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Halby’s Morsels and Jottings: 2.1.18

Random Notes And Observations From the Recent Sportscasting Past

vikings lose to eagles

Covered herein are these subjects:

  • Play-by-play/color teams in studio rather than in the arena
  • ESPN’s coverage of Alabama-Georgia college football championship game
  • Rams-Falcons NFL playoff telecast
  • Grammar and language
  • The ‘Minny Miracle’ broadcast: Contrast in Calls
  • Announcer Luddites
  • What are they doing now?

ESPN ANNOUNCERS CALLED AN ACC BASKETBALL GAME FROM THE STUDIO

On January 21st, Virginia beat Wake Forest 59-49 in Winston Salem. Anish Shroff and Cory Alexander called the game for ESPN. One anomaly, the announcers weren’t actually at the arena. They called the matchup from the studio. Most viewers would never have known it. The ambient arena audio was mixed unnoticeably with the talent’s call from the studio. We might be getting a glimpse of the future, especially now when announcers’ courtside seats are sold as premium seating and the broadcasters are shoved upstairs. The technology today is almost failproof. For the rightsholder it’s also economical.

After the win, Virginia coach Tony Bennett was interviewed while standing by his lonesome at courtside. The questions came from the duo of announcers back in the studio. Bennett playfully ribbed the talent for not being in the building, for taking the easy way out by calling the game from the studio.

Thinking perhaps that in the studio he has the license to give speeches, Alexander, not only talked between plays, he talked through two and three plays in a row. What happened to speaking in measured intervals? Cory forgot that he was a point guard – a distributor, an orchestrator whose job it is to dish to the play-by-play announcer when it’s not his turn anymore.

AL MICHAELS -NBC – RAMS PLAYOFF GAME IN LOS ANGELES

When Al Michaels called the playoff game on NBC between the Falcons and Rams at historic Los Angeles Coliseum (1/6), he captioned assorted camera shots of Southern California landmarks with his usual aplomb (Santa Monica Pier, Hollywood Boulevard and downtown skyscrapers). Yet I detected an added hint of glee. It’s been awhile since Al had the opportunity to call an NFL game a freeway drive from his home. I guess it’s a convenient welcome for Al to have the NFL back in Los Angeles.

CHRIS FOWLER AND KIRK HERBSTREIT- ESPN

At the end of regulation of the college football title game (1/8), Alabama’s Andy Pappanastos’ missed a “gimmie” field goal attempt which if successful would have given the Crimson Tide the championship on the spot.

Chris Fowler’s call was classic. When it was apparent that the kick would miss – he exclaimed a heartfelt one word, “No!” It resonated memorably.

If you remember, the director of the telecast chose to use a camera behind the kicker, instead of behind the goalpost. I’m obviously second-guessing but in this case the end-zone camera would have provided a clearer view.

Fowler’s partner Kirk Herbsteit unquestionably knows the game but has a tendency to sound professorial and to pontificate. He feels compelled to say something after every play resulting in occasional inane comments. Sometimes silence is golden.

Herbstreit’s ex-partner, Brent Musburger referred to him on telecasts as “Herbie.” Referring to him in this self-dubbed diminutive might have subjugated Herbstreit a bit. More assertive than Fowler, Brent spewed his own views and is generally less deferential. As such, “Herbie” didn’t overpower broadcasts as he does now. Fowler is more of the typical set-up man who lets his partner dominate the stage of opinions and analysis between plays.

DICK ENBERG- TED LEITNER, SAN DIEGO PADRES AND CLIPPERS

The two were as opposite as can be, yet Dick Enberg and Ted Leitner traveled together amicably for seven seasons. Leitner, the Padres’ radio voice, is a brazen on-air rooter. The late Enberg, the team’s television voice, was the ultimate pro and straight down the middle professional. Ted is still going strong at 70. He continues to sprinkle his broadcasts with an unabashed, “My Padres!”

Leitner is originally from the Bronx and has been a San Diego fixture on television and radio for decades. Mention his name to the city’s sports fans and it triggers either an innocent smile or an apologetic shrug.

On December 20, 1979, the then San Diego Clippers, who struggled at the gate, ran a promotion focused on Leitner’s polarizing personality. The “Throw Pie at Ted Leitner Night” attracted only 6,843 to the old San Diego Arena but the promotion is officially in the annals of the NBA record book.

The fifty fans who were selected to throw cream pies at Leitner at halftime made such a disruptive mess that the game was delayed for an hour while the floor was prepared for the second half. It caused the Knicks to lodge an official protest with the NBA office after they lost the game,128-118.

Legendary Knicks’ coach Red Holtzman said afterward, “I’ve never seen anything like this before. It’s not my responsibility. I didn’t throw the pies.” Incidentally, Kobe Bryant’s father, Joe Bryant, had 19 points in that game for San Diego.
“My Padres….Oh my!”

THE CHANGING RULES OF GRAMMAR AND LANGUAGE

Through generations, language usage changes insidiously. Until relatively recently anything other than “as I said” would have cost students a few points off their English exam. Today, “like I said” has become acceptable parlance.

Twenty-five years ago, or so, one basketball announcer started saying, “He picks up his dribble,” whatever it means. It might have been Kentucky’s iconic Cawood Ledford.

Like wildfire, copycat announcers started using the same expression. It irked Marty Glickman. He would tell me, “Just because one guy uses it doesn’t mean that everyone else has to use it too.” Years later, “picks up his dribble” has become part of a basketball announcer’s regular vernacular.

A couple years ago, I heard an announcer say “It’s 5 zero.” What’s happened to “5 nothing?” Once the preponderance of announcers adopts “zero” and expunges “nothing,” sports fans will have experienced another transformational sports language change. Slowly “nothing” will become archaic.

MINNESOTA’S MIRACLE WIN OVER NEW ORLEANS: CONTRAST IN CALLS BY VIKINGS AND SAINTS RADIO – – – QUESTIONING FOX TV REPLAYS

I have a longtime buddy for whom I have great respect. He did games in his college days and was precocious. There were few broadcast jobs available when he graduated so he pursued a career outside media. No regrets, he’s had a wonderful career in banking and finance. We occasionally share our opinions on broadcasters and broadcasts. More often than not, our views are similar. He sent me this note (edited) after Minnesota’s pulsating and implausible win. He requested no attribution.

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‘His’ analysis of the calls of the amazing catch:

I happened to listen online to the juxtaposed radio calls of the “Minnesota miracle play.”  The emotional contrast was stark.  Many comments online “raved” about Paul Allen’s excitement on Vikings radio.  Actually, Allen’s description was interrupted the second Stefon Diggs caught the ball. From that point on, his color man, Pete Bercich, blared right through Diggs’ run into the end zone, drowning out Allen almost completely. Yes, the listener figured out the Vikings pulled off a miracle by the joy in the announcers’ voices but had no idea of the details.

To his credit, Allen recapped what had just occurred and painted a nice description of the frenzied celebration on the field.

Meanwhile, Saints announcer Jim Henderson, while obviously crestfallen, described the play all the way through, but did so without painting much of a word picture.  It was something like, “Caught by Diggs; 30, 20, 10, Touchdown.” He gave no detail to accentuate the amazing catch and run.

Note: Henderson, 71, announced his retirement (2/1) as Voice of Saints. He had done the team’s games since 1986.

Interesting, both announcers used the expression “Are you kidding me?”  a very trite phrase by now.

A good, reasonably professional announcer, think Marty Glickman, would have called something like, “(Case) Keenum steps up in the pocket, throws, angling to the right sideline, a leaping catch by Diggs! He breaks free (or breaks a tackle), turns upfield, he’s going to go all the way. Touchdown Vikings. They win it!

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Meanwhile, I myself wonder why Fox Television replays never showed the game clock. With all the talk of making a catch and stepping out of bounds close enough to attempt a makeable field goal, there was little talk of how much time remained when Diggs actually made the catch. Looking now, it seems that there were four seconds left and that Diggs caught the pass on New Orleans’ 33-yard line near the sideline. Running, Diggs could have been dragged down from behind and New Orleans would have won.

BRENT MUSBURGER   DOESN’T RULE OUT A RETURN TO PLAY-BY-PLAY

One of the most diverse network sports announcers of our generation, Brent Musburger helped make NFL Today appointment viewing.  Brent had an unmistakable flamboyance as a play-by-play announcer. Not many have called NBA Finals, NCAA Final Fours and college football’s national championship. After retiring from ESPN, he helped launch a sports gambling channel on SiriusXM.
At 78, Musburger doesn’t rule out a return to play-by-play. Brent is very current. A number of years ago, I asked him how in his 70s he keeps players’ names straight, he said, “I focus only on last names.”

VIN SCULLY/ ERNIE HARWELL

The Tigers’ legendary announcer, Ernie Harwell, would have been 100 on January 25th. He became a Dodgers’ announcer in 1948 and left for the baseball Giants in 1950. Vin Scully then followed him in Brooklyn.

Truth is that Scully had great respect for Harwell whom he refers to as a “beautiful soul.”

Scully humbly said, “He was with the Dodgers in ’48 and ’49, then I sat in his chair. I didn’t follow or succeed him, I just sat in his chair.”

PETER GILLEN- CBS SPORTS NETWORK

Former Xavier, Virginia and Providence basketball coach Peter Gillen does color for CBS Sports Network. Early in the San Diego State-San Jose State game in San Diego (1/9), he spewed, “They (San Jose State) want to anesthetize the crowd.” I suppose he meant that the road team wanted to take the home crowd out of the game. Gillen sounds like the late Al McGuire. Like Al’s, Pete’s accent is redolent of the New York streets.  Gillen was born in Brooklyn. Coach McGuire was the son of a New York saloonkeeper.

SEAN McDONOUGH – ESPN

Working the college football title game on ESPN Radio, Sean McDonough seamlessly transitioned from his usual television seat. He went from captioning the picture to drawing one graphically. McDonough served listeners well, giving them a virtual view from the fifty-yard line. Not many make the shift effortlessly. Sean did.

GREG PAPA – OAKLAND RAIDERS

There are a handful of special radio NFL play-by-play announcers. One is Oakland’s Greg Papa. ​He has the package; intense, perfectly rhythmed, a distinct voice, a command of the language, pauses properly, the powers of descriptiveness and is fully transparent. He’s consumed and his broadcasts are spellbinding.

On Christmas day in Philadelphia, overtime appeared a possibility late in the 4th quarter. His color commentator, former coach Tom Flores, 80, said to the effect that he didn’t know if he can endure continued exposure to the frigid elements of the day. Papa said, “Hang in there, coach” and in the same breath continued his call of the action. Papa turned his job into a dual role, sports announcer and nominal first responder. The game ended in regulation and I assume Coach Flores is fine.

It’s difficult to succeed a legend. Yet, Papa is slowly replacing the irreplaceable Bill King. Raiders’ fans love Greg.

WYATT THOMPSON – KANSAS STATE NETWORK

The late Orioles and occasional network football announcer, Bill O’Donnell told New York broadcaster Len Berman that football is the hardest sport to call perfectly. Vantage points are too often imperfect and the job is often like covering a 3-ring circus. It’s why I was impressed by Kansas State football radio announcer, Wyatt Thompson. I heard him do the Wildcats’ Cactus Bowl win over UCLA (12/26). I don’t remember him making one mistake. Impressive!

BROACAST LUDDITES LIVE

My mom, god bless her, is 93. She occasionally goes online and now she’s even learning how to use a Smartphone. The incomparable Vin Scully, 90, emails regularly and during the last decade or so of his broadcast career carried a laptop with him on the road.

Then, there are sportscast luddites, announcers who don’t use email. They are Pistons’ longtime play-by-play man, George Blaha, 70, Yankee radio’s John Sterling, 79, and Hall of Fame Royals’ radio announcer, Denny Matthews, 75. I’ve also come to learn that Billy Packer, 77, doesn’t use email either. Billy covered 35 straight NCAA Final Fours on television. He is still energetic, opinionated and nimble. He lives in North Carolina.

ALLIE LaFORCE- CBS

Did you know that CBS sideline reporter Allie LaForce is married to major league relief pitcher, Joe Smith?

ED COHEN – NEW KNICKS RADIO ANNOUNCER

On Knicks’ radio broadcasts this season, newcomer Ed Cohen assumed an austere chair, one occupied in the past by extraordinary announcers, Marty Glickman, Les Keiter and Marv Albert. Later Mike Breen had the gig too. Cohen sounds good. He is prepared, confident, smooth and comfortable.  Ed works with Brendan Brown, who unlike some other radio color commentators, gives his play-by-play partner space. Cohen says he’s blessed to have Brendan, whom he calls a good partner on and off the court. Brown is the son of Hall of Fame coach Hubie Brown and a former NBA scout.

WHAT ARE THEY DOING NOW – HOCKEY’S SAL MESSINA

Sal Messina, a popular New York Rangers radio announcer who was the one steady thread on Rangers’ radio broadcasts for some thirty years, is down in Stewart, Florida. Messina won the 2005 Foster Hewitt Award for excellence in hockey broadcasting.

It’s interesting to note that through all his years broadcasting Rangers’ games, Sal was Vice President, Sales for the W. S. Wilson Company, which manufactures airplane parts. He would often get home from long road trips in the wee hours of the morning and be at his desk at 7:30am.

Sal deservedly spends time now with his family and is still active on the golf course. He keeps his hand selling airplane parts, part-time!

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David J. Halberstam
David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History.

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