Thanksgiving week is a big one in the world of college football. It’s rivalry week! The Iron Bowl, The Apple Cup, The Game. These are all names that mean something to college football fans, and they are all the names of games being played this week.
We’re celebrating here at BSM with a series of three articles written by Demetri Ravanos, the company’s resident college football fanatic. These articles highlight some of the interesting, “insider-y” aspects of following the sport.
In today’s column, Demetri talks to other sports radio hosts about one of the most influential video games in sports history and how it made them all bigger fans of college football and, in some cases, better broadcasters.
July 9, 2013.
We didn’t know it, but that would be an important date in the personal history of anyone that loves college football and is of a certain age. July 9, 2013 is the date that EA Sports released NCAA Football 14. EA and the NCAA were embroiled in a lawsuit with former college athletes over the unauthorized use of their likenesses in the game series. When the suit was over and the dust was settled, the NCAA pulled its license from EA. Conferences followed. The game was dead.
If you grew up in a college football obsessed part of the country, EA Sports NCAA Football was every bit as important to you as Madden was, if not more so! I can personally tell you that I owned every edition of the game, from 1992’s EA Sports Bill Walsh College Football up to the final edition, which I still play regularly.
I asked three other sports radio hosts to share their experiences with the game. How did it help them understand the sport better? How did they receive each evolution introduced? Here’s what they had to say.
JON LUNCEFORD – JOX 94.5 IN BIRMINGHAM
From the early beginnings of Bill Walsh College Football until the day the game died, the NCAA Football video game series was my connection to the world of college sports as a young, aspiring football player. I never knew if I’d make it to the promised land of real life NCAA Football, but that was always my pathway to the ultimate goal. I was fortunate enough to do so, albeit in Division 3 so I couldn’t have OL #73 in the game, but it then became a true representation of the sport I loved to play.
In college football crazy Alabama, we didn’t care about Madden. We only cared to grab Alabama, Auburn or even UAB or Troy if we wanted a challenge, and take them on the gridiron to prove to our friends why our team and our video game skills were superior. As the game grew, so did the ties to what we all watched on Saturday.
After getting injured on the actual gridiron, I switched my focus from on the field to the broadcast booth. Not long after, names like Kirk Herbstreit, Brad Nessler and Lee Corso were becoming integral to the product – more examples of what I aspired to be in my broadcasting career. I’d find myself even muting them to call the action in a game between two friends, practicing for the day I could do it for real from the press box.
Without the game, we feel an emptiness in a state like Alabama. Playing with Julio Jones and Cam Newton in Madden only gives us a small spark of the same feeling we had growing up. The lines that went around the block to get a game with Mark Ingram on the cover have disappeared. No longer can we get lost in the imagination that we are using our favorite players from Saturday to march down the field in 100,000+ seat stadiums. Maybe one day we’ll be able to recapture that same magic.
JOE OVIES – 99.9 THE FAN IN RALEIGH
To understand the importance of sports video games in the mid-to-late 90s, put yourself in a situation where there are no iPhones, upwards of 10 different ESPN platforms, or conference networks. To regularly “dial up” the internet took serious home tech or attending a college that offered dedicated networks for your frigate class desktop computer. So without YouTube, thousands of websites devoted to college football, and social media, how could a fan deep dive into the sport?
For me, it wasn’t so much using “Bill Walsh College Football” for the Sega Genesis, “NCAA Football ’99’” for Sony PlayStation, or “NCAA College Football 2K2” for Sega Dreamcast to understand play concepts. Those things had been covered by Madden years ago. These games offered me a glimpse of college football culture outside of where I lived. Stadiums, mascots, uniform combinations, recruiting, etc. Stuff you couldn’t get out of a newspaper or primitive America Online sections.
JOSH PACHECO – ESPN 1420 AM IN HONOLULU
“It’s In The Game.”
Count me amongst the thousands that long for the return (hopefully) of the NCAA Football video game franchise from EA Sports and hearing that iconic tag line attached.
I still play video games, sparingly, but only in the sports genre. I’m an avid MLB The Show player and have toyed around in the various NBA titles. But, nothing, not even Madden, came close to the feel and the fun of NCAA Football.
Not only did I spend countless hours in front of my television playing the game, but I also felt compelled to make the game as real as possible. I would spend hours adding real names to the numbers of the players on many of those teams. It just didn’t feel right no intercept a pass from “QB #7.”
And as someone who loved the idea of being a sports broadcaster in school, I constantly had a running play-by-play call in my head (and many times out loud) for every big play. The announcers on the game, as good as they were, weren’t good enough for me. I wanted to be like them and feel like I was in their shoes, too.
Maybe more important was the game better represented the feel and passion that college football on campus provides, whether you are watching on television or experiencing it in person. This experience was even better than what Madden did at the time to replicate the NFL atmosphere. In radio play-by-play, “painting the picture” is essential to give the listener the full experience of what is going on. EA Sports showed that even though you could SEE the game through the eyes of the player or team you were controlling, you could still paint that picture through the finer details with fight songs, mascots, and more.
NCAA football from EA Sports didn’t just make me feel like I was playing a video game. It made me feel like I was experiencing something new every time I turned my game system on. That’s what I try to relate every time I call a game.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.