Media Scene

Charlotte native enlisted in army telecasting sports’ biggest day

Carolina Panthers mascot Sir Purr plays to CBS camera operator Chuck Denton during warmups before the Panthers game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Bank of America Stadium in 2011.
Carolina Panthers mascot Sir Purr plays to CBS camera operator Chuck Denton during warmups before the Panthers game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Bank of America Stadium in 2011. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Chuck Denton, who will be swinging a portable camera Sunday on the Super Bowl sidelines as part of the CBS telecast crew, has come a long way.

Denton, a photographer in demand for some of the nation’s top sports events, got his humble start more than two decades ago on WBTV’s (Channel 3) “Friday Night Football,” covering high school games.

“It’ll be one of the most memorable events I’ve ever covered,” says Denton, 47, who was an original Panthers PSL holder with upper deck seats beside WBTV’s Al Conklin and C.J. Underwood.

Denton was born in Charlotte and his mother, Andrea Denton, a retired English teacher at Central Cabarrus High School, lives in Mint Hill. He was attracted to broadcasting as a teenager and landed an internship at Channel 3 doing odd jobs in production.

When the internship was over, Denton kept showing up. “I think they thought I was on the payroll.” His dedication paid off.

During summer vacations and holiday breaks from the University of South Carolina, he would work shifts at Channel 3 and was hired in 1991 after he graduated.

Covered Alonzo Mourning’s debut

He remembers WBTV sending him and sports anchor Delano Little to the old Market Square Arena in Indianapolis to cover Alonzo Mourning’s first game with the Hornets. “He was a skinny kid who looked like a deer in headlights,” Denton says.

And he remembers going with the late Bob Knowles to Green Bay for the NFC playoff in 1997.

I remember thinking to myself, ‘How lucky am I to be here, getting paid for this?’

CBS cameraman Chuck Denton

“Wind chill was 27 below. I never experienced anything like that. Knowles and I saw guys with no shirts on in Green Bay. That was weird.”

Denton married WSOC (Channel 9) anchor Elizabeth Sanchez. They moved west in 1999 and now live in San Diego with their two daughters.

Travels 100 days

He worked 12 years on CBS crews for a variety of sports, including the Final Four, the NBA finals, the Masters and other key golf tournaments and Super Bowls. Denton estimates he travels more than 100 days a year, logging 115,000 miles a year. This year he’s taken off only one weekend.

Denton says shooting hockey is his least favorite assignment because of the confined space and inability to see the puck at all times.

Golf is the most challenging, especially on the fairway. “When that ball launches up, the sky becomes a white sheet,” he says. “Toughest shot in sports.”

Denton “dirties up” his viewfinder with too much contrast to better follow the ball. “Anything that goes through that viewfinder looks like a meteor,” he says.

Following golfers down the fairway with a hand-held camera is a constant exercise in calculating angles to get the best shots, Denton says.

On Sunday, Denton will be one of five CBS photographers using hand-held cameras on the Panthers sidelines. He’ll be shooting a mix of field action, bench activity and crowd reaction.

100 cameras focusing on Super Bowl

CBS will have 70 cameras covering the game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara Sunday, and 30 more feeding coverage from other sites including Super Bowl City in San Francisco, 45 miles away, one atop the Needle at California’s Great America Amusement Park near the stadium and one aboard a blimp.

CBS has 550 people assigned to the telecast and 12 technical trailers at the stadium. It is the 19th Super Bowl broadcast by CBS, the most of any network.

Last year’s Super Bowl was watched by 119 million people in the United States, making it the most-watched television program in history.

It will be the fourth Super Bowl for play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz and the eighth for analyst Phil Simms. Coverage starts at 8 a.m. Sunday with James Brown on “The Super Bowl Today.”

Last year’s Super Bowl had an audience of 119 million, making it the most widely-watched program in television history.

Lights went out

Denton’s last Super Bowl was the 2013 game in New Orleans where the power failed. “That mistake won’t happen again,” says Denton.

CBS got a shot of the lights fading out in the Super Dome because another photographer happened to be resting his camera and it was pointed at the rafters.

Being close up at the nation’s premiere sporting events is as wonderful a job as it seems, says Denton. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘How lucky am I to be here, getting paid for this?’”

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