Haven’t seen Super Bowl-winning running back Reggie Bush on an NFL field this season? You weren’t watching in virtual reality. Every two weeks since mid-October, Bush has been on the field as a co-commentator with Elika Sadeghi on NextVR, discussing VR highlights of the game he used to dominate.
Before Bush was behind the NextVR desk talking highlights, he was a human highlight reel. He could outrun defenders for 60 yards before changing directions in a split second, leaping over defenders for spectacular touchdowns. When he won a Super Bowl championship with the New Orleans Saints at Super Bowl XLIV, it cemented him as an all-time great.
“I always said if I didn’t play this season, then I would retire.”
Yet after a rough 2016 NFL season with the Buffalo Bills, the electrifying player began to contemplate his life after football. Retired NFL players often become TV commentators. Dan Marino, Kurt Warner, Randy Moss, Dick Butkus, and many others have followed that path; Bush officially announced his retirement on NFL Total Access Friday night: “I’m done,” Bush said. “Yeah, I’m done. I said it.”
But Bush isn’t headed to TV, he told Digital Trends. Instead, he’s headed to something a bit more immersive.
“When I got a chance to watch it in the VR headsets, it made it hard for me to go back to traditional TV. I just wanted to watch everything in VR,” Bush said.
The Dallas Cowboys’ December 10 matchup against the New York Giants was the final game NextVR covered for the 2017 NFL season, and Digital Trends spoke with Bush at the game. To hear the 11-year NFL veteran tell it, sports in VR is about to become his new home field away from home.
It’s In The Game
NextVR announced in early October that Bush would be one of its post-game commentators for the company’s second season of VR highlights. Yet even before his second VR post-game show on October 29, Bush was still voicing a desire to return to the NFL. After completing his first season with NextVR, though, Bush sounds ready to make virtual reality his new field.
“I always said if I didn’t play this season then I would retire. I haven’t played all year, and for me I always knew I’d do TV, so working with NextVR was kind of a step in the right direction for me,” Bush said. “The football thing wasn’t happening, so I wanted to start to get my feet wet in the media world and broadcasting. NextVR is a great opportunity for me to come in and learn different things.”
Even though Bush was on the field every Sunday recapping games for NextVR, he admits “nothing quite captures [live games] like playing.” Lucky for him, NextVR is the next best thing. “Being able to be around [football] through NextVR, for me, is a no-brainer. I’ve always enjoyed the game as a fan, as a player. Now that I’m not playing, I’m still a fan of the game — that’ll never leave.”
Bush not only comments on what you’re seeing but also gives context from a player’s perspective
In VR, Bush doesn’t just comment on what you see, he also gives context on what you’re seeing — from a player’s perspective. With the freedom to look around in VR, Bush can tell you what every player’s assignments are for a certain play, so you feel like you’re in the middle of a practice session instead of watching a replay. When San Diego Chargers wide receiver Travis Benjamin was tackled in his end zone on a punt return during an October 29 matchup with the New England Patriots, Bush explained how a punt returner trains to get to the spot of the ball, and to never run backwards.
Bush’s fanaticism for the game of football is visceral. When paired with the immersive quality of VR, it can turn even mundane football plays into highlights.
Sitting next to Bush in the Metlife Stadium press box, watching the Cowboys pummel the Giants, we witnessed his almost supernatural ability to predict plays. While Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott’s fourth quarter pass to tight end Jason Witten was still cutting through the frigid New Jersey air, Bush had already called it a touchdown and deemed the game over. He rose from his seat before the pass landed in Witten’s hands.
“Whether it’s an audible at the line, or a check in the backfield, or if anyone on the field has a specific responsibility that the casual view might not pickup on, those are things that I can pick up on,” Bush said. “Plays I can point to that just gives fans a different perspective.”
Bush also interviews the standout player from each game, a new addition to the NextVR post-game show. Seeing Cowboys running back Rod Smith smile when meeting Bush made it apparent that he gives NextVR more than a guy who can break down the x’s and o’s.
“When he’s out on the sidelines, all of the players are still coming over to him, wanting to talk to him, and take pictures with him,” NextVR Head of Sports Production Josh Earl said. “So he still has a great rapport with all the players, and that was a big thing for us to bring him onboard.”
Let’s Get Live
Bush has covered five NFL games in VR, and he’s looking forward to doing something no commentator has ever done — covering live NFL games in virtual reality.
An NFL game has never streamed live in VR. NextVR cameras can’t zoom in, so any action happening in the middle of the field is blurry from the sideline cameras, a problem that prevents the league from allowing live NFL games in VR.
“Live games is the ultimate goal,” Earl said. “I know it’s something the NFL is interested in… We have to solve some of the issues of covering the middle of the field.” Earl says NextVR already has plans in the works to bring live NFL games to virtual reality, proclaiming “it won’t be long.”
One of those plans involves running tests of a live NFL broadcast in VR. If you ask Bush, NextVR is ready to do a live NFL game right now. “We did a live game test, two, three weeks ago,” Bush said. “I think it went really well. I was up in the booth, calling the games. So, for me, I really enjoyed it.”
When asked if he would return to doing the NextVR post-game show next year, Bush laughed, and asked Earl the same question. “If he wants to be,” Earl responded through a beaming smile. NextVR has yet to officially announce if the company will be back for a third NFL season of VR highlights. Everyone, including a Super Bowl champion, is waiting to hear what’s next.
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