The Voices of Autumn
Next weekend, television sets will click on and radio dials adjusted, fans will don their school colors, and a new season of college football will be beamed across the country to the masses. College football is like an old friend, declaring the end to the dog days of summer and ushering in the crisp air and long shadows of fall. The voices calling these games have framed many a experiences for fans. Unless you are the lucky few to find yourself in the stadium come gameday, each play carries the narration of the play by play broadcaster. Over the years, college football has been home to many.
After the end of college football’s regular season last November, Verne Lundquist retired. Lundquist had called the main CBS game since 2000. “Uncle Verne” called games like a man relaxing on his porch, cheerfully sipping a cocktail. The game never ceased to authentically surprise him. The SEC’s rise to the nation’s superpower football conference was called largely by Lundquist. He was there for a quintessential Les Miles game, as Miles kept going for it on 4th down after 4th down in a game winning drive against Florida. He was there for both Auburn miracles in 2013, the deflected touchdown to beat Georgia, and the legendary and pandemonium inducing “Kick Six” to beat top ranked and undefeated Alabama. His calls were purely authentic and simple.
A decade earlier, another broadcasting legend, Keith Jackson retired. Jackson, for many years, was the voice of college football. He combined folksy verbiage with a matter of fact style and rhythmic cadence which can never be duplicated. I’ve listed a few of his more memorable phrases below, for your enjoyment and my own.
“With nary a whisper of dissent, these are the two best teams in the country.”
“We’ve had all the romance, now let’s find out if she can dance.”
“If you were a lonely soul, out on the hallway with only the coyote’s howling and you heard that comment, you would know it came from a quarterback.”
“Goodbye….and hello Heisman!”
“Without a posse, how do you stop him?”
“It’s a hot night in Palouse country, and the party is just beginning.”
Jackson was the reason that Michigan Stadium is called “The Big House”, and became so synonymous with Michigan football that there is over a ten minute compilation on YouTube of Jackson just calling Michigan games. He is also the reason the Rose Bowl is referred to as “The Granddaddy of Them All”.
He retired in 1998, his last game a flag filled and disjointed National Championship game between Florida State and Tennessee. He returned the following fall, teaming with Dan Fouts and calling almost exclusively Pac 10 football, giving him the chance to call the games of his alma mater, Washington State University. He retired permanently in 2006, fittingly, after likely the greatest game ever played, when Texas stopped the dominant USC dynasty at the Rose Bowl.
Another longtime voice is retiring after the 2017 season. Bob Rondeau has been calling Washington Huskies football games for 37 years. His voice, refined and clear, has boomed across the waters of Lake Washington for decades. He was concise “Touchdown Washington” was his most famous call, nothing more) and always impeccably prepared.
Growing up in the Seattle area, with the Washington program banned from television due to dubious sanctions in the mid 90’s, Rondeau’s voice was the voice of crisp autumn days. He was there when they won Rose Bowls and National Championships under Don James, there for the slow decline under Rick Neuheisel and endured the 0-12 season under Tyrone Willingham. Rondeau rarely let the misery of watching the proud program fall apart in front of sparse crowds get to him, except for an occasional sardonic and disgusted “Ohhhh My” after another opposing touchdown.
Rondeau, like any fan of Husky football in its glory days, loved defense. He’d enjoy a 42-35 shootout victory, but the extra edge would find its way into his voice when the Husky defense would dominate an opponent. Washington’s rise back to prominence, once again led by a fast and violent defense, is a fitting bookend to his career.
With Rondeau retiring, his replacement will likely be a polished young individual from a massive broadcasting company. There are plenty of fine commentators on television and radio, but very few are young. The vast majority of them have made their way by being utterly indistinguishable. Rondeau’s longtime colleague from across the state, Bob Robertson, retired from play by play work for Washington State after 46 years. In a clumsy transition, he was eventually replaced by a young, confident play by play man who sounds like every other announcer in the country. Booths become increasingly homogenized, and the distinct voices who have shaped college football for decades continue to ride off into the sunset. Voices like Jackson, Rondeau, Musburger, Robertson and Lundquist understood the poetry of the game of football. Calling games with brevity and personality. One can only hope the next generation of broadcasters distinguishes themselves similarly.