This weekend is going to be fun-and challenging. I'll broadcast the UC basketball game on Friday night, head to West Virginia at 5:00 am on Saturday (I hope you know you're driving Mike Waddell) for a noon kickoff against the Mountaineers, and then immediately head back to Cincinnati for another UC basketball game on Sunday night.
Please remember to include my vocal cords in your prayers.
I wish I could do Saturday night's basketball game as well, but unless one of you has a private jet that you want to donate to the cause (licensed pilot included) it simply isn't possible.
Doing three games in three days is a challenge for several reasons, the most obvious being memorizing names and numbers. As a play-by-play announcer, when #5 has the ball you can't look down at the roster to see who #5 is. Otherwise, you wind up saying something like, "shot out of the corner by what's-his-name" (an actual gaffe by a former UC announcer).
In college football, I figure you need to memorize about 50 players per team. In college basketball, it's about 10. So this weekend, I'll need to have about 130 players sorted out in my sleep-deprived brain. Additionally, it gets tricky when #5 could be UC guard Deonta Vaughn, West Virginia quarterback Pat White, or Howard guard Darryl Hudson (thankfully, High Point doesn't have a #5).
In addition to memorizing the rosters, there is the process my wife Peg calls, "the pens." Like most play-by-play announcers, I prepare a detailed chart with biographical information about the players and coaches with the hope of using some of it during the broadcast. Every announcer does it a little bit differently and I've found a method that seems to work for me. It involves scribbling tiny notes--which I sometimes struggle to decipher--on a single sheet of paper with multi-colored pens (I've attached a photo of one of my recent "masterpieces" . . .good luck reading it). Most of the information never gets used, but when Digger Bujnoch makes a key block and you can somehow weave in the fact that he wears a size-18 shoe it's oddly satisfying.
Unfortunately, this method of preparing for a game doesn't always do the trick.
One of my biggest broadcasting heroes, Bob Costas, tells a great story about his first job as a minor league hockey announcer. The first game he called was played in Johnstown, PA and on the bus ride south, he dutifully memorized the roster of the Johnstown Chiefs. Unfortunately, when he arrived at the arena he learned that the Chiefs had sprung for new uniforms for the first time since the famed Johnstown flood and all of the numbers had changed. Realizing that he couldn't possibly memorize the changes before the opening face-off, Costas made a brilliant last-second decision. Since the game was not on television and his audience would only know what was happening based on his description, he decided that Johnstown's Jean-Francois Pierre was about to have the greatest game in hockey history.
Wherever the puck was, Jean-Francois was there. He delivered every check. He assisted on his own goals. He even kneeled to block shots before they ever got to the goalie (who therefore never had to be identified by name). As Costas puts it, "there are still probably people who listened to that broadcast who wonder whatever became of the phenomenal Jean-Francois Pierre."
Another of my broadcasting favorites, Sean McDonough (who taught me more than any professor when we were students at Syracuse), experienced a play-by-play nightmare when he was doing NCAA tournament games for CBS. On Selection Sunday, the announcers find out where they're assigned a few hours after the pairings come out and have to immediately begin researching eight teams for their first round games. One year Sean was assigned to games in Auburn Hills, MI and spent three days buried in media guides and newspaper articles before arriving in Michigan. When he got to his hotel two days before the opening round, there was a message at the front desk from his boss telling him he'd been reassigned to another region. So much for all of his homework.
Well, that's enough for this week's column. I've got names and numbers to memorize!
I'd love to hear from you. If you have any questions or comments, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.