By Brandon OConnorNovember 13, 2019
WEST POINT, N.Y. -- Fox NFL Sunday looked a little different when viewers tuned in this past weekend to see Terry Bradshaw, Michael Strahan, Howie Long, Curt Menefee and Jay Glazer preview the upcoming NFL action.
Viewers who tuned in Sunday got an up-close look at the U.S. Military Academy and the old granite halls that have formed generations of leaders for the Army as Fox NFL Sunday continued its annual tradition of hitting the road for Veterans Day by hosting the show from West Point this year.
"Today, America saw firsthand the leaders of character we have here at West Point," said Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, superintendent of West Point. "It was an amazing few days with Terry, Michael, Jimmy and the rest of the crew on campus."
Whereas the usual Sunday show focuses almost entirely on the games occurring that day, this week's show spent nearly as much time telling the story of West Point.
The show included Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, USMA Class of 1969, introducing the show, and Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, USMA Class of 2010, who narrated the history of Army Football.
There were also packages on the Long Gray Line narrated by Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, which included Reception Day when new cadets arrive, what it's like to be a plebe and the 47-month experience cadets have at West Point.
The stage was set upon The Plain at the academy with Washington Hall and the statue of George Washington serving as a background along with over 1,000 cadets and senior leaders, including Williams and Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy.
"We've done these for several years at many military bases, but it was quite an honor to hear that West Point was on our list," Rod Conti, vice president of studio remote operations for Fox Sports, said. "It is pretty much the top of the hill for us in this realm."
Going live from The Plain Sunday morning came after months of work behind the scenes getting the show ready. Step one for Conti and his crew was finding the right spot to set the stage so they could get that perfect shot as a background.
Before even arriving at West Point for his first site visit, Conti had a pretty good idea of where that shot would be. He pulled up Google Earth, looked over the academy and had immediately identified the shot from The Plain overlooking the Washington statue as the picturesque image he was looking for.
"From a fixed point of view, it checked all the marks I was looking for," Conti said. "It had space. It had accessibility. There was a big field. We knew that we could get power to it. All those things factor in, and of course, it all starts with the beautiful background."
The final placement of the stage wasn't in the exact spot he had identified online, but after going back and forth and begging, he was able to get permission to place the stage where the view over the hosts' shoulders would be Washington Hall.
The set designers then got to work adding elements to the shot while the production crew began filming and putting together packages to tell the story of West Point and the Long Gray Line of graduates from the academy.
To accentuate the statue, which was the centerpiece of the background, the design crews added bleachers for cadets to sit in and built a mock Beat Navy tunnel. Because of the parade before Saturday's football game against UMass, the set designers also hung a giant American flag across the back of the set as well as Go Army signs that hid some parts of the set.
"What was maybe missing like when we're sitting at Fort Benning and we have tanks and all this stuff in the background, really what was important here was the history," Conti said.
The story of cadets, alumni and the history of West Point was at the forefront of the show.
"There's no better way to express that than having those teams come out and do the research and look at those stories that are here," Conti said. "Bringing up the people that walk through these halls is just as, if not more, important than the background."
Putting on the show required multiple satellite trucks for a primary and backup feed, a production studio, and more than 200 people on the ground at the academy throughout the week to build the set, film the crew and then set up and run the show.
In all, with the months of planning, the production and construction costs, and everything that went into broadcasting live from West Point, Conti said it cost Fox Sports more than a $1 million to put on the show.
"What we're looking at is 14 million people on any given Sunday watching this," Conti said. "For us, it's a salute to the troops, and it's a Fox tradition to get that message out to the rest of the world. What better way than show off the beauty of West Point."