Legends Behind the Lens: Sandy Grossman
One of sports TV's groundbreaking directors was also one of its most generous teachers
The story of American sports television is engrained in the history of this nation, rising on the achievements of countless incredible men and women who never once appeared on our screens. During this pause in live sports, SVG is proud to present a celebration of this great industry. Legends Behind the Lens is a look at how we got here seen through the people who willed it to be. Each weekday, we will share with you the story of a person whose impact on the sports-television industry is indelible.
Legends Behind the Lens is presented in association with the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame and the SVG Sports Broadcasting Fund. In these trying times — with so many video-production professionals out of work — we hope that you will consider (if you are able) donating to the Sports Broadcasting Fund. Do so by visiting sportsbroadcastfund.org.
By Jason Dachman
Sandy Grossman’s numbers as a live-sports director speak for themselves: 10 Super Bowls, 18 NBA Finals, five Stanley Cup Finals, and eight Emmy Awards. However, in order to grasp the indelible impact Grossman had on live sports television during his nearly five decades in the business, you have to go beyond the numbers.
“If you want to see Sandy’s legacy, just watch any football game,” says Fox Sports founding executive and former President David Hill. “He was not only a remarkable director, but one who had the ability to teach, and who cared about his pupils – always checking on them, and taking great pride in their achievements. Sandy Grossman embodied the very best of our business.”
Sandy Grossman’s numbers as a live-sports director speak for themselves: 10 Super Bowls, 18 NBA Finals, five Stanley Cup Finals, and eight Emmy Awards. However, to grasp the indelible impact Grossman had on live sports television during nearly five decades in the business, you have to go beyond the numbers.
“If you want to see Sandy’s legacy, just watch any football game,” says Fox Sports founding executive and former President David Hill. “He was not only a remarkable director but one who had the ability to teach and who cared about his pupils, always checking on them and taking great pride in their achievements. Sandy Grossman embodied the very best of our business.”
A Broadcaster From the Very Beginning
Born in Newark, NJ, in 1935, Grossman graduated from Weequahic High School before attending the University of Alabama, where he announced football games for the campus radio station but soon learned that a life behind the mic was not his calling. His interest in broadcasting, however, continued to grow after he graduated in 1957 and served in the Army for two years; he worked as an usher at the Ed Sullivan Theater before catching on in the public-affairs department at WCBS New York, eventually becoming a production assistant at CBS Sports in 1963.
He would soon work his way up to directing at CBS, where he oversaw a variety of sports productions: most notably, NBA basketball, for which he became CBS’s lead director by the mid 1970s. An innovator from the very start, Grossman is credited with pioneering the use of popular music (after he played Van McCoy’s “The Hustle” heading into commercial breaks), miking coaches during games, and deploying low-angle cameras at half court and under the baskets.
“My friend Sandy was one of the accomplished directors who inspired me, not just for his remarkable talent, but for his kindness and willingness to share his knowledge,” says CBS Lead Director Bob Fishman. “His technical crews would do anything for him. He was demanding, yet fair, and by getting the best from those who were fortunate to work with him, he has left us with some of the greatest televised moments in sports history. Many of the men and women who worked under his direction now work with me, and his legacy inspires us each and every week.”
Breaking Into Football
In 1970, Grossman got his first big break directing football when he was paired with producer Bob Stenner for CBS’s coverage of the Cotton Bowl. The profile of the assignment skyrocketed when the University of Notre Dame accepted its first bowl game appearance since the 1925 Rose Bowl to take on powerhouse University of Texas. Suddenly, Grossman was directing one of the biggest football games of the year.
“When the Fighting Irish accepted the bid, Sandy and I were sure they were going to take us off that game and they never did,” says Stenner, who spent more than three decades next to Grossman at the front bench. “It turned out to be a huge game and I think everybody was beyond pleased with what we did with it. Although we didn’t work side-by-side like right from that moment, that’s where it started.”
By the mid ’70s, Grossman had been elevated to CBS’s lead NBA director and was also manning the truck with Stenner for CBS’s NFL A-game featuring Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshier in the booth.
“Sandy understood the craft. He understood exactly what the viewer wanted to see and, when the moment was right, he was not afraid to give the viewer his option. And, by the way, one of the all-time good guys.” – NBC Sunday Night Football Director Drew Esocoff
“’Produced by Bob Stenner and directed by Sandy Grossman’ – I heard those words every week for years. Sandy set the standard back then and he set the standard until the day he retired,” says NBC Sunday Night Football Director Drew Esocoff. “Sandy understood the craft. He understood exactly what the viewer wanted to see and, when the moment was right, he was not afraid to give the viewer his option. And, by the way, one of the all-time good guys.”
The Birth of the Madden-Summerall Era
In 1981, Summerall was paired with first-time broadcaster and former Super Bowl-winning Oakland Raiders Head Coach John Madden. An unproven commodity at the time, the foursome of Summerall, Madden, Grossman, and Stenner would go on to set the standard for NFL coverage over the next 21 seasons.
“Sandy was always looking for ways to elevate a broadcast and he had a wonderful ability in delivering the right shot at the right moment,” says Fox Sports founding executive and Former President Ed Goren. “But maybe his greatest talent was working with his announcers and crew. John Madden is certainly a Hall of Famer, but it was Sandy who provided John with the unique video which allowed John to be John.”
Grossman and Stenner worked to create a signature style for NFL football that included a unique blend of NFL Films-style tight shots and extra-wide and iso shots that allowed Madden to analyze formations on the field and player technique through his revolutionary use of a telestrator.
“Sandy is as much a part of the great tradition and heritage of CBS Sports as anyone who has ever worked here,” CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus said after Grossman’s passing in April 2014. “His amazing directorial talents on the NFL truly distinguished him as one of the great directors in the history of sports television. For many years, Sandy Grossman’s name was synonymous with excellence in NFL coverage.”
With guidance from Madden, the foursome also began to study film each week and more intensely than any broadcast team before them, as well as conduct production meetings with coaches and players prior to the game.
“Sandy became like a defensive coordinator, the way he looked at stuff,” Madden told The New York Times last year. “Sandy took the knowledge he got from the film and transferred it to the cameramen, who carried it over to the game.”
The Fox Sports Years
Prior to the 1994 NFL season, when Fox Sports acquired the NFC rights package from CBS, Grossman and Stenner made the move to the fledgling network to work with Madden and Summerall. In the ensuing years, Grossman and his team helped to cultivate an edgy new style of NFL coverage that would become a Fox Sports staple.
“Sandy was part of the original heart and soul of Fox Sports,” current Fox Sports President Eric Shanks said last year. “He mentored many of us here and throughout the sports TV industry, and we learned more from him than he could imagine.”
While many of his predecessors were often known as “screamers” inside the truck, Grossman was known for maintaining a calm yet determined demeanor while making calls from the front bench.
“Sandy was calm and fiery all at once,” says Stenner. “He was never a screamer, but if somebody wasn’t doing their job, Sandy would let them know it. Sandy was very even-tempered and very knowledgeable in the truck, so he had the total respect of the crew, but if somebody blew an assignment he had plenty of fire in him too and he would show it. It didn’t show up a lot because we had such great people with us.”
In addition, Grossman helped to nurture and develop the next generation of directors and producers by always lending an open ear and offering advice to those on his team as they worked their way up the sports-television ranks.
“As well as being a great director, Sandy was first and foremost a great teacher,” says Hill. “He selflessly shared his love, knowledge, and enthusiasm for the television business with countless willing students — who in turn have become industry leaders themselves.”
A Legacy in the Truck and at Home
In all, Grossman directed a likely unbreakable record of 10 Super Bowls (seven for CBS and three for Fox), five Stanley Cup Finals for Fox, 18 NBA Finals for CBS, Olympic hockey at the 1992 and 1994 Winter Olympics for CBS, and countless other sporting events. In addition, after retiring in 2012, Grossman was tapped by the Elite Football League of India to teach its camera crews how to cover football for television.
Grossman passed away in April 2014 and is survived by his wife, Faithe; sons Dean and Bobby; daughters Jodi Grossman Rose and Bari Grossman Rosenholtz; and eight grandchildren.
“When people ask me about Sandy, I always say he was a better father and husband than he was a director, and that’s saying a lot because he was a phenomenal director, and what he did in television speaks for itself,” says Stenner. “He was truly tied in with his kids and always made sure that he put his family first. He and Faithe were really good, generous parents and, at the end of the day, that’s what truly matters.”
The video in this profile was originally produced in 2015. For more on the life and career of this industry legend, visit their profile at the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame.