Gameday: Behind the Scenes
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Countdown to kickoff: how NFL games happen.
And then imagine making it happen in as many as 13 cities on the same day. Every weekend. For more than six months.
That’s the tall order facing the NFL’s Game Operations staff week after week as they manage what goes on behind the scenes at every NFL game. Fans have come to expect that the games will run flawlessly and that they can focus their attention instead on the league’s superstars as they display their talents on the field.
And that’s what fans get — week after week, season after season.
They see the results of this hard work in the action on the field. What they often don’t see are the hundreds of people behind the scenes who appear to effortlessly manage the many moving parts and the massive mix of personnel, technology and equipment.
The locker rooms have to be fully stocked with the same comforts; footballs must be properly prepared; the playing field has to be in optimal condition. All of the technology — the communications systems for coaches, players and game officials; Microsoft Surface tablets; coaches’ booth monitors; and instant replay and injury video review systems — must be in perfect working condition.
All of the people, cameras and equipment on the field will be in their assigned place, and all of the pregame activity will proceed like clockwork.
NFL Game Operations conducts this symphony. The performance takes scores of seemingly unrelated experts performing disparate tasks, all contributing to one goal — a perfectly executed football game: Medical personnel. Uniform inspectors. Radio-frequency coordinators and technology troubleshooters. Security guards and locker room attendants. Ball boys, clock operators, chain crews and sideline helpers.
League staff members issue game credentials and parking passes for the gameday staff. They coordinate with representatives of the television networks and work with experts who certify that the fields are ready for play. They coordinate scheduling and travel for all officials.
And they do this every week.
Success requires an organized, rigorous system that clearly defines where everyone needs to be, what tasks need to be done, and when they need to be started and completed. NFL Game Operations maintains a detailed checklist and timeline with specific instructions to make sure everything gets done.
It begins seven days before the game with a locker room supply form, and continues through the singing of the national anthem and through the end of the game.
Seven days: Deadline for the visiting team’s equipment manager to send the league-supplied locker room supply form to the home team’s equipment manager. This form includes “basic” requirements and particular visiting team needs and ensures that the visitors have access to all necessary supplies. Certain items are standard, including 600 towels, 500 pounds of ice, eight cases of soda, and orange slices for halftime.
Four days: The wireless coordination contact — assigned by each team’s public relations staff by NFL mandate — directs credentialed media using wireless devices to the league’s local gameday frequency coordinator. The coordinator, one of the unsung heroes of each gameday, controls frequency-dependent traffic for technology used by media, coaches, players, game officials, medical personnel and other sources.
Three days: The home team tests and certifies that its playing field complies with NFL requirements on hardness, depth, evenness and other factors. Any problems with the surface must be fixed, retested and certified prior to gameday.
24 hours: Game officials must be in the city in which they are working that week. If severe weather is anticipated, officials should arrange to arrive earlier. The crew meets the day before kickoff to reviews both teams’ tendencies and any weekly points of emphasis from the Officiating Department.
18 hours: Visiting teams traveling by airplane must be in the game city.
4 hours: The visiting club’s sideline technician must provide to the home club’s sideline technician any labeled coaching staff wireless belt packs he wants to have “cloned.” Cloning allows a team to add a belt pack in listen-only mode, and only two may be cloned. The visitor’s technician must notify the home technician of this need via email no later than the Tuesday before gameday.
4 hours: The sideline and coaches’ booth technicians must have the Lombardi sideline trunks set up in the bench areas. The trunks contain equipment for wired and wireless systems, including Lombardi radios, belt packs, backup power supplies and batteries, along with a wired alternative if the coaches’ wireless communication fails.
3 hours: Sideline and coaches’ booth technicians test the RadioCom wireless equipment in each bench area and AudioCom wired equipment in each coaches’ booth. (If the coaches’ communications system for one team suffers a complete system failure at any point during the game, the other team’s system must be disabled.) Coach-to-player (C2P) technicians test and distribute C2P equipment to each club’s equipment manager. The injury video review system technician distributes a case containing 12 fully charged radios to the visiting club’s athletic training staff at the entrance to the visiting locker room. Field technicians report to the stadium and set up field monitor systems.
2 hours, 30 minutes: The home club delivers the wireless microphone to the referee.
2 hours, 15 minutes: Each club provides at least 12 like-new, properly prepared Wilson official NFL footballs to the referee for inspection; in inclement weather, the home team must provide 24, and the visiting club has the option to provide 24 as well. At the same time, representatives of the home and visiting teams can inspect the kicking balls (K-balls) that the officials received directly from Wilson Sporting Goods.
2 hours: Coach-to-player technicians conduct final C2P system testing with each club’s equipment manager. Sideline and coaches’ booth technicians conduct final testing on the entire coaching staff communications system. Field technicians conduct reply official equipment check at each of the field monitor stations.
2 hours: The injury video review system technician distributes a radio to the local league-appointed unaffiliated neurotrauma consultants, airway management physician and ATC spotter. The ATC spotter — located in a stadium booth — is a certified athletic trainer (ATC) that helps each team’s medical staff spot potential concussions or other head and neck injuries. A neurotrauma consultant on each sideline helps with assessing concussions. Airway management physicians, certified in rapid sequence intubation, stand between the 25 and 30 yard lines near paramedics who have coordinated arrangements for immediate transport via police escort or medevac helicopter to a predetermined hospital.
2 hours: Game officials test the wireless microphone units (primary and backup). A member of each club’s sideline staff, designated as the liaison with the referee, keeps spare batteries for the units should they need to be replaced. The referee meets with the home club’s Game Operations designee at the 50-yard line of the home team’s bench area to check all necessary electronic equipment.
2 hours: All printing stations and Microsoft Surface tablets must be in place on the sidelines. These are used by the coaches for the printouts or the Sideline Viewing System app, which lets them review images of opposing team coverages and schemes during play. The league office provides a four-person “purple hat” crew to set up the equipment; this crew will also take it down after the game ends.
100-minute security meeting: The referee, league and club security representatives, stadium security and the senior public safety official in charge of the field meet to review procedures for responding to an emergency situation before, during or after the game.
90-minute officiating meeting: The referee and other game officials meet in their locker room with both teams’ PR directors, the PR departments’ sideline communications personnel, the NFL sideline TV coordinator, the NFL Game Operations representative (at selected games), the TV network representative and the network’s on-field communications coordinator. This critical meeting includes the review of broadcasting policies and procedures, synchronization of watches and review of the schedule, such as when each team must leave its locker room.
90 minutes: The grounds crew removes the tarp from the field. If the stadium has a retractable roof and/or wall, the home club notifies the referee or highest-ranking league official in attendance whether the roof and/or wall will be open or closed during the game. A closed roof can be designated to open at halftime. An open roof or wall can be closed under certain conditions, including precipitation or if hazardous conditions, such as lightning, endanger people in the stadium.
90 minutes: Clubs also must report their final 46-player active list for the game. The home team must clear the visiting team’s half of the field of any items that would interfere with pregame warm-ups.
75 minutes: Two game officials and a PR representative for the home or visiting team meet with the head coaches in their locker rooms to provide a copy of the schedule and discuss any timing issues. A coach must tell the officials at this time if he wants his team to have warm-up time before the second half begins.
60 minutes: When applicable, the stadium roof and/or wall must be in its designated opened or closed position, and all lights must be turned on in domed stadiums or stadiums with a retractable roof in the closed position.
60 minutes: Coach-to-player communications technicians must be present in the bench area of each club. They remain there throughout the game. Field technicians prepare monitor stations for an equipment check by the referee.
60 minutes: Official time period for team pregame warm-up begins. Each team must warm-up on its designated half of the field, as designated in the NFL's Game Operations Manual. During warm-ups, a league uniform inspector checks every player to ensure that all uniforms conform to league specifications.
35 minutes: The referee checks his microphone with the television network broadcasting the game.
20 minutes: Earliest a visiting team can be required to end its warm-ups, absent a leaguewide obligation or event being conducted on the field during the warm-up period.
Within 20 minutes, the schedule varies slightly depending on the game time, the network broadcasting the game and home team production elements. The following is a suggested league schedule for a 1:02 p.m. kickoff on CBS.
14 minutes: Two game officials give the visiting team the 2-minute warning for departure from the locker room. The officiating crew’s side judge hands the team’s uniform designee a card advising him of the four randomly selected linemen (two offensive and two defensive) whom the official will check for unauthorized foreign substances on their uniforms as they leave the locker room.
12 minutes: The visiting team leaves the locker room. Two officials give the home team the 2-minute warning for departure from the locker room. The officiating crew’s umpire hands the team’s uniform designee a card advising him of the four randomly selected linemen (two offensive and two defensive) whom the official will check for unauthorized foreign substances on their uniforms as they leave the locker room.
10 minutes: The home team leaves the locker room. Visiting team player introductions begin.
8 minutes: Home team player introductions begin.
5 minutes: The national anthem begins. The league dictates that it can last no longer than 2 minutes.
3 minutes: The national anthem ends.
2 minutes: Coin toss. Each team can send as many as six player captains of its choosing, including one former player or coach serving as an honorary captain, but only one of them can call the coin toss or declare the team’s decision after the toss.
1 minute: Both teams take the field.
Gameday staff members continue to work throughout the game, ensuring that all the systems continue to work. They run the instant replay system; help spot and evaluate injuries; move the chains; provide game or kicking balls to the referee; monitor and resolve frequency conflicts; assist the network’s sideline reporters; and more.
League and team personnel take down and store all of the equipment when the game ends, keeping it secure and preparing it for the next game.
These steps will be repeated at every stadium, every game, every week, as will all of the planning and preparation before each contest. NFL Game Operations staff members coordinate myriad employees and specialists to make sure that each contest runs flawlessly for the good of the game, coaches, players and fans.