EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — OK, sports fans, here they come: Not Mutt and Jeff or Abbott and Costello, but the resemblance is there. These are Duke and George, the guys who bring those 22 fun-loving pigskin players into 45% of American households each Super Bowl Sunday.
"Sloppy, sloppy," Duke Struck pronounced electronically from his perch in the control truck at Giants' Stadium here two weeks ago on the eve of the National Football League championship game. "Looks like two bicycle racks." On a tiny television monitor, the three technicians posing as football heroes moved in closer, clustered on the metal movable bridge beside crew members standing in as Talent.
"You know what I'm going to do if it looks like that tomorrow," CBS Sports director Struck said in a voice too humorous to be menacing. "I'm gonna be an animal."
Suddenly, George Veras, coordinating producer of "NFL Today" and "CBS Sports Sunday," appeared at his partner's elbow. Up to his elbow might be a better description, since in terms of physiognomy, Veras and Struck are like a firm foothill and a mighty mountain. A man tomake a linebacker look lean, Struck, 47, fairly radiates ease and relaxation. Veras, 36, conveys a tight, nervous energy.
A onetime hospital administrator and law student--possessor of two master's degrees--Veras looks serious, acts serious, but is adamant that the primary criterion of any job he undertakes is "it's gotta be fun." Struck is happiest when he's home in Boca Raton, sailing and playing with baby Christopher. Divorced, Veras lives outside Manhattan, not far from his two young sons. If there's a next step after television, Veras thinks maybe he'll head down to Wall Street and "get into arbitrage."
"We've got some interfacing problems," a somber Veras asserted.
Problems or not, the pair are in Pasadena this week preparing to dazzle the world Sunday with the Super Bowl telecast.
On the field, it's relatively simple. All those 22 players have to do is run back and forth along 100 yards of turf, natural or otherwise; toss a piece of pigskin at one another; wear funny hats and Norma Kamali-style shoulder pads; huddle in tight little bunches; kick the ball over a big piece of metal called a goal post; and run the risk of being pummeled into an early ticket to paradise.
Behind the scenes?
How about 150 people, and at least that many pieces of equipment? A control truck that looks like the cockpit of the Concorde? Job descriptions that range from Spiderman, "the guy on the top of the truck," to strength-coach-and-steroid-giver?
What about a team that brings this funny American activity, this extraordinary endeavor called football, to 120 million viewers around the country? A committee in athletic shoes of every persuasion that runs on top-precision coordination, more energy than the standard space rocket and as much humor as a convention of comedy writers?
And let us not forget Duke Struck and George Veras; tall and short; chunky and wiry; jocular and serious; a pair that at first glance, anyway, seems like one of history's weirder professional marriages.
A veteran of more than 20 years in television, Struck rattles off high-volume orders at stratospheric speed. He is entirely unfazed when, from somewhere deep in the electronic bowels, a huge shriek fills the sound system.
"This was recorded at a recent production meeting," Struck deadpanned.
Calmly, he returned to the set-up on the monitor, urging the imaginary Brent Musburger to take his position in front of the make-believe football players.
"Now in front of them," Struck dictated, Oz-like, "will be the Mormon Tabernacle Choir."
This was not really a rehearsal, Struck wanted to make clear as the "CBS Sports" crew got ready for the league playoff two weeks ago. Rehearsals are for operas, ballets, presidential addresses.
"This is a technical run-through," Struck, abdominal in a mulberry shetland sweater, insisted. He smiled, one of Struck's favorite facial expressions. "Really, we're playing traffic."
This means an endless discussion of lenses, and a series of time trials involving adults lugging equipment the size of steamer trunks.
It means pep talks. "Last week, too much jawing," Struck told his assembled players. "It was like a Tupperware party at Giants' Stadium."
And mood music. In the control truck, one screen flashed the sights and sounds of Another Network's sports coverage. Abruptly, the introductory notes were interrupted by the magnified tones of stereophonic toilets flushing.
"Are you referring to NBC's season?" Veras asked cheerily.
Said Struck, rising to the bait of his sidekick of five years, "It's not easy, being great."
Then Struck was once again booming instructions into a microphone.
"Curve those chairs a little bit, don't line 'em up," he commanded to staffers simulating a post-game interview. "It looks like a PBS show."
Making It Work