped out and nobody was even close to tapping out. We were all there until they cancelled that game. Even on the bus, I’m still going on adrenaline. There’s a comedown moment and you process things, but I was already on to the next broadcast I had, which was the Midday 180. I wanted to pull together my notes for Monday’s show, so I wouldn’t have to do it when I got home. On the flight home, there was probably more laughter with us than usual after a loss, but that probably has to do with the length of the day and just being a little spent.
PHIL: As they kept pushing the time back, it became relative and less stressful. We did 45, we did another 45, so we have to do another 20 now? No problem. We can do that. We just did 90. Only 30 more minutes? Cool. The frame of reference completely changed. The perception changed as to how long a block of time was as we worked through the cycle of the plan.
Hutton’s a pro. The longest scoreboard that we do normally is three minutes. We have a two or three-minute option. We obviously had gone into the longer of the two, but that transformed. If he had more, we told him to just take his time and don’t worry about our music bed ending. We’ll ease out of that. Take the time you need. So, he does 3:30, then he does 4:00. By the second delay, he says he has enough to go seven or eight or whatever we wanted.
Over the years together, we took steps forward and we all simply got better. Everybody’s perception of what was possible changed Sunday. What once felt overwhelming and daunting now is something we realized we could do.
BRAD: Well, I did get a little frantic, but I always do anyway. That’s when there are about eight things going on and you’re trying to think through a problem and somebody has something else to add. There were moments where too much was happening at once and everybody involved knew what could then wait for a few seconds.
There were a lot of times when Phil would look at me and ask what we were doing next. I would say, “I don’t know. Give me a second.” Hutton would be doing a two-minute scoreboard that he said he could stretch to five because he had so much information. Phil would ask what was next, and I would tell him to hang on. In that time, Amie would come onto the field and say she had a time update. So, I’d point and say we were going to Mike, he’d set up Amie, toss it to her, and then we’d react to her comments. So, you do have a plan, but you’re still flying by the seat of your pants a little bit because you can’t predict exactly what’s next as information changes while you’re going.
MAC: When the second one hit, Mike said, “I’ve got the Joe Greene piece.” We had made a great piece during the preseason up in Pittsburgh with Joe Greene. It was always a forward-thinking thing. There was never one instance where everybody in that box turned and looked at everybody else and went, “What the what?” Never.
HUTTON: The plan was designed to work, no matter the circumstance. There are different ways to go about it and everybody can have their own opinion on how to fill that time. Some people go to a national program and say they’ll update things every 15 minutes. Others will open up the phone lines and take a bunch of random fan calls. Titans Radio’s philosophy has always been to be entertaining and be fresh for the Tennessee Titans fan.
That’s how Mike mapped out the entire thing, regardless of how long the delay goes. We knew that if we stuck with it, didn’t deviate from it, it would eventually get us back to actual football whenever it needed to. And our goal was that if you stuck through it the entire time, you were entertained and informed and never thought we were struggling or unprepared.
— It also helps to have David Drobny on standby, right? He was super busy just with Nashville’s weather on Sunday, which was all over the place. (He and an incredibly talented staff run @NashSevereWx and its website. It’s the best local Twitter follow, without question.)
RHETT: Those people are so fantastic. It’s the best Twitter follow in Nashville.
BRAD: That happened a few years ago where David had said something on Twitter when we were running the risk of a lightning delay, and when we started talking through the weather plan initially, we were trying to figure things out. We were to a point where the weather wasn’t a story yesterday and had some other pro help willingly offered also, but we used David during the preseason game in Kansas City. He was busy and so gracious with his time.
MIKE: I don’t know much about meteorology. David Drobny and Nashville Severe Weather do such a fantastic job. I think everybody already knew it but if they didn’t, they certainly know it after Sunday. I probably could have thought of some better questions. Rhett is a complete weather geek, and we should have had him go on there and talk to David instead of me saying, “Hey, it’s raining!” I showed my deep lack of formal education there. (Laughs)
MAC: David was tremendous. I told him he was worth 141 million dollars, just like Khalil Mack. That’s part of the plan too. It was so smooth.
RHETT: When we put him on air in that game, he was great, and that was a fraction of what happened yesterday. That worked so well in the past and they became our go-to guys for this. During that second delay, I asked him what he had and he was in the middle of a Periscope broadcast for severe weather here yesterday.
HUTTON: They will have someone available in any delay we’re in. Their names are all listed on the plan. And he was so busy with what was happening at home. We see dark clouds and we also see sunshine. We can’t see lightning. We can look at a radar, but I can’t pretend to be a meteorologist. He provided some of the best details of the entire day, letting us know about each strike and telling us this second delay is going to be much longer. It helped us set the pace for our extra local breaks and just planning things.
— Did anything go wrong? Did something go awry or an element not work out or anything you’d call a snafu?
RHETT: You know, not really. It actually went really well, so much so that the follow-up email from Mike today only said we need more evergreen stuff in the can to give us a breather. There was no critique about the rotation, the cycle, whatever. It was about having stuff so we can gather our thoughts, use the restroom, maybe get a bite to eat if it happens again. I was amazed, and I shouldn’t have been because I’ve worked with all of those guys for so long.
Amie doing that for the first time. That was amazing. Jonathan was really good with the scoreboards. He asked during the second one if we’d want some college in addition to the NFL. He had SEC ready to go. “Do it.” You know, we can talk about that. People love college football and NFL. People are usually together on those kinds of things. It worked. The only feedback I’ve gotten from our stations or those on the network or anywhere else…
AMIE: And those scoreboards and the length was all still useful information to our listeners. There’s still the component of what’s actually valuable to the audience. Knowing how Mike operates and how this whole group operates, there’s a standard with this broadcast that is a step above. So, nothing that was presented was filler. All of it had value, was somewhat compelling, and was actual information they could use. None of it was fluff. That was the most impressive part.
MAC: Mike Keith orchestrated it and the fact that he’s so mentally attuned to what it takes to make a top-flight professional NFL broadcast…his whole thought was we have got to keep our listeners informed. We have a great network of stations and listeners. Just to watch it…the technical aspect of it for example with Brad, Rhett, and Phil, good lord. I could hit that machine with a sledgehammer and those idiots could put it back together. (Laughs) The only thing I could do is hit it with a sledgehammer. These guys are good.
Mike Keith, I stood next to him for eight hours. You could see his mind constantly turning so quick. Nothing ever felt like it was contrived. It was so well thought out and the fact he could think on his feet that fast and keep everything moving was impressive.
— Mike, knowing you as I do, I bet you have something. No one else did.
MIKE: I think one is (I knew it) I ignored something that has been one of the best things that we’ve discovered in 2018 doing Titans Radio during the preseason, and that is Rhett and Jonathan doing the pregame show together. We should have done more of that, because the two of them are very good together. We didn’t use Rhett Bryan enough, especially with what he could have done for us with the weather. He also is so good and knows what’s going on around the league. He’s comfortable on the air. He was gathering information for us, but we should have used him more. That’s my fault. I should have done a better job of keeping him involved in that way.
Some of the stuff Larry sent us, I thought, “Why didn’t I think of that?” You don’t anticipate you’re going to have to go four hours, but you’d better be ready. Next time, your thought process is going to be four hours. What if that’s the case? If it is, we’ll do it again. That’s what they pay us to do. We’re not there to watch the game. We’re there to broadcast the game. This is the job. We’re not there to hang out with the team and stay in fancy hotels. Everybody kept that in mind. That was special to see.
(Departure photo as the NFL season had arrived.)
— Local radio is the one outlet, the one job Sunday where you couldn’t really just step away. Reporters could eat or start to write or take some semblance of break, TV cut away, but you guys stayed live through all of it. It was more than eight straight hours including pregame and your short postgame that you got through quickly because you had worked ahead with the breaks. You’re all humble, but when did you recognize how big an accomplishment that broadcast actually was?
MAC: When you sent us that message on Monday asking us to do this. When you got a hold of us and said there’s something here. That’s when I realized it.
PHIL: It was never a thought with any of us that we were going to cut away. The folks that listen to us have an expectation of the product we’re going to deliver to them and we have no intent to deliver anything less. We never considered throwing it back. I don’t know how long it would have had to go before that did become a possibility. Amie heard that the league was looking at contingency plans. I assumed maybe tomorrow and stay overnight, but the bye week wouldn’t be an option.
Maybe if we’d gotten word that the league was going to pull the plug, we’d have wrapped it up, but I don’t think the NFL would have outlasted us. I’m fully confident the league would not hold the players as long as we would have been able to keep broadcasting.
MIKE: The list of circumstances is true, but it’s what we do. What we do is we prepare and we broadcast. I’m a little uncomfortable, and people have been so nice to me and I’m overwhelmed with what people have said, but at the same time this is what they pay us to do. They give us this unbelievable opportunity to go and broadcast NFL games. So, our feeling as a group is that this is our full-time job, and we’re going to be ready for any eventuality to be just as prepared as we can be for anything.
The compliments are nice, but this is what the expectations should be for Titans Radio. What Larry Stone started two decades ago, it’s ironic that he would pitch in remotely, because I felt like this is how he would have handled it. We always wanted to be as good a broadcast and as professional a broadcast as we could be. Understanding that this could happen is to me not as surprising as it is to some because I’ve seen how the bread is baked, so to speak. I’ve seen the commitment level of these people, even if they’re new. From that standpoint, it’s not surprising at all.
We go to another delay. We just intercepted the pass and so our offense is headed back on the field. Then I see Ben Jones and Quinton Spain headed for the locker room and I said, “There’s another delay.” Nobody threw a pen. Nobody dropped a headset. Nobody said a curse word. We just went right back to it. And if we’d thought we had to go another 30 minutes or an hour, that’s what we would have done, because when you’re Titans Radio, the standard that Larry Stone put forward 20 years ago is this is what you do.
The people that take the time and effort to listen to us are counting on us. They can’t be in front of the TV in a lot of cases. Some do and we’re really appreciative of that, but most of them are working in the yard or at a job or doing something at church or running kids to a play practice or a ball practice. They are asking us to keep them informed. We wanted to keep them as engaged as possible.
The other part is we have radio stations that have been with us for over 20 years, back to the Tennessee Oilers days. They count on us to stay on the air, because they are working with a board operator in most cases that’s a part-time employee. I’ve done it. That’s how I started. Those people are working their tails off, but they don’t have the ability to make a programming decision for their station if we go away. So, those people are putting their trust in us to provide that programming for them no matter what. Meeting the standard Larry Stone set was always our number one goal.
HUTTON: I started with Titans Radio in 2005 and every year, I heard about that 2003 preseason game in Green Bay. Legend had it, that thing lasted hours because they would not cancel it because of Tagliabue. That’s been the story of legend since I started 14 years ago. Whenever we got on the bus, Rhett said to me, “Man, you were just part of the longest game in NFL history.” Wow. And it was handled as well as we could have ever hoped for, because every individual pulled off their piece to make it work. Mike orchestrated it and everybody did it. I had fun doing it. I don’t regret having to work the time. It was a challenge and that’s part of it. We’re ultimately talking about football.
RHETT: It didn’t hit me until the bus. Then I got up this morning and thought it was incredible that it had taken place, and to hear from our kind affiliates being so complimentary and nice, marveling at it. I still don’t understand how it all happened, but it happened, and that goes back to us working together for so long. Knowing the person you’re going to battle with…we know what to do with each other.
But Coach Mac talked to Miami’s play-by-play guy, Jimmy Cefalo, and I talked to Bob Griese at the coffee machine. Jimmy asked Mac how we were doing it. Bob, he was fixing a coffee and he was just perturbed. I asked if he’d ever seen anything like this in all his time in football. “Nope, and I want to know who’s in charge, so we can make a decision.” (Laughs) He was a little salty about it.
They cut back to the studio and you could hear it in the box through the in-house speakers. So, they were bouncing back and forth in their coverage.
HUTTON: Miami, it’s a bit different for them. From a region standpoint, Titans Radio is technically in four separate states. You have a map. They basically have South Florida. I think it’s much easier for them to go back to a studio show, especially at home, and have more of a base of operations or headquarters style of broadcast. We’ve always had more of a close-knit operation where when you’re on the air, you’re there until it’s complete or it’s cancelled. You’re telling that story. We have enough prepared to carry the content if we needed to.
AMIE: I started getting messages from everywhere, whether it was people in Nashville who were texting during the game or people around the league realizing how big a thing this was and asking how we stayed on the air. I have no frame of reference. Isn’t this what every regular season game is like? (Laughs) I guess I need to pack a lunch.
I figured out I was tired when I got upstairs afterward and gave all my equipment to Brad. Mike came out of the booth. Postgame was finished. He stopped me and told me he was really proud of me. I thought to myself I was about to cry and then wondered if I was emotional or just exhausted. I thanked him and he walked away. A chair was sitting there and I sat down and my legs thanked me. I sat outside the booth for two minutes and took a breath.
MAC: That’s when I came out of there and told her that she did one hell of a job.
AMIE: I cried on the car ride home. It was probably exhaustion, but everyone was saying very nice things to me. It felt special.
BRAD: When I knew it was a big deal was when the game went final. Typically Mike will leave the booth and grab a water or something, but on his way out this time he stopped and shook every team member’s hand and said, “Great job, great job.” He did that to me and I said the same to him. I said, “That was something.” He said, “We basically just called two football games.” And I realized wow…basically yes. It was 3:10 and 3:10. We did the equivalent of two whole football games.
PHIL: When it’s over, it all just abruptly ends, and it feels like you’ve done 20 hours, but you have an appreciation of what you’ve just done. As tired as you are, it’s an experience that you’re certainly glad you were able to be a part of. I got some texts joking about what time we got back in town. Twitter was a big conduit of reaction. It was all so positive. I pulled it up during some breaks and saw how much people were talking about it.
One guy tweeted that Fox had gone back to the studio, but Titans Radio was still on air. He said, “Sooner or later, they’re going to have to run out of content.” I had to respond to him. “Nope, it’s not going to happen. Stay with us. We’re going to keep going.”
The chemistry we’ve been able to build is probably the biggest underlying factor in all of it. We know what’s going to happen one step from now, but we might also know what’s going to happen six steps from now. Nothing really changed. Call it reading each other’s minds if you want, but we know what facial gestures mean or what a look means. There are a lot of shorthand hand signals after so many years.
The same signal might mean four different things, but we know what each one is. That’s not something you can really verbalize without developing it. It’s an underrated part of everything coming together and flowing. We never really felt stressed. We just knew that we had to continue making it happen and we just kept going.
MIKE: I just don’t think of it as an accomplishment that we stayed on. You have to understand how I was trained. I was at WIVK in Knoxville. My first job was making an Arby’s or a Wendy’s run or going to the Weigel’s to get cigarettes. That was in the mid-80s. The people that I watched do this…this is what they did. Their election coverage was unmatched. When we had the blizzard in 1993, people slept on the floor at the radio station. That sort of commitment from people I respected and admired was huge.
If you ask me who my heroes are in the business today, outside of a few broadcasters like a John Ward-type, the majority of them are guys you probably wouldn’t know, because they were people I worked with over 30 years ago. It’s what you did. When you wanted to hear good radio, it was people who had that incredible commitment to the quality of the product. There was a certain way it was done, and there was a certain way it was not done. In this business, there is a right way and a wrong way.
I know things have changed and radio stations are owned corporately, but the beauty of radio that’s still there is that if it is done well, it still separates itself. Like all the other technology that has become hip, radio is immediate. It’s why our audiences remain large for live sporting events around the country, because that’s still how people get it in certain situations. You want that immediacy. If you’re doing it well, you’re all working together, you’re professional, you’re showing personality but you’re not being goofy. You’re respecting the product and your time.
I can’t tell you how proud I was of those people I was working with on Sunday. Every single one of them met the standards of professionalism I saw 30 years ago at WIVK radio, when it was the number one radio station in America.
Even talking about it in that way makes me a little emotional, because some of those people that I worked with are gone. I’m so thankful that I got to be trained by them, and some of those people would have seen what happened on Sunday in Miami and would have said, “That’s good stuff right there.”
When Larry and I went to work on Titans Radio, when we were looking for radio towers to find stations to call, and this is long before Google, we discussed a lot. While we did it, we would talk about what we wanted the broadcast to be. His standard was just so intelligent. He is the single most talented person I’ve ever met in broadcasting, period. I mean not close. I think we met his standard. I hope we did. We’ve been trying to get back there since we lost him, since he decided to go own radio stations. We miss him, but he trained all of these people that were involved, if only indirectly with Amie through me. It’s a standard you’re trying to meet. The theater of the mind of radio is still a beautiful thing when it’s well done. I think Sunday was pretty well done.
MAC: I’ve still got some of the texts. Here’s one from Wyoming where some guys were listening. “How are you guys doing this?” There’s a bunch more. Here’s another one from an old boy in Texas. “God almighty, hell of a job. I bet your ass is tired. After seven hours of broadcasting, you stayed with it. Hell, I mowed the front yard at my cabin, then I turned it back on and you’re still on the radio!”
HUTTON: I got home Sunday night and immediately started texting Rhett some ideas for evergreen things for the rest of this season that will work for any broadcast moving forward. The response from listeners was awesome. It sounds like a lot of people sat and listened just to see how long we were going to go. The local Fox affiliate pulled the game to go to a comedy premiere late. We were the only outlet for Titans fans that wanted real time info in the moment and live info in the moment. It’s been cool. A lot of friends listened to it and colleagues listened to find out how we went about doing certain things. Some folks that work for other radio networks complimented us and tried to imagine how we did it.
It was almost like four or five separate shows. Pregame, kickoff, delay, came back, another delay, postgame. Mike’s right when he said it was like two football games. It had that kind of feel to it.
RHETT: I told Mike on the tarmac when we were about to head home how proud I was of him for this plan and how it was executed.
MAC: Egos with this team are nonexistent. The expertise and the abilities of everybody are over the top, but no egos. That doesn’t happen a lot. Usually, one offsets the other. Sometimes you can have people that are really good at what they do but really think they’re good at what they do and want you to know how good they are.
— The response you’ve received I imagine has been pretty incredible. I saw social media. I tweeted myself. But I can’t even fathom anybody saying anything negative to you after that performance.
RHETT: All positive. 100% positive. And I understand why they’re getting in touch with me, and I’m just as in awe as they are at how this thing was like a machine. But this is the one part of the machine that had never really been tested. Not in a longform. Not in 15 years. Not under this plan. Everybody else, we know what to do. I’ve worked with Mike for 20 plus seasons. I’ve worked for Phil off and on for 27 years. You know the person, you know what you’re supposed to do, you know where to pick up slack if you need to, but this is a whole other deal.
— Tell me one more random story or five about the experience on the way out.
BRAD: There was one time late in the game when I looked over to Phil and said, “Overtime.” I thought at this point, we might as well, right? He looked back at me and said two words. I laughed and said, “Come on? Why not? We’ve already done this much. Let’s just play overtime and make it ridiculously long.” He did not share my sentiment. Not at all. He didn’t even like the idea of me bringing it up.
RHETT: His poop bucket was full and brimming over.
HUTTON: Phil was against it maybe, maybe just kidding too, but at that point in time I was all for it. Bring it on. We’d been waiting for actual game action. We want to get back to Nashville, yes. Everybody has certain things they need to do when they get back. I was supposed to go do TV that night. That was cancelled. There’s the whole go ahead and call this game thing. But for the Titans, they have to be thinking about going ahead and winning the game. Overtime? So be it. Make it much more historic. I thought it would have been fun. Flowing with the moment. Going with the plan.
PHIL: (Laughs) I may not have said words. It might have just been one of those hand gestures. It was a direct one. (Laughs) But after I thought about it later on, that would have been cool. I don’t think any of us would have minded, just top it off with a little overtime. Why not?
BRAD: Also, how about our parabolic guys? They told us during the second delay they had a flight booked out of Miami at 6:30 ET. They said they’d try to rebook or get another flight, but that they might actually have to leave before the game was over, which meant we’d have had no field sound whatsoever. And we just kind of laughed at it, because what could we do and what could they do in that situation?
AMIE: I’m pretty sure they missed that flight. I didn’t see them for a while though.
PHIL: Kudos to those guys. Carter Rostron and Jack McGowan were the two guys. Carter has worked with us a few times in the past in San Francisco and New York. It was his 21stbirthday. They go to Hobart College in upstate New York and they had a flight. To their credit, they were in. They were ready to swap a flight and stay as long as they needed to and miss class on Monday, but we knew the flight was tight. These college kids, we all know those lives. It’s a lot of logistics to throw on them, but we appreciated their willingness to stay with us. We were going to let them go, thinking it best to let them make that flight, but they were there as long as we needed them.
MAC: Phil had a shark hooked when we were out fishing on Saturday night that snapped the line. He had a big shark. I was at mass to pray for them. I do that every game. So, the boys went fishing and were sending me pictures. They had him strapped into one of those chairs. They caught some bonefish, but he had it, that thing hit and started pulling the line. Phil was strapped in, so he was about to waterski the Atlantic Ocean with his face if that sucker starts running. That thing popped off, but they had a cool time. The shark got away.
MIKE: I didn’t go. I was incredibly thankful that I didn’t. I was already asleep by the time they got back, and that is where you get a lucky break. It’s the first week of the season. We’re kicking off TV shows. We’re doing season ticket holder events, so I worked Saturday afternoon and evening and hit the bed early. I got a great night’s sleep. That helped me in terms of being able to stand up for seven hours. Brad never brought a chair down there for me for the delay. He should’ve, right? (Laughs) It helped with fatigue for the voice also. Living right does really make a difference.
I’d have caught the shark, by the way. (Laughs LOUDLY)
MAC: One more. The thing that was bizarre is the longer it went, when you’d leave to dart to the restroom, the whole place became just one big mess. People were having quite a bit to drink. Good gravy. It’s kind of like how the mood changes when you’re at a party and when it first starts, everybody’s real proper. But by the time everybody’s gotten loaded up at midnight, it’s an entirely different atmosphere. You could see the change in the fans and the people working there every time you walked out, because our restroom was just right out from our door there at the suites. The workers didn’t have a plan. All of a sudden, they’re four hours into something they never expected to happen.
When we first get there, there’s one way we go in where you go through JLo’s club and then into our area. Well, they shut it off. It had been too long. And so now I’m standing there at the end looking around and a security guy asked me what I was looking for and I told him I’ve got to go down. He told me I couldn’t go that way because all the elevators had been shut down. So, he and I walked down all the way and got behind where the buses were, and then all the policemen were there. I walked the whole stadium with this guy. All of the people screening were wondering how I got through there. Amie said I was like a refugee.
(The team, sans Amie Wells…she’ll be in the next one though I’ll bet. From left: Brad Willis, Phil Noel, Dave McGinnis, Mike Keith, Rhett Bryan, Jonathan Hutton.)
THE CLOSE. IT’S BRIEF, I PROMISE…
What more exactly can I say to close this piece except to thank these individuals for their time, their candid responses, and their enthusiasm to be a part of this piece. I’m just privileged to have been the person that could bring their story to you. This is by far the biggest writing project in terms of scope and overall time to put together that I’ve ever done in my career.
Seems oddly fitting, considering the subject matter.
I’m @JMartZone. I own a charcoal rain jacket.