Any football fan knows it well. For the hardcore addicts, it’s a pop quiz. For the casuals, it’s a nice way to get to know the players that will be running around for the next three hours. For certain folks (this writer included), it’s a reminder that there’s homework due tomorrow, whether they’re still in school or not. It’s a humdrum bit of broadcasting, and also zeitgeisty enough to warrant a Comedy Central parody. I’m talking, of course, about the player introductions on NBC’s Sunday Night football—the ones where the starting lineups from each team stare down the barrel of the camera and state their name and college. Or, if they’re feeling creative, whatever else is on their mind—like longtime Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, who memorably introduced himself as “Sizzle,” from “Ball So Hard University.”
The tradition of filming live action intros started at ABC. Charlie Vanacore, a veteran replay director for SNF who came over from ABC, is sort of the proud papa of player intros. When the SNF broadcast changed homes in ‘06, Vanacore (who made the jump to NBC that same year) helped the talking-lineups component remain intact. “It’s really the only time during an NFL broadcast where you get to see a player’s face, hear his voice, and have them express themselves,” Vanacore says.
And boy, do they express themselves: it’s not uncommon to hear all manner of exotic intros on the broadcast. According to Vanacore, a defensive back from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette was the first player to go off-script. “I think it was Ike Taylor from the Pittsburgh Steelers,” Vanacore remembers. “He said ‘Swaggin University.’ That was early on, like ‘06. Same with ‘Jared Allen, Culinary Academy.’ I think he also said his preschool once. And then, of course, there was Terrell Suggs, who gave us the scoop on that nickname. “My cousin played basketball at Idaho State,” Suggs tells GQ. “His name was D’Marr. They called him D-Sizzle. So naturally, with us having the same last name, I inherited T-Sizzle.”
With each week offering a mostly new batch of intros—this season, SNF has already featured 12 different teams, and that will jump to 14 after this weekend’s Bears–Chargers tilt—we couldn’t stop wondering about the mechanics behind a weekly tradition that’s become interwoven in the NFL fabric. The NBC crew was happy to oblige. It starts here: during the offseason, NBC producers head out across the United States of Football to shoot about 50 guys per team. Ultimately, players from all 32 teams sit down in front of a green screen and quickly introduce themselves. But, inevitably, an unexpected depth-chart-climber or an unknown rookie shakes up the starting lineups during the season, requiring a new shoot.