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Sierens' Call From Booth Wins Top Marks

December 28, 1987|Larry Stewart

Gayle Sierens, the first woman to do play-by-play on a network football telecast, deserves a yea for her work on NBC's coverage of the Kansas City Chiefs-Seattle Seahawks game Sunday. Make that a double yea.

The game was not shown in Los Angeles, but this reporter viewed it via satellite dish, and was impressed.

The best part about Sierens' work was that she continually provided basic information, such as score, time remaining, yard line, down, and yards to go for a first down.

This is an area where many veteran play-by-play men are lacking. But not Sierens, a 33-year-old news anchorwoman and former sports reporter from Tampa, Fla., who came into the telecast with almost no play-by-play experience.

She also picked up the players' numbers quickly, set offensive and defensive alignments, and was alert on penalties and substitutions.

Despite the pressure, she remained calm. Her delivery was smooth and she made only a few minor mistakes.

On the down side, she lacked enthusiasm on big plays, and with the Chiefs winning, 41-20, there were a lot of big plays. A Bill King she isn't.

Also, she called the game more like a radio announcer. For example, she would often say, "The pass is complete," even though it was obvious to viewers.

But at least on a 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by the Chiefs' Paul Palmer, she didn't yell: "He's at the 30, the 40, the 50, the 60, the 70."

Michael Weisman, NBC Sports' executive producer who was at the game in Kansas City, said: "I had a nightmare last night in which I kept hearing a woman's voice, not necessarily Gayle's, saying that."

At one point late in the game, Sierens got the score wrong, saying it was 40-20 when actually it was 41-20. She made a similar mistake earlier during NBC's 10-minute ticker feature, reporting the Houston-Cincinnati score as 20-17 when actually it was 21-17.

When Chief lineman Mark Adickes scored on a tackle-eligible pass play, Sierens mentioned only that Adickes is a right guard, as he is listed. She apparently did not notice that Adickes had lined up in a tackle-eligible position.

But commentator Dave Rowe, a big help to Sierens, quickly set things straight.

After the game, Sierens told reporters: "I made some mistakes and I know what they were. Everybody wanted to know how this girl would do a football game. Now they know."

Said Weisman: "I think, overall, it was a remarkable performance. You must keep in mind that we are comparing Gayle's first telecast with people who have done, literally, hundreds of games.

"I'm going to commit right now to Gayle doing more NFL work on NBC, if she will have us."

And what did Sierens think of her performance? After NBC signed off from the game, satellite dish viewers could hear her let out a big "Yahoo" as the crew gave her a hand.

While still on the air, Sierens presented Rowe with a bouquet of pink flowers, causing the former Raider nose guard to turn a little pink himself.

"It's been a pleasure to work with you," said Rowe, who did four practice games with Sierens before the real thing Sunday.

The telecast, although a relatively minor one, was considerably better than NBC's national telecast of Cleveland's 19-13 victory over Pittsburgh on Saturday. In that game, a personal foul penalty by the Steelers' Delton Hall kept a Cleveland drive alive deep in Pittsburgh territory, but NBC offered no replays.

One of the key plays Sunday was Palmer's kickoff return. Producer David Neal not only provided several replays of that play but also a replay of a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown Palmer had against San Diego in the season opener.

Neal also deserved a bouquet for his performance Sunday.

However, Neal or someone in the truck, got Sierens a little rattled during the third quarter. After she did an update on other scores, satellite dish viewers could hear her say to someone during a break: "I would appreciate it if you wouldn't talk in my ear so much while I'm reading the scores."

After a pause, Sierens was heard saying: "Oh, that's OK."

A few minutes after NBC signed off from the game, the network came back to Sierens and Rowe for an interview with Palmer. While all three were standing by, Rowe asked Palmer: "Do you know you made history today by having the first 92-yard kickoff return touchdown called by a woman?"

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