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The Man Behind BTN's 'Enhanced' Replay of the 2013 Penn State-Michigan Classic

by on August 09, 2019 7:10 PM

If there’s anyone who appreciates both the cinematic and heart-tugging appeals of Penn State’s classic four-overtime victory over Michigan in 2013, it has to be Rob Michel.

Michel, Penn State Class of 1999, has ESPN, Comcast, Fox Sports and home-school WPSU on his resume.

Not to mention five Emmys.

Over the past dozen years, Michel has worked behind-the-scenes at the Big Ten Network as a key producer and creative talent. He’s produced BTN Live, the B1G Show, the Final Drive and myriad other football and hoops shows.

Michel is a fan of all 14 Big Ten Conference teams. But he loves Penn State.

So it’s no surprise that when BTN started doing “enhanced” replays of classic Big Ten football games — featuring fresh interviews, hidden context and heretofore unshared insight into such generational games as Ohio State vs. Texas — Michel started thinking with his heart:

All arteries lead to Happy Valley.

It didn’t take long for him to think back to Beaver Stadium on October 12, 2013, and his alma mater’s four-overtime 43-40 victory over Michigan before a crazy sell-out crowd of 107,884 in the longest contest in Penn State’s 1,320-game history.

“I was looking for a good match for our series,” Michel said fairly late Thursday night, talking on his cell while riding the BTN bus as it was about to go in Baltimore’s Fort McHenry Tunnel as the BTN road show team traveled from the University of Maryland to Rutgers. (The call faded out only once.)

“That game defines Penn State Classic,” Michel thought.

And thus, the enhanced version of a BTN Penn State Classic was born. It will air Saturday night on BTN at 7 p.m., followed at 9 p.m. by the network’s blanket coverage of the 2019 Nittany Lions’ training camp, visited earlier in the day on Saturday by the BTN football folks.

 

 

HISTORY IN THE RE-MAKING

Michel spent close to 100 hours producing Saturday night’s review of the 2013 game, which features all the big plays, as well as commentary from every single Penn Stater who played a starring role in that game:

Head coach Bill O’Brien, the fiery f-ing head coach; remarkable receiver Allen Robinson, who made The Catch; quarterback Christian Hackenberg, the frosh who threw for 305 yards and three TDs; kicker Sam Ficken, who had an up-and-down day but booted a 54-yard field goal, the longest ever by a PSU player at home; and ballsy running back Bill Belton, who bounced outside for the winning TD. Michiganders Devin Gardner, the Wolverines’ QB, and Ann Arbor-based author John U. Bacon, add context to the broadcast. Penn State legend Matt Millen, who called the game and knows a thing or two about true heart, and BTN mainstay Dave Revsine set the stage for the rebroadcast.

“It was a year in the making,” said Michel, the producer and the architect of the piece. “It came together in pieces, but without Allen it never would have happened. Overall, it took an amazing amount of coordination.”

FROM GREEN BAY TO HOUSTON

The gathering of the principals on-camera has a kind of Ocean’s Eleven feel to it, as Michel explains how he got all the PSU principals on-camera to reminisce and provide analysis for the piece, 2,000 days after the fact. And the legend.

“Allen was playing for the Bears,” Michel said, “so we were fortunate that he could come into our (BTN) studios (in Chicago). He was brilliant.

“Sam Ficken was up in Green Bay, trying out for the Packers. He’s related to Robbie Hummel (a Purdue basketball star who now works for BTN), so that helped with the connection. Sam drove down from Green Bay to shoot his piece.

“Through some connections we got Hack. He Skyped in. When he logged on and we saw he was wearing a Penn State T-shirt, we knew he was into it. Belton also was filmed by Skype, and he was great.

“To get O’Brien,” Michel continued, “we first talked to the Texans (where he is head coach in the NFL). He said ‘yes’ right way. We gave them the questions and they shot him for us, then fed us the tape.

“It was important for us to get Devin Gardner, to get that other perspective as to what was going on with the other sideline and what it felt like being out there, the whole atmosphere of the Whiteout. We shot him in our Ann Arbor studio. Matt, obviously knowing Penn State like he does, and Dave, who has a wealth of knowledge about the Big Ten, really set the tone at the beginning of the piece.”

HISTORY IN THE (RE-)MAKING

The end result?

“You see everyone’s passion,” Michel said. “You can tell what the game, the crowd, the Whiteout, meant to them — even now, more than five years later. I think our team captured it.”

Michel has produced thousands of hours of sports television — live action, in the studio, packaged programming and “enhanced” classic replays.

As he talked about Saturday’s program, you could tell it will represent one of his finest moments — actually, 120 minutes of Penn State’s finest moments.

He couldn’t be prouder.

“It’s a fresh perspective and a look at one of Penn State’s all-time classic games,” Michel said. “You know, out of everybody we contacted to help with the piece, no one said ‘no.’”

I mean, c’mon: How could they not be a part of it?

It was the chance of a lifetime to relive The Game of Their Lifetime. No way anyone was going to Rob them of that — not even Michel himself.



Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for StateCollege.com since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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