Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Husker Fan Fascination With Announcers

The Lincoln Journal Star has been doing segments this week on Obsessions of Husker Football Fans, and briefly dived into how some fans view some national announcers as "Anti-Nebraska". That's not necessarily the case, but it's easy to trace where enthusiasm over who's calling the games comes from. It starts with the Husker radio announcer. Before there was "one guy", there was a time when numerous local announcers could call the games on different stations.

Everybody points to Lyle Bremser as the gold standard. Bremser was the voice of the Huskers from 1939-1982, and his most famous call is obviously his brilliant "Man, Woman & Child" call of Johnny Rodgers punt return in the 1971 Nebraska/Oklahoma Game of the Century. Bremser was to radio what Keith Jackson was to television -- at least in Nebraska. He was succinct and crips, always painting the perfect picture on radio that put you right in the action. And as the "all the way home" call on Rodgers run suggests, Bremser displayed perfect passion for the home team at the appropriate moments. It's that famous call of Johnny the Jet's moment that allows Bremser's voice to live on, and he nailed it, like Vin Scully calling the last inning of a Sandy Koufax no-hitter.

Bremser was followed by Kent Pavelka, who also became a fan favorite because he ultimately was the biggest fan who just so happened to have a microphone. Pavelka was an unabashed homer, Harry Carey calling a college football game. Hell, Pavelka would also throw in the occasionally "Holy Cow." You never had to worry about which side of the fence Pavelka was on. He worked out because he was All-Nebraska and made no apologies for it. Pavelka would be the most depressed man walking the earth when the Corn lost, and overflowed with enthusiasm over an 8-yard gain. His most legendary call is Tommie Frazier's 75-yard touchdown run in the Nebraska/Florida Fiesta Bowl, more famous than Jim Nantz's call on television. Pavelka was in love with all things Husker football, so excited that during the 1995 Nebraska/Colorado game, he noticed on a series when both Jason and Christian Peter sat out a defensive series that "Nebraska was playing with their Peter's out." And Nebraska fans loved every second of it, never mind the fact that Pavelka still managed to give listeners all the necessary information regarding what was happening on the field.

So the big problem is that Post-Pavleka, there hasn't been an identifiable radio voice, at least not one who encouraged fans to turn the television volume down to listen to the radio. Paul Aaron and his billions bought the exclusive rights to carry the Husker Radio games (and not just football either). Aaron wanted to put his own stamp on things, and Pavelka was suddenly out. And it seemed like nobody else wanted Kent to leave the Husker airwaves. Warren Swain followed, and he even though he wasn't bad, he wasn't great either. Swain lost his chance at his own Bremser/Pavelka moment during the 1997 Nebraska/Missouri game. He at first called the pass "incomplete", only to excitedly rally after Adrian Fiala noticed Davison's dive. Instead, the call of Matt Davison's catch from that game became one of Brent Musburger's signature moments, which is ironic because until then (and sometimes afterwards) Musburger was viewed as "Anti-Nebraska" by some Husker faitful. But really, if anyone should have an axe to grind with Nebraska, it's Musburger, if only for getting busted for having an open can of Coors Light after calling a Husker game in Lincoln a few years ago. Swain's biggest sin in the eyes and ears of Husker Nation was that he wasn't Bremser or Pavelka. Sure he was serviceable enough in calling the game, but from a radio perspective, Husker fan wanted a clear homer in that booth.

Which leads to the absolute train wreck that was Jim Rose as voice of the Huskers. As far back as 1993, Rose was, as Christopher Moltisanti would say, the "hair" apparant. He was hosting "Sports Nightly" and certainly had a knowledge of Husker history to go along with a great sounding voice. This was a time when sports-talk radio had yet to really take off, and Rose had something going with that nightly show. It was a great listen on commutes down I-80, and I for one assumed one day Rose would be calling Husker games and be quite good at it. And then something happened. Reports suggest an oversized ego enveloped Rose. He wound up leaving KLIN in Lincoln to work for Entercom in Kansas City, where dreams of doing some play-by-play work with the Royals danced in his head. Shortly thereafter, Swain was out, and Rose rode back into Nebraska to ultimately be named the new voice of the Huskers (despite Pavelka still openly pushing to get the gig back).

Rose never could find his voice in that seat. It seemed like he wanted to be Mitch Holthus, Lyle Bremser and Keith Jackson all at once, all the while trying to invent new phrases to describe a down and distance which ultimately confused the listener. There was an article in the Omaha World Herald where he distanced himself from all things Pavelka. And on-air during the games at least, it was just a mess and difficult to try to even listen to. Listeners wound up hoping every game was on television, even pay-per-view, just so listening to Rose wasn't the only available option. Greg Sharpe is the new man at the mike, and he's obviously a great talent with an impressive resume, but the jury's still out as to how much Husker Nation will embrace him.

Of course the thing that works against anyone as the Husker radio voice is that now almost every game is televised. And just like Steven M. Sipple says in his article, if one of those announcers bad mouths Nebraska, they get the anti-Nebraska tag. But come on. Shouldn't respectable announcers have pointed out all of the WRONG things from, oh, say the 2007 season? The worst situation to be in when watching a game is having a crazed fan yelling at the announcers for how bad the team is playing -- and this happens ALL the time!

The only broadcaster I can think of who gives the impression that he goes out of his way to poke at the Huskers would be Mark May, and I'd say a lot of that comes from spending a lot of air time with Trev Alberts, who was CLEARLY a Husker Homer. But again, criticizing the Huskers and the state of the program especially last year was supposed to happen. You can't blame anyone doing the play-by-play or color for that, whether they're from here or not. What I can't understand is why some people expect network announcers -- with no ties to anything Nebraska -- to become Kent Pavelka during a Husker game.

It's not just a Nebraska situation (plenty of other team's fans hate Musburger, even though he's now becoming the voice of college football). But when you look at the landscape of sports broadcasters, I'd say the majority of them have gone out of their way to be downright kind to Husker Nation. Chris Fowler has repeatedly stated how much ESPN's College Gameday loves to come to Lincoln. He's gone on national radio and waxed nostalgically about having a steak at Misty's on Friday night, and hitting the O Street bars after they wrap up on Saturday. "They (Husker fans) get it," Fowler says. Keith Jackson introduced Tunnel Vision for at least two years. Jim Rome has an open fondness for Husker Fan. I'm still trying to find the video on youtube of how brilliant Bob Costas was in describing how it feels for Nebraska fans after Osborne won his first National Championship.

It's what Costas did at that moment that some Husker Faithful want from every announcer, all the time. I wish every announcer would call a game like Don Criqui did in the 1984 Orange Bowl. Criqui gets excited at all of the proper moments for both teams, and let's the game itself breathe. Ironically enough, Criqui is now the voice of Notre Dame football for Westwood One. And that's what Nebraska Football has been missing since Pavelka left the building: An identifiable voice. If for no other reason, it's needed to stifle those who firmly believe the Brent Musburger's of the world put on their headset just to piss off the natives. Brent did let everyone in on a little signal USC quarterback John David Booty used to pass to receivers during last year's USC/Nebraska game. Who the hell knew then the Blackshirts were better off with Musburger at the helm than Cosgrove?

No comments: