By Richie Zyontz
FOX NFL Lead Producer
Editor’s Note: Richie Zyontz has been an NFL producer for FOX since 1994 and the lead producer for the last 20 seasons. He has more than 40 years of experience covering the league and has produced six Super Bowls. Throughout the 2022 NFL season, he will provide an inside look as FOX’s new No. 1 NFL team makes its journey toward Super Bowl LVII.
A visit to Jacksonville conjures up special memories. It was the site of Super Bowl 39, our crew’s first. That game featured the Patriots and the Eagles with Paul McCartney performing at halftime. It was consistently cold and biting all week— hardly what you’d expect from Florida weather. But that didn’t diminish the excitement and energy that covering a Super Bowl engenders.
From the moment we arrived at the trucks Sunday morning, my stomach was in knots. It took two strolls around the stadium’s perimeter to settle down.
At halftime, I stepped outside the truck to catch my breath, the sounds of Sir Paul in the background. It was a wow moment!
Now,, it’s still the first one in Jacksonville that remains the most special to me.
Football is a sport made for television. The technology is incredibly advanced, allowing our broadcasts to bring viewers closer to the action than ever before. Super slow-motion pictures with crystal-clear clarity greatly enhance the viewing experience.
That doesn’t happen by accident.
It takes a team of video engineers to tweak and balance the 40 or so cameras assigned to our game each week. Led by Seattle native and 15-year crew veteran Brian Neher, this group forms the core of our technical operation. Coolly and calmly beneath his ever-present Mariners cap, Brian is responsible for making sure the pictures look great.
That’s easier said than done.
Games played outdoors are subject to ever-changing proportions of sun and clouds, light and dark.
This is the greatest challenge for the video room, which has to find the right balance for the cameras at any given moment.
Ably assisting Brian is Jimmy Lucas — the favorite son of Taylor Mill, Ky. — who years ago transitioned from UPS truck driver to shading cameras on Fox Sports’ biggest events.
Rounding out the video group are JD Alquist and Hector Victoria, who operate way behind the scenes but provide crucial support.
Brian Neher, Jimmy Lucas, JD Alquist and Hector Victoria (from front to back), who covered Sunday’s Cowboys-Jaguars game, pose for a picture in the broadcast truck.
In two months, this team within a team will be responsible for upwards of 100 cameras at Super Bowl LVII in Glendale, AZ.
There are mentors and heroes in all walks of life. Talk to any member of our video department and the name they will mention is Gene Mikell, a Jacksonville area native, long-serving member of the Fox A-crew (now semi-retired) and a member of the Sports Television Hall of Fame.
Gene Mikell began his television career in 1956 handling mail at the NBC affiliate in Jacksonville.
Five years later in 1961, the station assigned him to cover astronaut Alan Shepherd’s first trip into space, where the NBC network discovered his talents.
From then on, Gene handled video for many of the rocket launches from Cape Canaveral. Hard to top that — except in 1987, when Gene helped install and operate the first camera ever placed in a Popemobile for John Paul II’s visit to Miami.
So when he started freelancing in the sports world several years later, his resume was already quite impressive. Twenty years on our crew followed. Now Gene lives in semi-retirement on his farm outside of Jacksonville. But like Al Pacino in “Scent of a Woman,” just when he thinks he’s out, we pull him back in. Gene will be working our game next week in Dallas.
A few members of the FOX Sports NFL crew pose with industry legend Gene Mikell (in black shirt).
Most importantly, his kind, confident manner has inspired young technicians like Brian Neher — and made Gene Mikell one of our industry’s most beloved figures.
TV crews don’t root for teams. They root for close, competitive games. We were not disappointed on Sunday. The Cowboys and Jaguars played a beauty with big plays on both sides and a thrilling finish, as Jacksonville returned an interception for a touchdown in overtime to win 40-34.
Our crew had mostly covered one-sided games, so this one felt good.
There is always a sense of exhilaration leaving the truck after such an exciting game.
Our crew was sensational as always. The camera shots, replays and graphics were all spot-on. Brian Neher and the video room battled the sun and shadows all day and did a magnificent job.
Malice in Dallas
Next week, our crew will be following two grudge matches. On Saturday, it’s the NFC East showdown between the Cowboys and Eagles. But that pales in comparison to the battle taking place the day before. It involves two members of our crew and will be settled on a tennis court in Irving, Texas.
Greg Olsen, one of the greatest athletes ever from the state of New Jersey, against our overly confident director Rich Russo.
The trash talk escalated this week and the feelings are raw.
We will have complete coverage in this space next week.
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