This month’s column will be on sports. No, not like Tom Boswell, Michael Wilbon or Tony Kornheiser. Well, maybe a little like Kornheiser.
Did you ever have the opportunity to wake up in the morning and be able to do something so different from your everyday life that you say to yourself, “I can’t believe I’m actually doing this!”
Such was the case with me for a few football seasons when I became the “mouth of the Maroon.” The Episcopal High School football team in Alexandria had never had a public address announcer until my predecessor, who only called a few games. A hidebound, traditional program, it was all old-school, all the time. I visited him in the booth one game and thought to myself, “Hey, I could do this.” So, at the start of the next season, I did.
I decided at the outset that I would try to bring some color to the job. I added music, beginning each game with the theme from Monday Night Football, and playing some rock ‘n roll at halftime.
What got me in hot water with the head coach, though, were mostly extemporaneous proclamations. I called them head-snappers, as in when I made a comment, the coach’s head would snap around to glare at me. This, alas, became a theme throughout my P.A. career at EHS.
Every game announcer needs a spotter, the person with the binocs who tells you who made the tackle and how many yards were gained. For this vital job, I tapped Page, one of my oldest friends and an EHS alum. Bad choice. The uber-laconic Page is the last person you’d want in the position of urgently transferring information. After many a play, I was left hanging without being able to announce the specifics. After almost every game, I would bark, “Page, you’re fired,” which would be answered by a sly smile.
I set the tone during our first game against Bishop Ireton. The September weather was hot and humid and the players were dropping like flies with leg cramps. At the end of the half, I announced, “The first half has been brought to you by Gatorade and Alexandria Hospital’s emergency room.” A head snapper if there ever was one.
One of the most fun themes I had was using players’ names to make little statements. For example, when a defensive back named Johnny Bond would make a play, I would invariably bark in my best Sean Connery imitation, “Tackle by Bond. Johnny Bond.” Then there was a kid named Buck Armstrong whose name sounded like a cowboy’s. “Catch made by Buck Armstrong out of Austin, Texas!”
Being the P.A. guy was a bully pulpit. I’d spot old friends in the crowd and say random things about them: “Episcopal High School would like to extend a special welcome to the Ravenels, former ‘Parents of the Year.’” Or, “Episcopal High School welcomes Sweet Swingin’ Charlie McLendon.” Charlie was anything but a sweet swinger of the golf club. I just thought it was a cool nickname.
My biggest head-snapper was in a game against Collegiate, which featured Russell Wilson, future NFL superstar. An EHS receiver, who himself went on to the NFL, was having a big day. After his sixth catch for a long touchdown, I yelled, “Put that boy on restriction. He’s smokin’!”
That one precipitated an emergency meeting with the coach later that week. A Collegiate mom, who was a friend, didn’t speak to me for years. We can now laugh about it. Sort of.
To this day, people think I got fired. Not so. I decided to retire when the coach moved on to another job so as not to be a distraction to the incoming regime. It had nothing to do with hitting the wrong button on my iPhone in an attempt to play the National Anthem and, instead, playing “Hurts So Good” by John Mellencamp.
Rob Whittle is CEO of Williams Whittle Advertising and is the author of two historical novels, “Pointer’s War” and “Pointer and the Russian.”