There's something nostalgic about listening to a ball game on the radio.
Over the year's I've somehow managed to memorize most of the radio stations that broadcast college games from Athens to Chapel Hill and from Charleston to Blacksburg.
It might be a Saturday afternoon and I’m listening to Carolina football, driving the back country roads as autumn's leaves swirl behind my speeding SUV. Clemson is scoreless with under two minutes left on the clock; the sunroof is open with nothing but Carolina blue sky overhead. The Carolina fight song is blaring away on the radio and yes it's almost as good as being there, I don’t mean Williams-Brice Stadium, I mean heaven.
The ability of someone 100 or more miles away to convey the emotions and feeling of a game with noting more than his voice is an amazing talent.
I'm a fan of the play by play, it's not that I don't appreciate the color commentary but today all the stats come from a computer screen, and somehow end up being nothing but dry pointless drivel.
But the capacity to describe a ball in flight and the emotion that follows a miracle catch or a stolen base is a talent that lends it's self very well to broadcasting the sport of baseball, football and of course basketball.
Perhaps the most famous play by play is that of Joe Starkey calling a kickoff return during the final seconds of a game between the University of California "CAL", Golden Bears and the Stanford University, Cardinals. Now known as simply as "The Play".
“All right, here we go with the kickoff. Harmon will probably try to squib it and he does. The ball comes loose and the Bears have to get out of bounds. Rodgers is along the sideline, another lateral, they're still in deep trouble at midfield, the ball is still loose as they get it to Rodgers! They get it back now to the 30, they're down to the 20... Oh, the band is out on the field!! He's gonna go into the end zone! He's gone into the end zone!!
..... AND THE BEARS! ..... THE BEARS HAVE WON!
The Bears have won! Oh, my God! The most amazing, sensational, dramatic, heart-rending... exciting, thrilling finish in the history of college football! California has Won the Big Game over Stanford. The Bears have won it! There will be no extra point!"
Even now more than 25 years later, by Joe's words, even without the grainy video you have a sense of how it all unfolded. His words alone still echo the last seconds of that football game back in November 1982.
On Friday evening I shot down the on ramp, pressed the accelerator and watched the speed edge up close to 70 as the North I-26 sign flashed by overhead in the fading light of a spring evening. Heading towards Charlotte, I turned on the radio, poked the scan button and quickly found the Davidson vs. Goliath (AKA Wisconsin) basketball game.
"Curry shoots for 3 its GOOD!, Down the court... Richards steals the ball! Back the other way to Curry in the corner, he’s all by himself. Korbbenhoft sprints for Curry, jumps stumbles Curry shoots 3 points smooth, so smooth. Davidson is up 54 - 45 and there's 13:03 to play, the Wildcat fans are on their feet!"
The next 20 minutes are pure joy listening to the 2008 NCAA Men's Basketball game from the Motor City and the massive Ford Field as Stephen Curry works his magic and places himself firmly in NCAA history.
When Curry left the court for good with 59 seconds on the clock it was to a standing ovation, the entire arena was on their feet. Even the Wisconsin Badger pep section stood acknowledging his greatness.
How do I know? Because of the magic of radio and a voice nearly 900 miles away, while still miles outside of Charlotte on a cool March Evening.
I wonder if this is how it felt to hear the play by play while stationed in post war Germany and listening to the final Yankees vs. Dodgers game during the 1947 World Series. The sound of Seabiscut defeating War Admiral back in 1938 or Roosevelt’s address to the nation after Pearl Harbor.
Radio was all the rage as the technology of the day 60 some years ago. Not surprising is that radio audiences are now markedly small compared to television. The reason is you have to listen and to do so you must be void of chips and beer and idle conversations in the background if you want to “see” the game. Driving in my car is my only refuge of quiet.
And so March Madness continues in 2008 when on Sunday at 5PM Davidson takes on Kansas.
Do you care to guess where I'll be?
Why.... sitting in front of a 50 inch flat screen with the rest of America of course!
Go Wildcats and thank you radio!