Massapequa Park's Rich Russo will direct Super Bowl on Fox on Sunday
You never have heard of Rich Russo -- unless, perhaps, you were a fan of early 1980s Penn State lacrosse -- but by late Sunday, he likely will have directed two of the three most-viewed shows in the history of American television.
Such is the anonymity of the production trucks that sit just outside a Super Bowl stadium but where decisions are made that shape the experience of 100-million-plus viewers.
Make no mistake, though: Producer Richie Zyontz and director Russo are known to everyone involved on Fox's No. 1 team, and this season bring an extra dimension to overseeing what Russo called the "organized chaos" of the telecast:
The first metropolitan-area Super Bowl will be produced by a guy who grew up in Manhattan and directed by one who grew up in Massapequa Park.
Russo, 51, said it did not take long to figure out when the NFL awarded the game in May 2010 that Fox's turn in the Super Bowl rotation would be up in 2014, adding to what he called a "pretty neat" opportunity.
At that point he had yet to direct his first Super Bowl after succeeding Artie Kempner (who is from Merrick) on the No. 1 team; that chance arrived in 2011, a game that drew a then-record audience of 111 million. (NBC surpassed it the next year with 111.3 million for Giants-Patriots.)
Now, at last, Russo is poised to direct the biggest show on TV not far from his current New Jersey home and his hometown across the rivers.
"There's a little bit of that, but I think in a good way," he said. "I'll be honest with you, as the teams are coming down that tunnel -- really every game, but obviously as the games get bigger -- there's a certain adrenaline that comes with all of us."
The production team's game-day experience is a bit odd, in that it is there but not there; the trucks are located just outside the stadium.
To get a feel for the atmosphere, Russo said he and others often do a lap around the field during warm-ups. Russo, who grew up a Giants fan, said he has not seen an entire game from inside a stadium in about 15 years.
For the Super Bowl, he will orchestrate images from a selection of about 50 cameras, 35 or 36 of them reserved for game action itself.
That is a lot, but the number ramps up gradually as the playoffs go on. "You can't go into the biggest game you're doing and all of a sudden have all this equipment," Russo said. "There has to be a comfort level."
Russo is the relative newcomer on a team that included Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and Zyontz well before he arrived, but his partners say he has blended in seamlessly in five seasons.
"He's been great, really great," said Aikman, who appreciates Russo's "understated" personality. "He does a great job of hearing Joe and I and what we're talking about and getting pictures that support that. He hardly says two words, but he's great. There are not many directors like that."
Russo said it is important to keep calm for all games, perhaps more so for this one. "As the ball is being kicked, I can't really think about how many people are watching."
Russo was a prolific lacrosse scorer at Penn State -- 10 goals in a 25-6 victory over Montclair State in 1983 -- but knew there was no long-term career in that.
"To me if you're not going to be playing, the next best thing is televising sports," he said.
Soon after graduating he found himself working as a CBS researcher, then being assigned to the game crew featuring Pat Summerall and John Madden -- "I'm like, this is unbelievable" -- and then on to Fox when it secured NFL rights in 1994.
There were prominent assignments in the next two decades, including that first Super Bowl, but nothing quite comparable to what will happen Sunday, when the whole world will watch him work -- in his backyard.