Last night, Houston head coach Gary Kubiak collapsed on the field as his team’s game with Indianapolis hit halftime. Those close to Kubiak have said he is “feeling good” as he recovers in a Houston hospital. Tests are being run today to make sure the 52-year-old did not have a stroke.
Here’s hoping for the best when it comes to the coach’s health. Unfortunately, NBC didn’t show us its best as the story first unfolded.
After going to it’s halftime commercial break, NBC returned to Houston rather than to New York as usual. Bob Costas informed viewers of Kubiak’s collapse while live pictures showed medical personnel crowding around him. So far so good. But rather than stay with Costas and crew in Houston, NBC decided to go ahead and punt the ball back to Dan Patrick, Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison for highlights and ha-has.
An NFL coach was laying on the turf in pain. Michelle Tafoya — the best sideline reporter in the business — was on the field trying to gather information. Al Michaels — a veteran and pro who handled the earthquake before Game Three of the 1989 World Series and became a newsman during ABC’s post-quake coverage — was in the booth. And Costas — whether you agree with his opinion pieces or not — boasts 40 years of sports/news experience.
Kubiak’s situation was more important than a highlights package. Tafoya, Michaels and Costas are certianly sharp enough to have vamped about what they were seeing and how the crowd was reacting. The decision to put football first was the wrong one and that fact was beaten home further as Michaels and Collinsworth had to call the second half of a game while Kubiak was receiving treatment at a nearby hospital. Yes, the game must go on, but every remark about last night’s second half seemed ridiculously unimportant.
Kubiak’s collapse and NBC’s reaction to it should have every other sports network in the country asking today, “What would we do?” That includes CBS and ESPN, the SEC’s broadcast partners.
If — heaven forbid — an SEC coach or player were to collapse during a contest, how would Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson handle it? What could Tracy Wolfson bring to the table? Do they have the gravitas to cover a potential life-and-death situation?
What of ESPN’s myriad of broadcast teams?
Personally, I like the work of Lundquist, Danielson and Wolfson. I believe they do as good a job as any when it comes to coverage of a college football game. Lundquist — with 50 years of experience — would be able to handle a serious situation, in my opinion. But would CBS stick with on-site coverage of a news event or would network honchos toss back to Tim Brando and crew for highlights?
When in doubt, it’s best to err on the side of serious news coverage and — if the on-site team is capable — remain with them. For all we knew, Kubiak’s life was on the line last night as Patrick, Dungy and Harrison smiled and ranked the league’s best teams. No knock on those three, but sorry, not interested.
NBC found itself in a helluva fix last night. I don’t envy them. But when a sports story becomes a news story, the goal should be to provide news-style coverage. Costas, Michaels and Tafoya did that… but only after viewers sat through a meaningless halftime show.
Today, CBS and ESPN officials should be putting themselves in NBC’s shoes, trying to determine what their own plans of action would be if thrown into similar circumstances.