September 20, 2020
The last place Kevin Burkhardt called a game without any fans in the crowd was somewhere in New York’s Catskill Mountains for New Jersey Jackals independent league baseball contests.
“Literally, the players heard me announcing the game,” he told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday.
Doing that at an NFL stadium would have been unimaginable — until 2020. It’s something the Fox play-by-play announcer and every other broadcaster must adjust to amid the realities presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. With some stadiums not allowing fans inside, that means broadcasting without fans, often the energy behind the calls.
“I will say, I don’t think it affected my calling a game or my zest for the calls or anything like that or my energy,” said Burkhardt, who was on the call in Landover, Maryland, for the Philadelphia Eagles-Washington Football Team broadcast with color commentator Daryl “Moose” Johnston last week.
Burkhardt watched back Sunday’s telecast, something he doesn’t always do. He felt it necessary, though, because Week 1 marked the first time Burkhardt and Johnston worked together.
A preseason would have allowed the new pair, which will broadcast Atlanta-Dallas on Sunday, to fall into sync and shake off the rust, Burkhardt said. This year’s circumstances made that impossible, but it didn’t affect his assessment of their inaugural broadcast much.
“I felt good about it,” he said. “I thought we had fun. For the first time turning on a mic together, I really enjoyed his company. I think it was pretty good and it will only get better.”
Johnston, the former Dallas Cowboys fullback entering his 20th year in the booth, has worked alongside Dick Stockton, Kenny Albert and Chris Myers during his broadcasting career. Get the Sports newsletter in your inbox.
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“All those guys are a little bit different in their craft,” Johnston told USA TODAY Sports. “So for me, it’s just going to be getting a feel for Kevin.
“It’s just getting used to his style and just building our chemistry throughout the season.”
Johnston listened to Burkhardt’s NFL broadcasts from the last seven years over the summer to familiarize himself with his new lead’s cadence. The transition has been made easier by the crew’s familiarity with one another, he said, and his own previous relationships with director Artie Kempner — a 12-time sports Emmy winner who led Fox’s coverage of NASCAR when it was one of the first sports to return this year — producer Pete Macheska and sideline reporter Pam Oliver.
He also reached out to people he respects in the business about Burkhardt. A few responses included one of the best compliments a broadcaster can receive in Johnston’s mind: “great teammate.”
Cohesion takes time to build with any new partner in the booth — on and off the mic — Burkhardt said. It comes from simply being with each other.
“I think the time we get to spend together at team facilities and at dinner and sharing a bottle of wine is enormous,” Burkhardt said. “But we don’t have any of that.”
Throw in calling a game minus the backdrop of fans, and it could lead to an uncommon gaffe. Fox colleague and recent Hall of Fame inductee Joe Buck told The Ringer he said something along the lines of “the crowd here doesn’t like that penalty” — except, there were no fans at the New Orleans Saints-Tampa Bay Buccaneers game he called during Week 1. Instead, Buck said, he heard the audio of the artificial fan noise Fox pipes into the telecast.
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