Once upon a time, video games sought to mimic what actual football players do in actual football games. Well, OK, enhanced versions of actual players. But still, that was the essential goal.
"I think the thing that will impact viewers, especially viewers that grew up playing 'Madden,' will be seeing football on television the way they've seen it on their video games for a long time," Fred Gaudelli said.
Gaudelli is the producer of NBC's "Sunday Night Football," the league's showcase weekly prime-time game, so this is no small assertion. But this is no small moment in the evolution of TV football gimmickry.
Starting with Sunday's Giants-Cowboys game at AT&T Stadium and continuing with Notre Dame vs. Arizona Oct. 5 and Redskins vs. Cowboys Oct. 13, every NBC game at the Cowboys' building will feature "FreeD" TV.
The plan, fashioned by a company called Replay Technologies, is to mount a total of 24 high-speed cameras -- 12 on each end -- covering every angle in both red zones to provide a seamless 360-degree arc of replay possibilities.
"FreeD," short for "free dimensional video," also will be shown on the Cowboys' famously mammoth in-stadium video board.
Let us pause a moment here for a disclaimer: SportsWatch headquarters is littered with news releases concerning all manner of technological toys, most of which prove uneventful at best and annoying or distracting at worst.
It is not every day that a true game-changer -- such as the continuous on-screen clock and score, yellow virtual first-down line or super slo-mo -- comes along. Anyone remember the 3D TV fad of the late 2000s?
So this, too, could turn out to be just a curiosity. Or maybe not. It does sound sort of cool. "It's a harbinger for the future," Gaudelli said.
YES pioneered "FreeD" for its Yankees coverage this season, calling it "YES View." But the plan for football is even more ambitious.
The array of cameras will start at each 20-yard line and wrap around the backs of the end zones. Rather than replays having to be pieced together from various angles, the entire area in effect becomes one continuous angle. Gaudelli said each camera can record with eight times the resolution of a regular HD camera.
"You can zoom in without any pixel loss or picture degradation," said Gaudelli, who admitted there are aspects of the system even he does not understand. "This software was developed for Israeli defense, not sports television," he said.
It is no accident that this experiment is happening in Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' playpen, which Gaudelli called "the most technologically advanced stadium I know of in the world." Also, "it's just a lot easier to work in there because he owns the place, so whatever he says goes."
The trick, as with all new gadgets, is in knowing what to do with it.
"We all get pitched technology all the time," Gaudelli said. "A lot looks good on paper and sounds cool, but it doesn't enhance what you're doing . . . This is the infancy of it; there's no question about it. But my gut is in five or 10 years, this will be the norm of every broadcast, 360 degrees around with almost any camera."