During the Dec. 5 Alabama-Louisiana State college football broadcast on CBS, sideline reporter Jamie Erdahl drew deserved acclaim for navigating a technical difficulty with apparent ease.
For nearly 2½ minutes, Erdahl, who New England sports fans got to know during her stint at NESN from 2012-14, provided impromptu play-by-play after the microphones of announcer Brad Nessler and analyst Gary Danielson inexplicably cut out.
It was above and beyond the usual call of duty for a sideline reporter. For some in the role, it would have been beyond their skill set. But Erdahl, who had no play-by-play experience, handled the call with an expertise that confirmed not only her poise but her preparation.
“I listen to Brad and Gary very intently during the game,’’ said Erdahl, who has been with CBS since 2014 and part of the “SEC on CBS” team with Nessler and Danielson for the past three years. “It gives the background for questions I’ll ask coaches. It’s important to me to be able to ask them X’s-and-O’s questions, to get into the weeds a little bit and be specific in asking about why something happened.
“So from that perspective, I’m never just thinking about the job as, ‘I’m just a reporter and I provide these stories and just going to be good at my stories.’ You shouldn’t self-eliminate what you’re capable of talking about. It’s better to have full knowledge, a broad knowledge. The work I put in off-camera helped prepare me for that moment.”
Erdahl didn’t have time to think about what to say or do after realizing the audience couldn’t hear Nessler and Danielson. Her poise and preparation were activated almost automatically.
“It all happened in this three-second stretch where I realized I couldn’t hear anything,’’ she said. “Sometimes I’ll jostle my pack [which connects to her earpiece] and I’ll lose audio to the game. That’s usually no big deal. I’m mostly just listening to them in the background. So I couldn’t hear anything for a few seconds and I reached back to make sure everything was plugged in. And then the next thing I heard was my producer saying, ‘We lost Brad and Gary in the booth. Start talking.’ That’s all that was said.”
During a typical broadcast, the director will go to Erdahl 10-12 times for updates, anecdotes, and human interest stories. Often, someone in the production truck will be speaking into a reporter’s earpiece even when they’re on camera. But when Erdahl had to go into play-by-play mode, she was more or less flying solo.
“No one really talked to me. I was trying to navigate it on my own,’’ she said. “I didn’t want to say too much. I didn’t want to overkill that we didn’t have Brad and Gary. Those kinds of things were running through my mind. I think in hindsight no one was in my ear saying, ‘Hey, this is what just happened,’ because that might have confused me even more. They let me do it, they were trying to deal with what was going on upstairs, and the next voice I heard was Brad when they came back on the air.
“I thought about it later, would it have been better if someone was trying to feed me what was going on? I probably would have just been saying what that person told me and it wouldn’t have come across as quote-unquote conversational. I think I could have done about 15 times better than I actually did when I watched it back. But what came out is what came out. And that’s what we have.”
Erdahl said she was situated on the sideline, approximately 30 yards behind the line of scrimmage, when she began doing the play-by-play of an LSU possession. But during the 2½ minutes, she moved over to a cart on the sideline that has a couple of monitors, so she could watch the field and crosscheck the action on the screen. Her familiarity with the teams was such that she had no need to refer to a depth chart.
“Being in a dedicated conference with the SEC, we have these teams, the best six or seven of them, over and over and over again,” said Erdahl, who has the Army-Navy game — a decidedly non-SEC matchup — this weekend.
“That repetition really helped, the fact that we’ve had LSU so often the last two years, even if they have about three starters left from last year’s team. We’re just around them. That familiarity helped me in the moment. We had a Mountain West game a couple of weeks ago. If we’d had the problem then, it would have been more challenging to get the call right.”
When the problem in the broadcast booth was resolved, Nessler joked upon returning to air that he suspected Erdahl wanted to do play-by-play. “I knew you wanted my job,” he said, “and a great job it was.”
While Erdahl appreciated the positive feedback, whether on social media, in texts from CBS executives, and messages from friends, as well as people she hadn’t heard from in years, she has no aspirations to move from the sideline to the play-by-play chair.
“I appreciate the heck out of the art form of play-by-play,’’ she said. “I’ve been around some of the best, and I marvel at their wordplay and their retention.
“But I think I’m a little bit too long-winded to be a play-by-play person,’’ she added with a laugh. “When I did color a couple of times on women’s college basketball games, I think one of my feedback points was, ‘Hey, you can let it breathe.’ ’’
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