In many respects, it was business as usual on Sunday, Oct. 26 for the production team of ABC's Monday Night Football. It was set-up day for the Miami Dolphins-San Diego Chargers game at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium. But, with the game more than 24 hours away, the first real hint that there could be a problem fell from the sky.
"I got a call from our production manager, Bob Simon, that it was raining ash at the stadium and that the crew was wearing surgical masks so they could breath during set-up," says MNF
producer Fred Gaudelli.
The stadium itself wasn't endangered by the fires spreading throughout the San Diego area, but, with much of the surrounding community on edge and in need of assistance, the city decided to use the stadium as a staging area for disaster relief. The fun and games of professional football would be moved elsewhere: to Sun Devil Stadium in Phoenix.
The final decision wasn't made until 6 p.m. Sunday night, but Gaudelli and his crew were already putting a contingency plan in place. Typical MNF
telecasts involve a couple of days of set-up and rehearsals. It was obvious that this telecast would not have that luxury.
"If the decision to hold the game in Phoenix was made sooner, our hope was we could have the trucks packed up, moved to Phoenix and then expedite set-up in a span of 8 hours beginning Monday morning," says Gaudelli. "Once we got past that point, we knew we would have to use a different truck."
ABC got a lucky break, he adds, in that the stadium had just played host to the Arizona Cardinals-San Francisco 49ers game. A production truck from Southwest Television was in place, and, more important, so were the cameras. "The Southwest TV engineers went out of their way to make the production as close to ours as possible," says Gaudelli.
There were a number of changes, most notably the use of only 10 cameras instead of 20 and working in standard-definition instead of high-definition. Because the crew has been working in HD only for this season, Gaudelli points out, they still remembered how to work in SD. All the graphics, though, were in HD: They were on MNF's 40-foot edit truck, one of only three vehicles to make the trip from San Diego to Phoenix. The others were a utility vehicle and the Madden Cruiser.
Gaudelli credits Simon with making things fall into place on Sunday afternoon. He handled the logistics of getting 75 people to Phoenix. Most arrived early Monday morning and showed up at the stadium at 8 a.m. for a frenzied Monday.
"Our technical and operational people did an incredible job in making it happen," says Gaudelli. "If it weren't for them, the telecast would have looked really bad."
To the naked eye, there was probably nothing missing from the telecast, except for the sky cam and some other camera positions. Rehearsals were scaled back to just the first three segments, which, given the situation in San Diego, were unlike anything done in the history of MNF.
Says Gaudelli, "Everybody just stepped up their concentration and allowed us to get through the telecast relatively unscathed."