BOB GARFIELD: At the end of last Sunday's New York Giants-San Francisco 49ers playoff game, the officials made a mistake that cost the Giants a chance to win. But that wasn't the only blown call. Fox's TV color analyst Chris Collingsworth not only failed to point out the error; he also slammed the Giants field goal holder for not immediately spiking the fumbled snap into the ground. That move, Collingsworth insisted, would have stopped the clock and allowed the Giants to try a potential game winning kick. Wrong. It would have actually resulted in a penalty against the Giants and ended the game. Neither of his two colleagues on the broadcast corrected Collingsworth, nor did the Fox post-game show afterwards.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:The folks at Fox, however, are not alone among TV broadcasters when it comes to having a somewhat tenuous grasp on gridiron rules and strategy. In fact, the only members of the press who get the full picture of what really goes on on the field may be a small handful of men who gather every week during the season in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. In the midst of last year's NFL playoffs, OTM's John Solomon paid them a visit.
JOHN SOLOMON: In a dimly lit room on the second floor of a South Jersey industrial park building, the leading scholars in the field sit before two 27-inch TV screens. One of the men leans back on his chair, feet up on a desk, remote control in his lap. He aims an electric red pointer and announces preliminary findings to his colleagues.
RON JAWORSKI: They really haven't had any base defense, so the first thing I look at -- what, what front did they play -- the 3 down linemen or 4 down linemen?
JOHN SOLOMON: Ron Jaworski, former star quarterback at the Philadelphia Eagles, is the senior researcher in the laboratory of the Edge NFL Matchup show which airs every football weekend on ESPN. In wire rim glasses, Jaworski looks as professorial as possible for a man who stands 6 foot 2, weighs over 200 pounds and answers to the nickname "Jaws." Studying the other screen is former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Merril Hoge. A youngish, muscular 36-year old, "Hodgie" looks more like a grad student. The duo has been called "the Enrico Fermi and Werner Von Braun of football," yet splitting the atom is nothing compared to figuring out how to stop the St. Louis Rams' offense, the task Jaworski and Hoge contemplate now. By the end of the week their assignment is to assemble a half-hour show previewing in detail how the teams playing during the coming weekend match up against each other. From their privileged position as the only members of the media who get full access to the actual game tapes here at NFL Films headquarters, the Edge team views angles that fans almost never see in their living room on Sundays. Unlike normal TV coverage, which just follows the ball with close-ups, this film captures the activities of all 22 men on the field.
GREG COSELL: I mean right now, if I'm a coach, you're going absolutely nuts. You know, fake this guy you got outside - you got inside help - don't get beat to the outer or the corner. They're probably going over that for about 6 hours that week.
JOHN SOLOMON: Greg Cosell has been the executive producer of the Edge NFL Matchup since its launch in 1984, carving a niche for his show that no other football gabfest can claim.
GREG COSELL: Does the average viewer think that what he watches on Sunday gives him a very clear picture of the game? I would say they probably do!
JOHN SOLOMON: But Cosell estimates that actually the television viewer only learns about 20 percent of what's really happening on the field! It turns out that the most revealing shots filmed on Sunday aren't shown on Sunday.
GREG COSELL: Unless you're watching this and have an understanding of what you're watching, you, you simply don't know exactly what's happening.
JOHN SOLOMON: By Friday, Jaworski, Hoge and Cosell will have scrutinized about 30 hours of game tape from the previous week. The obsessively analytic team also serves as something of an epicenter of knowledge from which other football punditry emanates. Sports talk show host and reporters from around the country jam the phone lines, interested in any new research breakthroughs. This morning, Jaworski had his brain picked live by Jody, Mack and Sid on New York's WFAN. [BACKGROUND CONVERSATION AT WFAN] Hoge is now lecturing to Paul and Jeff from KFAN in Minneapolis.
KFAN HOST: Okay, right there.
KFAN HOST: I got you, man.
MERRILL HODGE: Is this St. Louis?
KFAN HOST: No, this is Minnesota.
JOHN SOLOMON: Greg Cosell is the nephew of the late Howard Cosell, so he, more than most, is sympathetic to the demands on the announcers who call the games live, but her does acknowledge that the films they watch during the week often point out errors in the coverage over the weekend. For example, it is common for the announcers to tell the viewers that the quarterback didn't throw the ball because all the receivers were covered down field. Yet Cosell says when they view the tape, they see that all of the receivers are not necessarily covered downfield up to 60 percent of the time. Every week, about a million and a half viewers tune in for Edge's Second Draft of Football History. Among the show's most loyal followers are the only others with access to the tapes -- NFL coaches and players. One fan, Brian Billick, coach of the Baltimore Ravens, last year's Super Bowl champion, thinks the networks and the NFL understate the public's interest in the in-depth analysis now only seen on the Edge show.
BRIAN BILLICK: It's in the best interest of the fans; it's in the best interest of the game--
JOHN SOLOMON: And, as the performance of Fox Sports at the end of the Giants-49ers game underscores, further studying the details of the game may also be in the best interest of football broadcasters. For On the Media, this is John Solomon. [MUSIC]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Coming up, the new Beverly Hillbillies are no joke, and what it means to be a victim of tragedy and the media.