In the NFL Network’s rollout of the league’s most celebrated moments during its 100th anniversary season, Fred Gaudelli’s imprint is all over the upper crust of the “Greatest Plays” list.
The NBC “Sunday Night Football” producer, headed to L.A. for the Rams-Seattle game at the Coliseum on Dec. 8 and the Chargers playing host to Minnesota on Dec. 15 (unless it is flexed out), has been on the beat for 30 years. The first 14 years, at ABC/ESPN. He has six Super Bowls on his resume.
After appreciating the list’s top three — No. 1 with Franco Harris’ 1972 “Immaculate Reception” on NBC; No. 2 with “The Catch” from Joe Montana to Dwight Clark in the 1982 NFC title game on CBS (called by Vin Scully); and No. 3 with the New York Giants’ David Tyree’s helmet in the 2008 Super Bowl XLII on Fox — Gaudelli recalled his part in five of the next seven:
No. 4: The “Music City Miracle” kickoff return for Tennessee during an AFC wild-card win over Buffalo in Nashville, Tenn. (Jan. 8, 2000):
On ABC, Gaudelli had Mike Patrick, Joe Theismann and Paul Maguire on the call. And as it happened,
Patrick said he thought it was a forward pass from Tennessee’s Frank Wycheck to Kevin Dyson at the 25-yard line with 16 seconds left.
As the producer, Gaudelli looked at all available replays and worked with the game director on what to show the TV audience as well as what to make available to NFL replay officials.
“As soon as Dyson crosses the goal line, [game director] Marc Payton takes the shot of [Buffalo head coach] Wade Phillips, who is calm and mouths, ‘Don’t worry … it’s forward [pass],’ ” Gaudelli said.
“The first three replays we see, Theismann is already saying: ‘I don’t know if that pass was forward … Look where Wycheck is when he throws the ball; look where Dyson catches it; it’s on the same yard line.’ We had a lot of great looks, one of them right down the 25-yard line. The more Joe kept making the case, we’d bring up another shot and another shot and you’d realize, ‘Wow, this is not a forward pass. This will count.’ Even Mike was a little disbelieving but then he says, ‘That’s a lateral.’
“Now the look on Phillips’ face is disbelief. We then have phenomenal shots Payton cuts in of Wycheck blowing kisses to the crowd, [Tennessee quarterback] Steve McNair’s incredible reaction, even the special team’s coach Alan Lowry. We had this one unbelievable look from the blimp down at a crowd of about 100 people gathered around referee Phil Luckett as he was looking at the replay hood on the sideline.
“You’re never quite sure how you do in that moment. But a month ago, on a Saturday night as I was ready to go to sleep in the hotel room, I turned on NFL Network and they were replaying that game. I picked it up in the middle of the fourth quarter and watched it to the end. It was great 20 years later.”
No. 5: Malcolm Butler’s interception seals New England’s Super Bowl XLIX win over Seattle (Feb. 1, 2015):
NBC’s Super Bowl with Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth remains the most-watched program in U.S. TV history, with an average of 114.4 million viewers.
“We were like the rest of America, anticipating Marshawn Lynch would get the ball or Russell Wilson rolls out for either a run or throw — we’re not expecting a quick slant,” Gaudelli said, recalling his thoughts as the Seahawks lined up for a second-and-goal from the New England 1-yard line with 26 seconds left. Instead, Wilson threw toward Ricardo Lockette and Butler stepped in to intercept.
“The most amazing thing to me was how quickly Al picks up Malcolm Butler. He’s an undrafted rookie free agent who didn’t play a lot; he was in a few plays before. Al immediately identifies Butler, and I think most broadcasters might have just kind of clutched to make sure. But Al nailed that.
“The priceless replays I think will live forever is Tom Brady jumping up and down like a little 5-year-old on Christmas and the other is Richard Sherman looking as sickly as a human could look as he watches it replayed on the big screen. All those sequences were cued up by Rob Hyland.”
Nos. 6 and 7: Santonio Holmes’ game-winning catch and James Harrison’s “Immaculate Interception” in Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl XLIII win over Arizona in Tampa, Fla. (Feb. 1, 2009):
Gaudelli said this was the best game he’d ever covered, having Al Michaels and John Madden for NBC.
With Pittsburgh trailing 23-20 and the Steelers at the Arizona 7-yard line with 43 seconds left, Gaudelli zoomed in with a camera he had high in the end zone, tilted down, and showed replays to convince Michaels and Madden it was a catch.
“After [Steeelers quarterback Ben] Roethlisberger pump fakes, Holmes catches it with two toes down in the right corner of the end zone,” Gaudelli said.
On the Harrison play, Gaudelli said it was “the first time we decided to put a cameras on each side of each goal line, and we got the perfect angle straight across of Harrison going down, landing on top of [Arizona’s] Larry Fitzgerald, which doesn’t make him down, and then in the end zone. [Director] Drew [Esocoff] has a shot of Harrison sprawled out in the end zone out of gas.”
It was Madden’s last game as a broadcaster; he retired a couple months later.
No. 10: “The Philly Special” touchdown catch by quarterback Nick Foles from the first half of Philadelphia’s win over New England in Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis (Feb. 4, 2018):
On fourth-and-goal from the New England 2, Foles moved up toward scrimmage and seemed to be yelling to kill the play. The ball was then snapped to running back Corey Clement, who flipped it on a reverse to tight end Trey Burton, who threw it to a wide-open Foles to give the Eagles a 22-12 lead before the half.
“This is an unbelievable call,” Collinsworth said on the broadcast. “This could decide the game.”
Gaudelli said his crew was not told about the play in pregame meetings. “They didn’t practice it in Minneapolis,” he said, “because they were paranoid someone might see it.
“Now that it happens, we think: How’s the best way to replay it back? We had to see it in its totality first, so we have a wider shot. Then, we can go to the tighter snap, pitch, throw and catch and the reaction — and a phenomenal shot of [New England defensive coordinator] Matt Patricia.
“The cool part is we had an interview set up with [Eagles coach] Doug Pederson with Michele Tafoya as the half ended, so she can ask him about it. It’s amazing because it’s not often anyone out-tricks the Patriots.”
Gaudelli says he felt “lucky and blessed” to have the opportunity to be attached to those plays “but luckier and more blessed to be part of a great team that gave it the treatment they deserved.”
He also acknowledged advancements in TV technology, such as Super SloMo and 4K digital zooming, to give the plays additional context and staying power.
“If you look back at the ‘Immaculate Reception,’ there may have been two replay angles, max, but that’s what technology could provide,” Gaudelli said. “Actually, the simple way to make a big moment bigger is you just cover it properly in the first place, then you add the layers of replays to it. That’s how it works.”