KOCH: Hoard's Five Years of Travel Nightmares Nothing But A Dream|
May 13, 2016
CINCINNATI – Ever the optimist, Dan Hoard sat in the media room in The Arena at Northwest Florida State College on Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014 before the University of Cincinnati played in the championship game in the Emerald Coast Classic and detailed the long night ahead of him.
The radio play-by-play voice of the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals and the UC football and men’s basketball teams had to be in Tampa the next day to call the game between the Bengals and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. To make that happen, he planned to drive a rental car after the basketball game from Niceville, Fla., toward Tampa for as long as he could stay awake, grab a few hours of sleep in a hotel along the way, then finish the drive the next morning.
He would have to travel 422 miles over six hours to reach Tampa and then somehow find a way to sound fresh and rested on the air by 1 p.m. Sunday.
“It won’t be that bad,” he said, sounding as if he were trying to convince himself..
He discovered that in this case, at least, his optimism might have been unfounded.
“That’s a long drive from the panhandle to Tampa,” Hoard said this week. “UC lost badly to Ole Miss and it was late because it was the second game of the night. I hopped in the car and just started going. I made a couple of coffee stops. I was very caffeined up, the windows were down, a lot of air in the car, music cranking, and I think I went until about 4 or 5 in the morning.
“I got a couple of hours of sleep and maybe had two more hours to go to get to Tampa. I went to the airport and dropped the car off and then took a cab to the stadium. That day (Bengals quarterback) Andy Dalton was deathly ill. He was puking into a garbage can on the field before the game and I joked to (Bengals color commentator Dave Lapham) that I felt worse. But I made it through and hopefully it wasn’t too noticeable to the audience. And Dalton rallied from his puking to lead the Bengals to victory so we were both OK.”
That’s an extreme example – although not the most extreme – of how Hoard juggles his schedule during the fall as he tries to broadcast every Bengals, UC football and UC basketball game.
“They hired me to do a job so if it’s physically possible for me to be there, I’m going to be there,” he said. “Plus I enjoy it.”
Last March, when he did his final UC basketball broadcast of the season in the NCAA Tournament in Spokane, Wash., the 52-year-old Hoard, completed his fifth year of covering the three teams. He’d like to tell you he has it down pat and often he does, but there are times when the schedules simply don’t mesh and someone has to fill in for him on either a UC basketball or football game. Contractually the Bengals always take priority.
“Maybe the most stressful day of my year is the day the NFL schedule comes out (in early April),” he said, “because at that point the college football schedule is already out and you have some inkling of the early-season UC basketball schedule. So I have a pretty good idea the day that the NFL schedule comes out how brutal it might be in the fall. When that schedule announcement is coming out I’ve got my calendar out in front of me and I’m like, please, Lord, make this work out easily.”
Hoard’s delicate balancing act took an unexpected and inconvenient twist last fall when the Bearcats accepted an invitation to play in the Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu on Christmas Eve.
“The basketball team played Iowa State on the 23rd at home, so I got on a plane and flew to Hawaii and did the game on the 24th,” Hoard said. “Fortunately they let me stay there on the 25th and just have a day to relax and allow my body to recuperate. That day off in Hawaii really helped - being able to bob up and down in the ocean like a buoy for a few hours and take in some sunshine and eat a good meal.”
He flew out of Honolulu on Saturday, Dec. 26, changed planes in Los Angeles, and arrived late that night in Denver, where he met up with the Bengals, who had arrived a day early to prepare to face the Broncos on Monday night.
Hoard grew up in Lakewood, New York, and graduated from Syracuse University in 1985 with a degree in broadcast journalism. His goal was to be the play-by-play voice of a major league baseball team. He worked at WXIX-TV (Channel 19) in Cincinnati doing the evening sportscast from 1996 to 2006 and started doing play-by-play of UC basketball games on TV during his stay there. He became the radio voice of the Bearcats during the 2000-01 season.
In 2010, he was living in Boston with his wife, Peg, and their son, Sam, working as the play-by-play announcer for the Pawtucket (R.I.) Red Sox, the Triple A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. During the fall and winter, he would fly to Cincinnati to do UC football and basketball games.
At the time, Paul Keels, the play-by-play voice of the Ohio State Buckeyes, was doing local telecasts of the Bengals preseason games until the Reds hired him to be part of their broadcast team, creating an opening for Hoard to do the Bengals’ exhibition games. He jumped at the chance.
Keels’ arrangement with the Reds lasted only one year. When it ended, Hoard assumed Keels would go back to doing the Bengals’ preseason games and he would be the odd man out. Instead, the Bengals asked him if would become their full-time play-by-play announcer.
That’s when he proposed combining the Bengals job with the UC job.
“There are a handful of announcers that do that,” Hoard said. “The guy that does the Steelers does Pitt. The guy that does the Tampa Bay Bucs does Florida State. At the time, the guy that did the Falcons did Georgia Tech, so there is a precedent for guys doing both in the same city.”
The Bengals, UC and WLW radio – which owns the rights to the UC games – all agreed to give it a shot, even though there was some skepticism about whether he’d be able to pull it off.
“In my own mind, I knew it was possible,” Hoard said. “I didn’t know how difficult or easy it would be. Honestly, it’s probably a little easier than I thought it would be. There are a handful of headaches every year but for the most part it goes fairly well.”
He usually flies on the team charters, but when there’s a scheduling conflict he makes his own travel plans. Sometimes that can get dicey.
And that brings us to the worst travel experience he’s had since he began this arrangement in 2011. The Bengals were scheduled to play in San Diego on Dec. 2, 2012. The UC basketball team was at home the day before for a 3 p.m. game and the Bearcats football team was at Connecticut.
“We made the decision that it was easier for me to do basketball and physically get to San Diego than it would have been to cross the entire country from UConn,” Hoard said. “I booked the flight. There was like a 7 o’clock flight (to San Diego on Saturday night). Everything was fine until a day before the game when I get the dreaded email from Delta telling me, good news, Mr. Hoard, the flight has been changed and we’ve rebooked you for four days from now or something like that. I was like, ‘That’s not good news, this is not going to work.’”
He called Delta looking for an alternative and found a flight out of Indianapolis at the ungodly hour of about 4:45 a.m. that would have him change planes in Salt Lake City and then fly on to San Diego. This time he did not try to convince himself it would not be that bad.
“So I rent a car, I do the basketball game, I drive to Indy, I ditch the car, I stay at the hotel at the airport,” Hoard said. “I get on this crazy early flight to San Diego and I actually made it to the stadium before the team. I did the game, got on the Bengals flight after the game, and came home.”
There’s no doubt the travel can be grueling at times, but Hoard loves his job – or jobs - too much to complain. And besides, this was his idea.
It helps that Hoard has developed a strong emotional attachment to the teams he covers. His allegiance to UC runs so deep that he says he roots for the Bearcats “much more than I do for my alma mater.” His enthusiasm for the Bengals and the Bearcats is clear from his broadcasting style.
“I think the emotion that I show when the Bengals or Bearcats are doing well is pretty obvious,” he said. “I try to be honest, and, sure I try to be tactful in my criticism but that’s just my personality, it’s not a calculated thing. I try not to complain or get angry when things are not going well for the team. I think that’s part of being a professional, just like I try not to go too crazy when things are going well.”
Or when things are not going well with his travel plans.
“In the fall it’s busy,” he said, “but my father and stepfather both worked for a living so I know how lucky I am.”
Bill Koch covered UC Athletics for 27 years - 15 at The Cincinnati Post and 12 at The Cincinnati Enquirer - before joining the staff of GoBEARCATS.com in January, 2015 as featured columnist. Follow him on Twitter @bkoch.