Rich Eisen, the face and lead anchor of the NFL Network, was ecstatic when he was told during the summer he might have the opportunity to do play-by-play from the booth of Wembley Stadium when the Eagles take on the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday in London.
Despite spending nearly 30 years covering sports for several outlets, including ESPN and the NFL Network, Eisen has never called an NFL game. His only experience in the booth calling a football game was doing play-by-play on a Senior Bowl broadcast in 2010 alongside Mike Mayock and Trent Dilfer.
Then he found out there would be three people calling the game alongside him — Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin, Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, and former head coach Steve Mariucci.
"My initial thought was, 'What a bummer that's it's going to be a four-man booth,' " Eisen said. "I couldn't even imagine how it would work."
It almost sounds like a scene out of The Naked Gun, where a booth full of broadcasters talk over one another in an attempt to call a baseball game (ironically enough, with the Queen in attendance). For that reason, most NFL broadcasts limit the number of voices in the booth to two people — a play-by-play announcer and an analyst. There are a few booths that lean on three individuals, such as ESPN's Monday Night Football crew (Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten, and Booger McFarland) and CBS's No. 3 crew (Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, and Bruce Arians). But they tend to be the exception, not the norm.
The idea of having Eisen and company call an NFL game this season was cooked up in July by Mike Muriano, the NFL Network's vice president and executive producer of studio. After lengthy internal discussions, Muriano brought the idea to Eisen and his colleagues on NFL GameDay Morning.
"Make no mistake, we're all aware that four people in a broadcast booth for an NFL game is certainly not the norm, and throughout the entire process, one of the working mantras has been we need to obviously respect the game," Muriano said. "We don't want to be talking over each other and certainly not talking over game action."
So Eisen took his skepticism into a rehearsal during the preseason, in which he, Warner, Mariucci, and Irvin called the Aug. 26 preseason game between the Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals on monitors set up in the Red Zone studio at the NFL Network.
Much to Eisen's shock, the test run exceeded his expectations.
"We came out of that stunned," Eisen said. "It was good. It really was."
Still, there were problems and mistakes the crew had to work through. The four-man crew did talk over each other at times, and at one point Eisen mistakenly announced that one team called a timeout, when in fact the clock had stopped due to the two-minute warning.
From there, Eisen and company traveled to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for a second rehearsal that during the Week 4 Thursday Night Football matchup between the Minnesota Vikings and the Los Angeles Rams. The four crammed into a booth together, and Eisen said it went so well, he was bummed when Warner and Mariucci had to leave due to their roles in the network's postgame show.
"It works," Eisen said. "I don't know why, other than maybe it's the chemistry. But it works."
The small broadcast booth at Wembley Stadium will present its own problems, as CBS' three-person team of Gumbel, Green and Arians appeared to be snug during last week's Titans-Chargers game in London.
"It's not as comfortable as you would probably like, but it's going to work," said Mark Teitelman, who will be producing Sunday's game for the NFL Network. "We'll have a booth camera shot, the requisite monitors and the stats guys up there, so I feel like we'll be OK."
On top of the four-person booth, the NFL Network will have two sideline reporters for the broadcast — Melissa Stark, making her first appearance on an NFL sideline since 2002 when she was part of ABC's Monday Night Football crew, and Peter Schrager, who has worked the sidelines for FOX Sports since 2016.
Eisen said he was aware attempting to cram that many voices into a single broadcast could come across as a gimmick, but wanted fans to know the team takes calling the game seriously. Eisen said his primary goal beyond calling an error-free game was to meet whatever moments come up on the field with the right amount of emotion and understanding.
"We're very well aware that you could build up a ton of goodwill with a viewer for a long time. And there's no better way to destroy that goodwill than in one half of a poorly called football game. I've seen it before, " Eisen said. "And so we take it very seriously, but we all feel it's a risk worth taking."