Bubba Cam put cameraman into the gamePublished May 16, 2011
To begin its games, the XFL had a scrum for the ball instead of a coin toss. It had no fair catches, no kicks for PATs, and conversions were worth 1, 2, or 3 points, depending on the spot from where the try was attempted. Players wore microphones, and coaches did interviews on the sidelines during the game.
Bubba Cam operators carried 45 pounds of equipment as they ran with the players.
The XFL, on each side of the ball, added a 12th man to the playing field: a mobile cameraman who operated what was dubbed “Bubba Cam,” named after a WWF camera operator who ironically never operated one of the mobile units. Wearing cleats, shoulder pads and a harness bearing 45 pounds of equipment, one camera operator lined up 10 yards behind the safeties, while the other started plays behind the quarterback.
“I’d follow the running back into the hole,” recalled longtime WWF/WWE cameraman Marty Miller, one of the original XFL Bubba Cam operators. “Without a doubt, that was one of the coolest things I ever did professionally.”
It took some time for the players to get used to the new men on the field, especially since the Bubba Cam operators were in every huddle.
“If an offensive lineman was tagged for holding, we’d take that camera and jam it right in his face [in the huddle],” said Miller. “They weren’t too happy at the beginning, but as the season progressed, they got comfortable and embraced it. Some of them even looked for us. They wanted to get their personalities out there.”
On the sideline of any professional sporting event, the speed and size of the players is dramatic. It’s even more striking when you are actually on the field of play, Miller said.
“You could always feel some of the intensity shooting from the sideline, but being in the huddle during a two-minute offense, when they are going four or five plays at a time, was just unreal,” he said.
Perhaps the highlight for the Bubba Cam program came in the XFL’s second week, when 36-year-old Las Vegas Outlaws linebacker Kurt Gouveia’s 100-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown against Memphis took long enough that the on-field cameraman who was originally stationed behind Gouveia ran past him and was waiting for him in the end zone when Gouveia scored.
“It was an away game for Vegas,” Miller said, “so the crowd was cheering more for the cameraman’s performance than the touchdown.”
While some of the XFL’s production innovations, like its skycam and the on-field interviews, have been adopted by the NFL, the Bubba Cam feature remains lore. The NFL allows steady-cam operators onto the field immediately after touchdowns to get reaction shots, but it doesn’t seem anywhere close to adding its own 12th man to the huddle.
League officials said they do not like the idea of having cameras on the field during a play.
“On-field technology must be approved by a vote of the clubs [with three-fourths of 32 to approve], typically after recommendation from the competition committee,” an NFL spokesman said. “As technology continues to improve, we will continue to look for ways to bring our fans closer to the action on the field.”