NFL Network to Unveil League's All-Time Team on Six-Part Series Featuring Bill Belichick

NFL Network to Unveil League's All-Time Team on Six-Part Series Featuring Bill Belichick

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Story Courtesy of SI

Over two days in May, NFL Films recorded a six-episode series to be broadcast this season (the sport’s 100th) naming the league’s All-Time Team. For host Rich Eisen the shoot was “a top-five experience for me in my entire career.”

It was also, as NFL Films VP Keith Cossrow described it, “the most challenging shoot” in company history. “We always like to say at NFL Films: If nobody is waking up with a cold sweat in the middle of the night, then we have no chance of succeeding,” the senior coordinating producer said. “About 10 of us were waking in cold sweats weeks before that shoot.”

Then the slated day arrived, and Bill Belichick walked in. When Eisen found out months earlier that he’d be working with the Patriots coach, that the man known as much for his media reticence as for his gridiron dominance would be breaking down the list of greats alongside Sunday Night Football analyst Cris Collinsworth, “I’m like, come again,” Eisen recalled. “Say that again.”

Yet there Belichick was. And he was ready to dive in. “I can’t tell you how amazing it was,” Eisen said on his radio show Tuesday. At one point, the host even had to cut off Belichick to transition to a new topic. “You’ll see a guy who loves the game and wanted to make sure that he paid homage to this sport and the history of it,” Eisen said. “I cannot tell you how dynamite he was.”

More than a year earlier, Belichick agreed to join the league’s 26-person panel tasked with creating the 100-player, 10-coach list. Over multiple meetings, he emerged as a leader for the process before agreeing to represent the group on the TV series. Panel members dug deep into NFL Films’ archive in an effort to fully represent football’s history. They also wanted to ensure that less glamorous positions were similarly represented.

So while various formats were discussed, including creating a first- second- and third team or doing a simple countdown, the panelists lobbied against a strict hierarchy. "Belichick wanted no part" in some sort of rankings reveal and debate, Eisen said. The format also differentiates this year’s effort from the Top 100 experts voted for in 2010 (anointing Jerry Rice at the top.) 

The final roster has been kept on a need-to-know basis. “The commissioner hasn’t seen it,” Cossrow said. Crew members signed non-disclosure agreements. Even the slew of legends brought to NFL Films’ headquarters for the May shoot came discreetly to prevent leaks. Pete Abitante, running the entire ‘NFL 100’ effort, helped make the complex shoot possible, as did NFL VP Tracy Perlman, coordinating the superstars’ arrivals. “There was a massive team dedicated to getting it right,” Cossrow said. “It really required our entire company at NFL Films to collaborate and coordinate, to get all these people here secretly, to get the hosts here, to make it comfortable for Belichick to do something he had never done before.”

On-set, Collinsworth played a pivotal role, offering his insight in one moment and then directing conversational traffic the next, relying on the decades of studio experience he built up on Inside The NFL. “Every show is going to have a headline from it,” Eisen said. “Not just who the names are but the stories being told.”

A special set will also draw attention when the show debuts. (A release schedule has not been announced just yet.) Executives initially considered a number of shooting locations but—partly limited by Belichick’s schedule—opted to build their own, adding to the project’s complexity. Along with the participating panelists and the guest list, the NFL has opted to keep the look under wraps for now. Just know that the backdrop required cooperation from the Pro Football Hall of Fame, while producers also commissioned a custom monument of their own, one that will travel to NFL Network and eventually the Super Bowl after the show wraps. “It’s unprecedented,” Eisen said of the setup, noting that even Belichick took time to admire the props.

The NFL’s All-Time Team anchors a much wider content push around the sport’s centennial. The NFL 100 Greatest will do plenty of ranking, picking the league’s top plays, games, teams, characters and game changers. Meanwhile Peyton Manning will explore the sport’s history for ESPN starting Monday. The All-Time series will also bleed into additional content, from reaction segments to regular tie-ins on Eisen’s daily show. 

For now though, the biggest headline is that hardcore fans will get an extended chance to view football history through Belichick’s eyes, as well as observe his interactions with fellow greats past and present. 

“The joy that everyone had in that space over those two days as we shot was palpable,” Cossrow said. “It made it really special for all of us who witnessed it, and we just hope it comes across on the screen.”

But, Cossrow added, the coach wanted to stress that this would not be The Bill Belichick Show. And when his own accomplishments came around, those in the room got to see a bit of the man viewers have grown used to. As Eisen put it, “They were a couple of ‘Moving on to Cincinnati’ moments.”

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