Mission Impossible? How Fox got Bill Belichick to narrate World Series open
You would think persuading Bill Belichick to do anything for the media would be Mission Impossible. But Fox Sports’ persistence paid off when it landed Belichick for one of the greatest World Series TV openings in recent years.
TV viewers and sports insiders alike were stunned when they heard the voice of the notoriously reticent, press-shy Patriots coach narrating the video montage for Tuesday night’s Game 1 between the Red Sox and Dodgers from Boston’s historic Fenway Park.
How did Fox persuade Belichick — the Darth Vader of press conferences whose curt answers put Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to shame — to expound on winning and the history of these two stories franchises?
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To find out, Sporting News interviewed the Fox Sports producer who made it happen. The answer is an illuminating look at how the sausage gets made in sports TV.
In a humble move, the 25-year Fox veteran requested anonymity for this story, noting that he was just part of the team behind Belichick’s “How do you make history?” opening. Here’s his story:
It started with an internal debate last week. Who possibly had the gravitas, asked the Fox production team, to tease the Fall Classic showdown between two of the oldest, most iconic franchises in sports history?
After all, these two clubs had not met in the World Series since 1916. The Dodgers weren’t even the Dodgers 102 years ago. They were called the Brooklyn “Robins,” in honor of manager Wilbert Robinson. Led by a young pitcher named Babe Ruth, the BoSox won 1916 World Series in five games.
Fast forward a century and sports TV networks frequently employ actors for voiceovers (Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad,” for example, narrated Wednesday night’s opener before Game 2). But Game 1 was a different kettle of fish.
Short of the ghost of Vince Lombardi, there’s nobody who symbolizes winning more than the 66-year-old Belichick — the winningest coach in Super Bowl history after five titles with the Patriots and two with the Giants as head coach Bill Parcells’ consigliere/defensive coordinator.
“Through the years, the players have changed … but the goal has not.”
Bill Belichick gets you ready for a rematch 102 years in the making. pic.twitter.com/SRZNqbQgg6
But The Hoodie does more than collect Super Bowl rings, stonewall frustrated reporters (“We’re on to Cincinnati”) or drive the league office batty with scandals such as “Spygate” in 2007.
Anyone who’s watched ESPN Films’ phenomenal documentary “The Two Bills,” or NFL Films’ equally strong “A Football Life: Bill Belichick,” knows he has an encyclopedic knowledge of the league and sports history.
Belichick may even have, I daresay, a sentimental side, given the way he choked up while touring the old Giants Stadium stomping grounds of his youth.
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Most network producers would never even think of asking Belichick to narrate a tease. They figured he’d just say no. But you don’t take no for an answer unless you get no for an answer. The ambitious Fox producer (himself a New Jersey native and lifelong Giants fan), knew Belichick’s reverence for sports history.
The producer contacted Patriots vice president of media relations Stacey James and made his pitch. He also sent a rough shooting script.
“Here’s what I know about Coach Belichick: He has an appreciation for legacy, whether it be his own or sports. We were all shocked about the ‘Football Life’ (doc). But he knows the importance of that, whether it be his own or another team. So we knew that if we had written a script that had that message in it, it would possibly strike a chord,” the Fox producer said in an interview with Sporting News.
“I’m not going to sit here and tell you I had all kinds of backup plans if he said no. I was not optimistic. But the conversation developed. First there was a ‘possibly.’ Or ‘probably not.’ Then it was ‘I think he’s going to do it.’ It was just me kind of bothering Stacey and him, all of a sudden, saying yes.”
The Fox team then had to sweat out the Patriots’ narrow 38-31 win over the Bears in Week 7.
As you can imagine with Belichick, the atmosphere around Patriots headquarters in Foxborough is much different after a loss than a win. Once the Pats held off the Bears, the Fox producer breathed a sigh of relief. Still, he knew ‘Yes’ wasn’t really a ‘Yes’ until the recording was in the can.
“We’re quite persistent in trying to get people to do things like this. You have to be. … I won’t sit here and tell you that I was optimistic about him saying yes. I just knew that if there was a chance of him doing it, he would be a perfect fit.”
How and why did they get Bill Belichick to narrate the opening to the World Series?
The Pats have their own multimedia production setup at Gillette Stadium. Fox didn’t even have to send a crew. Instead, the Pats recorded two versions of Belichick narrating the opening on Monday.
Like everything else they do, the Pats did it right, the producer said. Belichick nailed his voiceover. The Pats didn’t even ask Fox to review the finished product. But the Fox producer sent a preview of the 1:51-long video to James in advance, as a courtesy.
When word spread that Fox had scored Belichick for the tease, industry veterans wondered whether they’d hear the torpid Belichick voice from the press conferences. Or the real man you see glimpses of in documentaries. While Belichick is no James Earl Jones, his voiceover drew critical praise.
“I think he hit it perfect,” the producer said.
Belichick himself said he was “honored” to contribute to Fox’s World Series coverage.
“It was awesome. I was honored that they asked me to do it. It was great to be a part of that,” said Belichick, via CBSSports.com. “I don’t really have that much of a baseball background, but the World Series is one of the great sporting events in this country and has great tradition to it, especially with these two franchises.”
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