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NFL players ready for their close-ups in 'Sunday Night Football' open

Even the spotlight of back-to-back Super Bowl appearances didn't prepare Kam Chancellor for this.

Hollywood lights and cameras. A sea of stagehands. And — appropriately, for the Seattle Seahawks safety — a legion of boom mics.

"I never expected it to be this big a deal," said Chancellor, a wide-eyed rookie when it comes to appearing in NBC's "Sunday Night Football" open, the familiar song that kicks off the most-watched show on television.

Andrew Luck knew what to expect. The Indianapolis Colts quarterback doesn't necessarily crave the spotlight, but he didn't turn down the offer to participate in the open for a second consecutive year. This year's version, performed by Carrie Underwood, debuts Sept. 13 when the Dallas Cowboys play host to the New York Giants.

"When I was in it last year, I got some texts, some calls from buddies, some good-natured ribbing from friends and teammates," Luck said. "There are a lot of people watching. Shoot, I have it on in the background at home when we play a 1 p.m. game."

This year marks the 10th iteration of the iconic theme song. "Waiting All Day for Sunday Night," which was sung for a year by Pink, six years by Faith Hill, and now for the third year by Underwood. The latest version includes lots of familiar faces — Green Bay's Clay Matthews and Seattle's Russell Wilson — and some skyrocketing stars coming off huge seasons, such as the New York Giants' Odell Beckham Jr., Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown, and DeMarco Murray, now with Philadelphia.

The players arrive in waves, clusters of them shooting a day at a time, and each is assigned his own dressing-room trailer.

Whereas in years past the open was a polished production throughout the song, this year's montage toggles between those high-production-value shots and raw, unscripted looks behind the scenes. There's Underwood learning a celebratory handshake from Brown, for instance, and she playfully teases Luck for spending too much time in the makeup chair.

"We all know that we're going to see plenty of intensity during the game, but the open for us was really about setting the stage for that in kind of an unexpected way," said director Tripp Dixon, who was in charge of a production that included roughly 120 crew members and support personnel and 275 extras.

The open has gotten so big there are now cameras shooting the cameras. In the last two weeks of August, a short film about the making of the open will play in movie theaters across the country.

"With the open, we want to get the non-hardcore football fans excited about the game," said Fred Gaudelli, coordinating producer of "Sunday Night Football," which averaged 21.3 million viewers a week in 2014 as the No. 1 prime-time show for the fifth consecutive year. "You never know how the public's going to buy into it and get invested in it. Over the years, they have."

For Underwood, the filming is the easy part. Because the song is tweaked and customized for the playoffs, she spends hours in a Nashville studio singing all sorts of combinations of team names and quarterback matchups.

"There are definitely dozens of them," she said. "It's a full day of singing everything you can think of. I do it now, because if I were to try to do that on tour it would be impossible."

The goal, Gaudelli said, is to put the song "in the wheelhouse of the artist."

"Pink was a rocker, we countrified it a little for Faith, and Carrie is a crossover between country and pop," he said. "So this year it has a little more of a rock feel."

No matter what the genre, the open is pure Hollywood, proving that even as the NFL works to return to Los Angeles, in one sense it has been here all along.

Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesFarmer

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