About 20 years ago, I was asked to be a PA announcer for a small, NAIA basketball program in northern Indiana. I initially declined, but then decided to give it a shot. Had you told me then I’d one day be the PA announcer at games during the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship in front of 35,000 screaming fans, I would’ve thought you were nuts. But that’s exactly what happened.
“Are you getting nervous yet?” asked IUPUI Associate Athletic Director Ed Holdaway a few weeks ago at one of our men’s basketball games.
“Not yet,” I told him. “Once I get in the stadium and see the fans, I probably will.”“Did you bring your tape?”
My pre-game preparation has become something of a running joke with the people at IUPUI. I keep my script on a red clipboard and work off my own version of a scorecard I create and print at home to track fouls, timeouts, jump balls and the score. The scorecard is a specific size because I have them on a separate, black clipboard. I tape down the game-day itinerary to the table in front of me, along with two sets of rosters that are affixed to the table, angled toward each goal. That way I can quickly glance down and not move away from the stick mic in front of me. I perform these rituals at every game. Jess, one of the game-day workers, watched me prepare one day. She was slightly fascinated but mostly bewildered.
At our first meeting with with NCAA reps, Jess, Mike the scoreboard operator and Joe the scorekeeper took turns making fun of me. “Did you bring your tape?” “Do you have your highlighter?” “Do you have your clipboard?” Sadly, the answer is yes, to all of them. I even upped the preparation for this event by printing the script on index cards, so I could flip through and discard when done with them. I also brought silicon earplugs to help tamp down the echos in this cavernous barn.
No, I don’t know why I’m so OCD. I just am.
Truth is, I was at my highest level of anxiety on the drive to Lucas Oil Stadium Friday afternoon for the 2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Midwest Regional Semifinals. Once I locked in and completed a couple pre-game reads, I was settled down. My nerves were replaced by excitement.
I was remarkably calm when it came time to announce the starting lineups, which is usually when I get nervous; even for IUPUI games. That’s likely because I have to control sound and music as well as announce the games. I’m always paranoid about something malfunctioning (including me). At Lucas Oil Stadium, I was merely an actor in an ensemble cast. Being in constant contact with the game producer and stadium video guys via headset somehow relieved pressure…and taught me how to mentally multitask. As I’m reading my announcements, I’ve got real, actual voices in my head telling me what to do.
I think the jitters subsided mostly because I felt at ease about everything. I rehearsed every word in the script. I reviewed it with the game producers and felt more than prepared for anything that might happen.
My style for announcing these games was decidedly different than when I work for IUPUI. Inside The Jungle, I’m all about the home team. For the tournament, the NCAA demands neutrality. That really wasn’t a problem at all for me during the semifinal games. I was allowed, however, to incorporate what’s become my signature announcement into the tourney games, my “one minute remaining…ooooonnnnnnnnnneeee minute!” call. It’s not a “homer” call, since I do it the same regardless of the score. And it’s become something the band and cheerleaders have come to enjoy, so I like doing it.
Like Being Shot Out of a Cannon
That’s how I described it to someone. Yes, I was prepared. Yes, I was relaxed. And yes, I was having fun. But once that ball is jumped up, the game is on and you have to be completely focused. At the scorers table, I’m sandwiched between Joe, whose keeping the official book, and Chuck Leonard, the scoreboard operator. The caliber of play at this level is much faster than what we’re used to at IUPUI. So, for about two minutes, we’re all just trying to adjust to the speed, the names, the sounds, the sight lines…everything. It’s a bit of sensory overload.
“This isn’t your first rodeo,” I said to Chuck, who also mans the scoreboard for Colts games.
“Yeah, but this is a different kind of rodeo,” he replied.
By the time we reached our first media timeout, though, everything leveled off. “It’s just like our gym back home in Hickory,” I said to Joe.
Friday Night Re-cap
Everything went off without a hitch. I had TONS of announcements to read, especially at halftime. But I rehearsed them no less than three times each the day before and rested my voice for about 24 hours before the games (and stuck to water and coffee as my only beverages). By the time we started the script for the first game, my voice was sounding good and my throat felt fine. It wasn’t until the next day when I lost my voice a bit and had a scratchy throat. But I rested it for the day so I’d be ready for the championship game.
“Enjoy the hell out of this, boys.”
Horizon League Director of Communications Billy Potter said that to Joe and I just ahead of tipoff. The atmosphere in Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday night was a bit of bedlam. Of the 34,657 fans in attendance, I’d say all but 3,000 were Louisville fans. It really was a home game for them. And it was LOUD right from the start. I met with game producer Don Lukes before the game and he said I’d probably need to really step it up to compete with the loud environs. Having watched the previous day’s championship games, I already planned on bringing a bit more oomph to it. Unlike Friday night, though, the crowd pretty much drowned me out for a good portion of the night. That’s fine by me, honestly. That’s what you want from the fans. It makes for a better environment.
My favorite moment from Sunday’s game came when I made my final “one minute remaining” announcement. The place went nuts.
In the post game, I was announcing the All Region Team when I was interrupted by Rick Pitino to get a chant of “Ke-vin, Ke-vin, Ke-vin” going. When it started, I turned to my producer and joked, “this is for me, right?” Of course, we know why Pitino did this.
I did not see Ware’s injury when it happened. I saw players collapsing on the floor and thought, “what just happened?” Their faces a combination of shock, horror and disgust. I looked over and saw a player (I couldn’t tell which one) lying on the floor. Then I see Chane Behanan writhing on the floor. I see Russ Smith, his face frozen in horrified silence.
As medical staff tended to Ware, Louisville coach Rick Pitino and his assistants had to get the players to regain composure. Not only because they had to finish playing the game, but because one of their teammates was seriously hurt. “That’s your teammate over there,” I heard Pitino say to his players. “He wants to talk to you.”
Around that same time, Pitino turned to wipe tears from his eyes. Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski was toeing the mid-court line when Pitino walked toward him. “What happened?” Krzyzewski asked. “He broke his leg,” Pitino replied. Coach K’s face sunk. “I’m sorry,” he replied and both men went back to their benches.
In this moment, I felt I was watching a very classy gesture from Krzyzewski and one of Pitino’s best coaching efforts ever. He had to get his Louisville players back into game mode after watching a gruesome injury that sickened some people who witnessed it.
Once everyone got back into game mode, it was shaping up to be a classic. But Louisville was just too much. They were unstoppable in the second half. I’m not sure anyone can beat them.‘Til We Meet Again
When the game ended and we wrapped up the scripted portion of the night, I took off my headset and exhaled. I was happy, satisfied and a bit drained (more mentally, than anything). But I was filled with a sense of accomplishment and appreciation. No one will ever remember the PA announcer at this event, and that’s fine. But thousands of people will remember this game for years and I can say I played one, small part in it. Without a doubt, I enjoyed the hell out of it.
The 2014 Midwest Regional Championship will be held in Indianapolis again next year. Here’s to hoping I have an opportunity to do this again.