PART THREE: THE KICK
After the timeout, with one second left, Griffith finally lines up for a 57-yard field goal attempt that would send Alabama to the SEC Championship Game. Auburn has Chris Davis back to return in case the kick is short.
Lundquist— So then he kicked it, and kicked it awfully well. Griffith’s kick was not bad.
Milton— It was a decent kick. I think that’s the word somebody used.
Silver— I do remember very vividly that he lines up, he hits it, and it’s all happening very fast, but my split second reaction was “oh my god, this thing has a chance.” And then clearly it veered off and it was a little bit short.
Danielson— The beauty of the play is that the director shoots it from behind. And so you get a tremendous view, kind of like you’re almost in the cockpit of the replay. And it’s all happening in super slow motion.
Here are Lundquist’s words during the call: “NO! Caught by Chris Davis.”
Milton— It was a good kick and all of a sudden, a guy catches a ball, and that’s when it kind of turned surreal for everybody.
Wolfson— Just witnessing what took place after that, my mouth, my jaw. Wide open.
Silver— And at that point I’m not thinking anything, I’m just watching. And there he goes.
Lundquist— It was not quite long enough, obviously, and it was off to the right. And here goes Chris Davis. And he got two or three terrific blocks, and then he sped down the left side. And when he got to the 50, he had a convoy of about three or four Auburn players around him.
“DAVIS GOES LEFT!! DAVIS GETS A BLOCK!!!”
Danielson— Verne is best in those free-flowing plays. Those special teams plays. His voice cuts very well. His emotions play very well in those situations, and he reacts as an announcer and a fan at the same time. And it’s when he’s at his best, are those long runbacks, those punt returns, kickoff returns. And I really think Verne being in that spot really helped the broadcast at the time. It’s his fastball down the middle.
I know there are other great broadcasters, but I just think his voice and his amazement and the way he brought it through, it was the perfect guy at the perfect time for that. It was meant to be that Verne called that play.
Silver— I’m pretty sure we all stood up in the truck and went “aaaaaaahhhhhh.”
Wolfson— I’m just going, “oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,” I think like everyone else. Kind of like the “oh my god look” at the Final Four when Villanova hit the final shot. You’re just in awe.
Lundquist— And it was pretty obvious at that point. If he did not trip and fall down, he was going to score.
Danielson— And once he gets to the 50 yard line— I know Verne’s making the call— but it’s a touchdown. I know he’s going to score when he gets past the first diving guy, the only real athlete on the field; he’s a tight end. Once he gets by that guy, I could have said touchdown. Verne’s got the cockpit at that point.
Lundquist— It was scintillating as it developed. And when he got to the 50, I knew that if he didn’t stumble and fall, he was going to pull off a miracle at the end of this game.
During the call, I don’t think I was thinking anything. I was just reacting. And that’s probably 40 years of network television came into play there. I’m not the greatest minimalist who ever lived, but I’ve learned from a couple who were terrific. One was Pat Summerall. And the other was Ray Scott, who did the original Super Bowls for CBS.
And I learned this from Frank Chirkinian, the old wonderful executive producer for golf on CBS. You don’t need to talk over it because in the case of golf, we’ve got 65 camera and video and audio people who are ready to document the event. So don’t do a radio call. And I think those two guys influenced me in many subtle ways.
“DAVIS GETS ANOTHER BLOCK!! CHRIS DAVIS!!! NO FLAGS!!! TOUCHDOWN AUBURN! AN ANSWERED PRAYER!”
Lundquist— I love telling this part of the story, and I have several times. When he got right at the goal line, I said “no flags, touchdown Auburn.” And then as he was rolling around in joy, I said “an answered prayer.”
Well for a fraction of a second, I hadn’t seen any flags and my two guys are to my left; Chuck Gardner my statistician and Butch Baird, my spotter. They are always alert for flags, and if they see one and I don’t, they will make a gesture like they’re tossing a flag. And they didn’t do that. And I didn’t see any. But when I said no flags, for just a heartbeat, I thought to myself, “dear god, don’t let there be any flags.”
And of course, there weren’t.
Wolfson— As a reporter, and knowing that your ultimate goal is getting the interview after the game, all that is on my mind is “oh my god, oh my god, I’ve gotta get the interview.” So when he took it back for the touchdown, immediately it was “okay, how can I get Chris Davis, how can I get the coach? Everyone’s on top of him.”
Lundquist— Then Gary and I laid out. And we didn’t look at each other and go “shh.” We didn’t say a word. I think we knew enough or were disciplined enough to shut up.
Danielson— There was that time where we looked at each other and said “oh my god.” Just shut up here. Nobody needed to say anything.
Lundquist— My respect for Gary in that circumstance was elevated, too. Because I think we both instinctively knew that for the moment, just savor the moment. And don’t talk this thing to death. Neither one of us looked at each other and said lay out or whispered “be quiet.” We just knew it was the proper thing to do.
Silver— I’ve never gone back and timed it, but from the time the kick happened to the time we got off the air was— I want to say— 12 or 13 minutes with all the postgame interviews and celebration and all that.
Milton— It was the perfect storm. I just had the game unfold in front of me. I was just lucky to be in that seat for that game.
Lundquist— And then we let Craig Silver and Steve Milton do what they do about as well as anybody in sports television.We let Steve Milton go to town. And we laid out for a minute and 21 seconds, and Steve during that 1:21 made 20 camera cuts.
Silver— And I think we did some great work there. Steve Milton cuts on some incredible shots, memorable shots.
Lundquist— I mean the shot sequence that he chose in that 1:21 brilliantly told that story visually. With eruptions of joy, and scenes of anguish, and wide shots, and close-ups, and stunned looks of students. On, and on and on. And he should’ve won an Emmy for it, I promise you that. If anyone was deprived of an earned Emmy, it was Steve Milton for his coverage of that game.
Milton— It’s a plan that’s executed just like a football play and our guys, who I love my guys, and without me saying anything they all defaulted to their appropriate shots. And then once the play goes off and we know we’re through any replays, that’s when they start freelancing.
Wolfson— The fact that everyone was in the right place, and everyone in our crew will tell you that, was that it was the perfect storm. And everyone was in the right place at the right time. Our cameramen, our audio guys, everyone. It doesn’t always work this way, but they were all there and on it.
Milton— At one point you default into a shot taker. I’m in a truck, and they’re out there. So they can see what I can’t see. And I trust these guys and they’re the best. And we jokingly say to our cameramen, when there’s two minutes left remain poised and keep your composure. It’s a running joke but we say it anyway because in moments like this, you really need to keep your composure.
You’ve just been delivered a great moment and you’ve gotta do a good job with it. So it’s a collaborative effort and once the assignments have finished, the game is over, there’s no more play on the field, that’s when they can look for people and they get all the right stuff.
Silver— Including the one Alabama kid, mouth agape in disbelief.
Milton— There was someone who found McCarron kissing his mom and his girlfriend.
They know somebody’s got McCarron, somebody’s got Saban, somebody’s got Gus Malzahn, somebody’s going to stay with Davis, and the rest of them can go cherry-pick great shots in the crowd. And remember that the end zone camera stayed wide so you could see people running onto the field, which was nice. And then the skycam was great, going up and over everything.
What happens is these guys are released from their assignments and since they have the eyes out there, they’re free to find the shots. And they’re so good, and they found some really nice ones.
Lundquist— We were watching the scene unfold. I’ve never seen an eruption of joy equaled by scenes of that anguish I mentioned. We were just watching, taking it all in.
Danielson— You see Nick Saban throw his headsets down.
Milton— And there was a camera that was isolated on Saban, who I just thought [laughs] we just watched the whole isolation and I just remember he wasn’t shocked, he wasn’t surprised. He knew it could happen and it happened. He wasn’t disappointed. He knew it was a possibility.
I think he took his headset off even before Chris Davis got into the end zone. And he was stone-faced and didn’t show his hand, and he went right out and shook the hand and left the field.
Danielson— You see Gus Malzahn thinking really smartly to hold his team off the field. I’m watching all that. He’s signaling for his team not to charge on the field because he doesn’t want to get a penalty.
Milton— I’m saying ready six, take six [cameras] and you’re looking at all your options— in this case, there were seven, eight, nine options— and theoretically I’m supposed to be taking the best shot I see. And I saw one of the Alabama fans with his hands on his head and he couldn’t believe what just happened. So you take that. And you don’t want to linger, because there are so many other things going on and this moment will only last a definitive amount of time. So my job is to look for the best shots there and get them on the air.
Silver— In moments like that, hopefully you rise to the occasion and deliver visually what just happened and a response to what just happened, because in a game like that— the way those two teams played— deserves a good show.
Milton— It’s a director’s dream when those moments happen and you stay long for so long without having to go to replay, and that the pictures are so good that any commentary would kind of get in the way.
Lundquist— So this celebration was extraordinary.
Wolfson— So I storm the field alongside Auburn but from the opposite sideline, because everyone on the Alabama sideline is in, of course, disbelief. And for me, it was storming the field and going after Chris Davis. And I remember running to the pile and saying “there’s no way I’m ever going to get him out of this pile for an interview.” I gotta run to Gus Malzahn to make sure at least I have someone and some interview in a timely fashion.
Milton— I remember seeing probably just more camera operators than the team that was kind of enveloped in that whole celebration. And we couldn’t really see past all those folks, but I think it kind of added to the celebration that it just stayed in that cocoon and surrounded by all those camera operators. Maybe seven or eight of those players were in there loving each other and celebrating. Quite a scene.
Wolfson— I’m alongside my cameraman as he’s running toward Chris Davis. I took off and I when I got there I looked at the pile on top of him and said “there’s no way I’m gonna get him out of this pile in time.” Because we’re always on a time constraint, too.
It’s an unbelievable game, but we still have to get off the air at one point. There’s so much you have to do, so you want the quickest interview possible. You can’t just sit there and wait for everyone to pull guys off on top of him.