Sandy Grossman, one of the iconic figures in the history of sports television coverage, died yesterday at age 78 after a lengthy struggle with cancer. I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Sandy at his Boca Raton home for the story below. Over the past few years, Sandy's grandson, Zach, and my son have become great friends—both attend G-Star School of the Arts; subsequently, I've come to know Zach's parents—so my heart goes out to the entire Grossman family.
For those who don't know about Grossman's influence on sports television, this profile from the January 2009 issue of Boca Raton magazine will give you some insight into his amazing career:
Oliver Stone wanted to pick the brain of the other award-winning director in the room. Unfortunately, Sandy Grossman was a bit pressed for time.
The Dallas Cowboys were driving for a game-winning score, and Grossman, owner of eight Emmys for his directorial work in sports television, was busy coordinating the images on which football viewers across America were hanging as the game’s final seconds ticked off. Unlike directors of film, who may spend days to land the right shot, directors of televised football make split-second decisions—all game long—regarding the best live angles or instant replays (from a stable of eight or more cameras).
That didn’t seem to faze Stone, who was in Dallas to shoot footage for the 1999 movie “Any Given Sunday”—and in the FOX television truck at Grossman’s invite.
“He leans in and asks, ‘What are you thinking at this moment?” says Grossman of the three-time Academy Award winner. “He wanted to have this deep philosophical discussion right then about what was happening. My technical director looks at Stone and says, ‘He’s thinking, ‘The game is running long, and I might miss my flight.’”
Not that Grossman needs the frequent flier miles. During a career that spans five decades, the Boca Raton resident has traveled the world to direct broadcasts of traditional (think pro basketball and hockey) and not-so-traditional (think motorcycle jumps by daredevil Robbie Knievel or football featuring lingerie models) athletic endeavors.
However, it’s the National Football League, whose games he’s been directing for 40 years, where Grossman’s keen eye and ingenuity has earned him a reputation as one of the best in his business—and at least one cold shower. That occurred after Super Bowl XXI in 1987, when Grossman’s crew at CBS celebrated their broadcast the same way that the New York Giants celebrated their championship, by dousing their coach/director with a bucket of Gatorade.
Standing next to his drenched director that night was color commentator and soon-to-be video-game magnate, John Madden, with whom Grossman worked for 21 years at CBS and FOX. By tailoring broadcasts to fit Madden’s demonstrative delivery, Grossman helped to fuel the Hall of Fame coach’s now larger-than-life television persona.
“I thought it was important that he get on camera a lot—this big guy whose arms were flailing, who was going, ‘Boom, bam, boom!’” says Grossman, who worked with Madden on more than half of the record-10 Super Bowls that he’s directed.
Equally important to Grossman has been bringing different tricks to his trade. Along the way, he’s popularized shots like the low end-zone angle, but, occasionally, he’s been ahead of his time. At CBS, back in the 1980s, he successfully worked with a sky cam—the overhead camera on a cable that runs from end zone to end zone. When NBC tried the same device, the camera crashed into a goal post, and the league banned it. Today, it’s a standard camera shot during pro and college football coverage.
It’s also another example of the lasting impressions Grossman has made—on most everyone, that is, except Oliver Stone.
“After that game, as he was leaving the truck, Stone motioned to me and said, ‘Nice meeting you, Ken,’” Grossman says. “And here I thought he was my new best friend.”