So is the star of "BASEketball" slumming at the Winter Classic?
The NHL and NBC held a conference call today regarding the television presentation for the 2009 Classic between the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 1, 2009.
And our next question comes from Steve Schrader of the Detroit Free Press, presented without the courtesy of editing for clarity:
"Uh, yeah, this is for Bob Costas. You're a pretty big name to be working a hockey game. Can you, uh, can you tell us about your ties for hockey or feels about it or how you feel about it, including writing the forward for the Hanson Brothers book?"
"You're a pretty big name to be working a hockey game?" Good lord, are we still at a point where a professional broadcaster is seen to be lowering himself if he hosts an outdoor hockey game on New Year's Day that drew historic ratings in 2008?
He's Bob Costas. He's hosting a television event. His hockey credentials are on his Wikipedia page. This isn't Sir Anthony Hopkins playing the villain in the Emilio Estevez sci-fi classic "Freejack."
Schrader's a witty writer who compiles sports news in a feature called "The Ticker" for the Freep. He's even written about Costas contributing to Dave Hanson's book "Slap Shot Original." Which either makes "you're a pretty big name to be working a hockey game" an epic-fail attempt at a humorous ice breaker or an epic-fail attempt at puckhead self-deprecation.
All of that aside, I asked NBC producer Sam Flood if there are any bells and whistles we should look forward to the broadcast unleashing in this year's Classic. And I like what I heard.
"I think the most important cool tool we have is the airplane again," said Flood. "You've never seen a hockey game from that perspective."
The aerial view of Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo for the 2008 Classic was one of the most daring technological leaps for NBC, but was applauded by critics like the New York Times. It wasn't perfect, as clouds obscured the game's first goal and sometimes made using the telestrator difficult. But when it worked, it was rather striking.
What Wrigley Field does is allow Flood and his crew opportunities for quirky camerawork that other venues do not.
"We have a ton of cameras. We have cameras everywhere from high up in the right field bleachers to a camera in the scoreboard to a roaming camera that can go across the street and get to some of the great parties, and on the rooftops," he said. "We're going to blanket this thing with camerawork."
The idea that this game is happening in a community, rather than just in a stadium, automatically breaks the mold of the first Classic. The notion that this is a Wrigleyville event versus a game on a baseball diamond brings it closer to what we'd see in a game at Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park than in another football stadium.
Flood said that when it comes to shooting the Classic in cases of harsh weather, the NBC crew learned a lesson from the game between the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins back in January:
"Most importantly, this is a game you want to shoot wide, so you can see the whole spectacle. Last year, the best shot of the whole game was from the end zone. It looked like a snow globe. You shoot high from the end zone and see the snowflakes in front of you and the players skating around on the ice," he said.
But, most of all, the Classic is about the Classic, not the camera tricks. "This isn't about toys; this is about the event," said Flood.
As one question pointed out, the event has some competition in Michigan on Jan. 1: Michigan State will play in its first New Year's Day bowl game in nine years when it takes on Georgia in the Capital One Bowl. The game starts at 1 p.m. on ABC, right as the Winter Classic begins on NBC.
"The last time I checked, Detroit was called Hockeytown, right?" he said. "And so I am fully confident that Hockeytown will be there for the hockey game. And more importantly, you can't see the Red Wings play outdoors every day. It's a really special moment, and it's an important game versus just another bowl game. We are cautiously optimistic that Red Wings fans will live up to the name of Hockeytown."