Sunday, September 29, 2013

What Not To Say In Play-By-Play

From today's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

This will come as a shock to readers who respect the English language, but two years ago, Learfield Sports Properties hired me as “color analyst” for Louisiana Tech football games.

(I know. I was surprised too.)

The most endearing play-by-play guys on the magic that is radio are the ones whose voices excite and soothe and inform. Those who live in that rarefied air are a treasure because, I am here to tell you, it is harder than it sounds.

Granted, I am only the color guy. On television, the color guy is the star. On radio, the play-by-play man is the star. He’s your eyes. It’s his show.

Hall of Fame broadcaster Dave Nitz is “The Voice of the Bulldogs” at Tech and has been for nearly 40 years. We call him Freeway Dave, a distinction he’s earned since, in a half-century of broadcasting basketball, football and baseball (he’s the former longtime “Voice of the Shreveport Captains,”) he has traveled more than Willie Nelson (one of his heroes), is on a first-name basis with the U.S. Interstate System and, as he likes to say, has been in more hotel rooms than the Gideon Bible.

Freeway is my friend. And a pro. And the star of every broadcast he’s a part of. I sweep up after Freeway Dave.

Unless something comes up.

Like his food. Which is what happened a couple of weeks ago, just after the second half of a football game we were doing began.

Freeway had been ill for days but, trooper and nut that he is, drove from his Haughton home to Ruston to do the Saturday night game. He battled through the pregame and the first half. Nearly passed out at halftime. Then, just as the third quarter began, he turned to a trash can behind us, face white as Vacation Bible School paste, and pointed a finger at me that looked like the finger The Ghost Of Christmases To Come pointed at Scrooge.

What? Who. Me?

This is how I know that play-by-play, like baking or gardening or hitting a long iron high and soft, is harder than it looks.

Normally a play on the radio would sound something like this:

“Here we go. First snap of the second half. The Broncos have outscored their opponents in each second half this season…

“Manning from the pistol, looking, steps up, good protection, Welker  crossing and he’s got him at the 50, Welker to the 40!, Howard has an angle, Welker to the 25, they won’t get him, they won’t get him. Welker at the 10. Touchdown, Broncos! Manning to Welker, and now Denver’s making it look easy…”

And in your head, when somebody points to you “on the air” and tells you to describe what’s happening, that is the same way it sounds in your head. Only what comes out of your mouth is something more like this:

“The boy just hiked the … it’s a pass. That boy is running. He’s being chased and the pass…another boy just knocked him down. Knocked him … that will bring up a whole other down…Boy.”

Not quite the same -- I don’t know -- flow, maybe?

Young radio engineer Ryan Kavanaugh, who’s done high school play-by-play, was quickly summoned from his perch behind us – what was now Sick Bay – and together we tangoed through the advertisements and “action on the field.” I like Ryan, mainly because he’s never thrown up on me.

Yet. It’s a long season…

On the bright side, Dave’s recovered. Not all of us have.