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Anatomy of a Broadcaster

Anatomy of a Broadcaster: Mark Jones

“My early memory of Jones is when he hosted the weekly NBA show, The NBA Today on ESPN. He would end the show by shooting an imaginary basketball and holding the pose of the follow through as the studio lights went down.”

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A fixture around ESPN and now ABC since the early 1990’s, Mark Jones is still going strong at the “World Wide Leader”. Recently the Toronto native signed a multi-year contract extension, which will keep him calling a variety of sports, including the NBA and College Football, for the network. Jones was named as the Sacramento Kings main television play-by-play announcer in 2020 and calls games on NBC Sports California. 

Mark Jones is a former basketball player himself. He attended York University and led the school to three Ontario Universities Athletics Association (OUAA) Championships. York won the title in 1981, 1984 and 1985. During his career, Jones was one of the top players in the OUAA, earning conference second-team all-star honors in 1984 and 1985. In 1986, he finished his career with a first-team all-star nod. Jones still ranks in the program’s top five all-time in total assists and steals. He was inducted into York’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2016. 

ROAD TO ESPN AND LIFE AT ESPN

Jones’ broadcasting career began at TSN, which is basically Canada’s ESPN. How he got there had everything to do with his own basketball career. His final collegiate game was televised on TSN and he was interviewed after the game by Peter Watts. Jones tells the story during a chat with The Basketball Writers in 2020. 

“I asked Mr. Watts, the guy who interviewed me, “Do you have any jobs for students or soon to be grads? Because I’m pretty well versed in sports, and I’ll do anything you need me to do.”

He said, ‘Young Mr. Jones, call me on Monday morning.’ So, Monday morning at nine o’clock. I called Peter Watts.” Jones recalled.  

“He arranged an interview with one of the producers who was doing the hiring, and literally a week later, they told me to show up and I had my first job in television, right after stepping off the basketball court. So, a week after finishing my basketball career at York I was working at TSN as an editorial assistant. That meant watching as many as two or three games at once—whether it was an NBA game, a baseball game or a hockey game—and logging all the crucial points in those respective games. I was then making up a highlight package when the night was done, writing a script to each package and giving it to the anchor.”

After rising from editorial assistant to field reporter to hosting a Blue Jays magazine show to the main anchor, Jones wanted more. He put together a tape, hired an agent and got offers from a few places.  After getting a contract offer from the NBC affiliate in Chicago, he flew to the Windy City ready to finalize a deal with WMAQ-TV. 

“The next morning my agent calls me and says, ‘Mark, we’re not going to sign with Chicago.’ And I thought, ‘Wow, what happened? Did they pull the deal, Lou, what’s going on?’ And he said, ‘No, ESPN and ABC want to talk to you before you sign anything. They’ve seen your tape too.’ Jones started at ESPN in 1990 and is still there, going strong. 

AS A BROADCASTER

My early memory of Jones is when he hosted the weekly NBA show, The NBA Today on ESPN. He would end the show by shooting an imaginary basketball and holding the pose of the follow through as the studio lights went down. It always struck me has hokey, I’m not sure why. But I guess it makes sense now realizing that he was a good basketball player in his college days. 

I have to admit, Mark Jones isn’t one of my favorite announcers on ESPN/ABC. There is something about his style that just doesn’t register with me. Sometimes I feel like he tries to be too cool, too smooth, too caught up in catchphrases instead of the game. 

“He’s hotter than fish grease”, “He’s deep in his bag” and “put some muscle on the hustle” are just some of the phrases he’ll yell out. Maybe I’m old school (that hurts to even say) and would be fine with just a person that calls the game at a high level. 

To be fair to Mark Jones, this is where I tell you to remember that this business we’ve chosen is highly subjective. 

Jones, though will come up with a one-liner from time to time that makes everyone smile. Usually the reference is pop-culture related. Case in point during a recent Kings/Spurs game, he witnessed a tremendous layup by Kevin Huerter, faking out two Spurs defenders out of their shorts. Upon seeing the play, he blurted out: 

“Oh, Huerter put them on a flight like an IG model. Kevin Huerter with a fake of all fakes.”

Even Huerter himself didn’t really get the reference, judging by his Tweet, he may not have understood, but he liked it. 

Look, you don’t last as long as he has at ESPN, if he didn’t have talent. I’m not really debating that. I’m simply saying I would rather hear the game called, with the proper amount of excitement, which he provides, without all the extra. In listening back to a few halves of some NBA games from last season, it’s clear that Jones calls a good game. I know that he knows what he’s doing. Again, the word “solid” comes to mind. 

DID YOU KNOW?

Mark Jones is the younger brother of Paul Jones, the radio play-by-play voice of the Toronto Raptors.

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Anatomy of a Broadcaster

Anatomy of an Analyst: Kurt Warner

Warner has shown the ability to be versatile as well. He’s been in the studio, in the booth on television and also on radio. That’s not an easy trifecta to pull off by anyone.

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Kurt Warner was the engineer of the “Greatest Show on Turf” in their glory days in St. Louis. He became a Superbowl MVP and two-time NFL Most Valuable Player. He took the Walter Payton “Man of the Year” honors as well. Oh, and he was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017. Not bad for a guy that was stocking shelves at a local Hy-Vee grocery store in Iowa while waiting for an NFL opportunity. Warner is the living embodiment of the rags to riches cliché.

Warner was born in Burlington, Iowa. He played football at Regis High School in Cedar Rapids, graduating in 1989. From there, Warner attended the University of Northern Iowa, where he was third on the Panthers’ depth chart until his senior year. When Warner was finally given the chance to start, he was named the Gateway Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year and first-team all-conference.

But Warner’s story almost never happened. After Northern Iowa, he was cut by two teams in the mid-’90’s. He then left the grocery store business in 1995, when the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena Football league, signed him to a contract. Warner led the Barnstormers to two Arena Bowl berths and was named to the first team All-Arena in 1996 and 1997.

The story of perseverance was going to be tested again after he was given another shot at the NFL in 1998 with the Rams. But the rest, as they say, is history.

NFL CAREER

In 1994, Warner went undrafted and was invited to try out for the Green Bay Packers in training camp. He was released before the regular season began. Warner returned to UNI as a graduate assistant, still hoping to get another tryout in the NFL.

In 1998 the Rams signed Warner as a free agent. They allocated him to the European Football League where he played for the Amsterdam Admirals. Warner led the EFL in passing yards and touchdowns in 1998.

Still nothing was guaranteed for him. In 1999 the Rams left him unprotected for the Expansion Draft to stock the Cleveland Browns. He went unclaimed. So, he stayed with the Rams and began the ’99 season as the team’s second-string quarterback. Following an injury to veteran quarterback Trent Green, who would miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL, Warner was named the starter. Then Rams coach Dick Vermeil said in a press conference following the injury, “We will rally around Kurt Warner, and we’ll play good football.” Truer words may have never been spoken.

Warner made the most of the opportunity and became THE story in the NFL. With Warner at QB, the Rams explosive offense scored 526 points. Warner passed for a league-leading 41 TDs and was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player that year as the Rams posted a 13-3 record. The team capped the improbable season with a 23-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV. Warner set a Super Bowl record with 414 passing yards and threw a pair of touchdowns to lead the Rams to their first Super Bowl title and was named the game’s MVP.

He recorded another MVP season two years later when he brought the Rams back to the Super Bowl. This time they came up short 20-17 to the Patriots.

In the offseason of 2004, the Rams released Warner. 2 days later he signed a deal to play for the Giants. He started that season as the number one quarterback, but following a two-game losing streak, he lost the job to rookie Eli Manning.

Warner would then sign a one-year deal with the Cardinals and became the starter. After an up and down couple of years, Warner once again was the starting quarterback and made a third trip to the Super Bowl, the first ever appearance in Cardinals history. Warner threw for 377 yards and 3 TDs in a tough loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII.

A couple of years later, in January of 2010, Warner announced his retirement from the NFL.

BROADCASTING CAREER

Immediately after his retirement, Warner already had two offers from television networks. Warner said he’d basically had conversations with every network before making his choices. He joined both the NFL Network and Fox Sports in 2010. He worked as an analyst for the NFL Network and was in a booth for Fox as a game analyst with either Chris Rose or Chris Myers to call regional games.

In 2011 Warner signed an exclusive deal with NFLN, leaving his other part-time gig with Fox.

During the football season, Warner joins Rich Eisen, Steve Mariucci, and Michael Irvin on NFL GameDay Morning, the network’s Sunday Morning pregame show. He can also be seen as a regular contributor throughout the week on NFL Total Access.

Warner is also given the opportunity to work from the booth multiple times a year. He’s mainly paired with Eisen on these telecasts.

He added another gig a few years ago. After many attempts to lure Warner to Westwood One’s broadcast booth full-time, the network landed him and made him the new lead color analyst for Monday Night Football and the Super Bowl, starting with the 2018-19 NFL season.

While Warner loves his studio work immensely, there’s something about being at the game that excites the former player.

“I love being on the field before the game, talking to the players, taking in the atmosphere and the energy of the fans,” Warner told NFL.com in 2018. “I love the story of the Xs and Os. On radio, I’m sharing what I’m seeing and how I view the game.”

He’ll continue in his dual role and will be on the call for Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas.

AS AN ANALYST

I really enjoy Kurt Warner’s work. He presents a no nonsense, authoritative ,yet friendly demeanor on air. Warner has the credentials in the league to be a guy that could be someone that talks down to the audience, but he’s quite the opposite. He has the ability to talk. By that I mean he’s smooth when it comes to making a point, or analyzing a play. Warner’s thoughts come across energetically in a manner that is extremely clear and on point. He’s smart, comfortable on camera and has that ability to break down the game in a way that’s understandable for die-hard and casual football fans.

You can tell that there’s a chemistry on NFL GameDay Morning. These guys, Rich Eisen, Steve Mariucci, Michael Irvin and Warner present themselves as guys that actually like each other.

“When you watch us, you feel like you’re hanging with a bunch of guys in a living room who are talking football and having a good time,” Warner told NFL.com in 2018.

Warner has shown the ability to be versatile as well. He’s been in the studio, in the booth on television and also on radio. That’s not an easy trifecta to pull off by anyone. The constant reps he gets on the Monday Night radio broadcasts certainly go a long way in building confidence in his other roles along the way.

He doesn’t take himself too seriously at times either. Warner isn’t afraid to poke a little fun at himself.  Warner recently went viral for a response to a Steelers fan proclaiming the James Harrison interception return for a touchdown of Warner in Super Bowl XLIII as the best play in Super Bowl history. Warner saw that post on social media and politely disagreed with that fan’s opinion. With a repost, simply saying “Kind of depends on who you ask!!!!”

DID YOU KNOW?

Kurt Warner had a movie made about his life called “American Underdog”.

On August 30, 2010, it was announced on live television that Warner would be appearing as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars. His professional dance partner was Anna Trebunskaya; the couple was eliminated in week 8.

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Anatomy of a Broadcaster

Anatomy of a Broadcaster: Rece Davis

“There’s a likeability factor, his words, his information and his general comfort on the air lends itself to being a fan of Davis’”

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Chances are good if you turned on a TV during College Bowl season, Rece Davis appeared on your screen. Davis has been a mainstay on ESPN for over 25 years working in various roles for the network. He has done everything from hosting FIFA World Cup shows, to horse racing. From Auto Racing to College Football and basketball.

Davis raised his profile in 2015, when he signed a big extension to stay at the World Wide Leader. His portfolio added College GameDay, taking over as the host of the crazy road show for Chris Fowler, with Kirk Herbstreit, Pat McAfee and Lee Corso. He also took over hosting duties for premier events on both ESPN and ABC, like the College Football Playoff National Championship, the NFL Draft on ABC, the NBA Draft on ESPN and the NCAA Men’s Final Four. As if those assignments weren’t enough, he also does some play-by-play for college football and basketball.

“I don’t think of my job as being hard. I know I’m the luckiest guy around. When you never feel as if you go to work, it’s really easy and fun to do the homework.” Davis recently signed a new extension to remain in the spotlight.

Davis was born in Chicago, but grew up in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and calls it home. He attended and graduated from the University of Alabama in 1988.

ROAD TO ESPN/GAMEDAY

Davis worked as a freelance television play-by-play announcer, studio host, and radio personality in select media outlets throughout the state, while a student at Alabama. In 1987, Davis began working as a general assignment reporter for WCFT-TV in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

After graduating from Alabama, Davis served until 1993 in various positions at WRBL in Columbus, Georgia. There he worked as a sports reporter, the lead weekend news anchor, and later as WRBL’s sports director.

Davis left Georgia for Flint, Michigan, to begin working as a sports anchor and reporter at WJRT-TV. In March he left Flint for Bristol and began working for ESPN2 and the program SportSmash, where he provided five-minute reports on sports news and scores.

Davis hosted ESPN2’s NBA 2Night in 1996 and 1997. From 1997 through 1999, he served as studio host of ESPN2’s weekend RPM 2Night and Sunday morning RPM 2Day programs. He went on to anchor the program SportsCenter and frequently gave the “Extra Point” report on The Dan Patrick Show on ESPN Radio. He also sat in occasionally for Patrick as a guest host.

WHY IS HE GOOD

Davis is extremely smooth. I know a lot of studio hosts are, but many of them never leave the studio. He’s out on the road with GameDay every week, amongst huge throngs of somewhat sober college students and fans. The scene is wild and filled with clever signs and loud cheers and boos.

To a broadcaster, things never sound as good out of the studio as they do inside the four walls of the broadcast facility. To be able to be that composed, smooth and polished as Davis is, it’s not easy to accomplish. Things tend to go wrong during live ‘remote’ shows and it takes a real pro to be able to both cover these up and make it appear seamless to the viewer.

There is an ease about him on the air. Don’t misconstrue this as being soft or boring. Davis is a very comfortable watch, and by this, I mean, he’s not in your face, but he’s not making you drift off into space. It’s down the middle, with energy and that’s a great thing to have. There’s a likeability factor, his words, his information and his general comfort on the air lends itself to being a fan of Davis’.

No matter who he’s working with, it always seems like Davis and that individual have a great rapport. Like a manager in baseball, the host of the show needs to know what makes each of their analyst’s great. Trying to get the best out of each of them makes the studio show work well and reflects kindly on the host. There is a great sense of comradery on the set, that feeling really allows everyone to be themselves, knowing each has the other’s back. 

The people on the set become like family when a show is really working. Davis was visibly saddened when David Pollack became one of the network’s budget cut casualties. Pollack tweeted a video about his exit. Davis then ‘quote-tweeted’ with some of his own thoughts.

“Class personified,” Davis wrote. “I’ve joked for years that @davidpollack47 is the little brother I never wanted. Truth is, he’s as good a man & as good a friend as I could’ve ever hoped for. 

“He’s a brother to me for life. He’s a man of God. A selfless teammate, an exemplary family man,” with Davis also adding in a reply to the tweet that it was a “tough day.” Those sentiments were heartfelt and honest. No fluff here, showing exactly why people enjoy working with him at ESPN.

What is also not underrated, is Davis’ sense of humor is also not underrated. Keeping things light without intruding on the broadcast is a skill most don’t possess. Some hosts may be funnier, but not too many have that sense of timing. When to go for the laugh and when to let it go is an art form. The laughter on set is natural, because you never really know when Davis will spring the one liner on the audience and panel. 

For example, last weekend, the GameDay crew threw it to Ryan Seacrest in New York, to promote his Dick Clark’s Rockin New Year’s Eve with Ryan Seacrest on New Year’s Eve. Seacrest, a Georgia alum, said he was, “stoked that my ‘Dawgs are facing the undefeated ‘Noles.”

When Seacrest threw it back to Davis in the studio, Davis used it as a “booking” opportunity to get Seacrest on College GameDay next season. Davis said, “Happy New Year, Ryan. If you really love the ‘Dawgs, you’ll accept an invitation to be the celebrity guest picker on College GameDay one week.” Well played. Davis wouldn’t give up. A few moments later, while chatting with Desmond Howard, Davis said, “Ryan Seacrest, noted Georgia fan. Desmond, it would be great to have him as a guest picker sometime, wouldn’t it?” To which Howard replied, “Absolutely. One hundred percent. We need to get him.”

Good stuff.

DID YOU KNOW?

Davis was named as an outstanding alumnus of the University of Alabama’s School of Communication and Information Sciences in 2001.

Davis told the ACC Network recently about the conversation he had with former ESPN VP of talent Al Jaffe in 1994 and where Davis was when he had that first chat. He relayed the story he was in Columbus, Ohio, interviewing for a job at the ABC affiliate there. He said he talked to Jaffe from a pay phone in the parking lot of a Wendy’s.

“Al said if you want this job, don’t take that one. Put them off,” Davis said. Rece added that he was able to delay the process in Columbus for a little bit after that conversation, long enough to eventually get offered the position with ESPN. “It was a really great moment,” he said. “It was remarkable.”

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Anatomy of a Broadcaster

Anatomy of an Analyst: Kirk Herbstreit

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A photo of Kirk Herbstreit
(Photo: ESPN Images)

Kirk Herbstreit is one of the most recognizable college football analysts in the game. Herbstreit is the game analyst for ABC Saturday Night Football, he’s been there since its debut in 2006.

Currently, Herbstreit is paired with announcer Chris Fowler, but at the beginning, he shared the booth with the legendary Brent Musburger. Herbstreit has been a mainstay on the College GameDay show on ESPN since 1996 as well.

But a year or so ago, Kirk Herbstreit became even more visible in NFL circles. Even after he and Fowler added some NFL games to their resumes for ABC/ESPN, Herbstreit’s role in the NFL recently increased in a big way last year when he was tabbed to analyze Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime Video.

Kirk Herbstreit built up his credibility in the college football world, by actually playing it at a high level. He was a four-year letterman at Ohio State and the first signee of former coach John Cooper. He was a quarterback on the Buckeyes team from 1989-1992. Herbstreit had to wait his turn, but when it finally came, he took advantage.

During his senior season in 1992, he served as a starter and team captain, and was recognized as team MVP and most motivational player. Herbstreit passed for nearly 2,000 yards that season and led the Buckeyes to a bowl game. They would lose the Citrus Bowl to Georgia.

ROAD TO SATURDAY NIGHT COLLEGE FOOTBALL/THURSDAY NIGHT NFL

Kirk Herbstreit initially broke into the sports media field by hosting local sports talk radio shows in the Columbus area. In 1995, Herbstreit joined ESPN as a college football sideline analyst. Then just a year later he started appearing on College GameDay. Receiving many accolades for his work on the show, he got a chance to get into the booth in 1999. That’s when he joined the network’s Thursday night college football broadcast, calling games with Mike Tirico.

Then in 2006, Herbstreit started working Saturday Night Football on ABC. He called eight Rose Bowl Games and seven BCS National Championships alongside legendary play-by-play announcer Brent Musburger. He now works the Saturday games with Chris Fowler where the two have teamed up to work a College Football Playoff Semifinal game and the College Football National Championship. They both added NFL duties to their resumes during the 2020 season.

Last March, Herbstreit became a very busy guy. He was announced as the new color commentator for Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime Video with Al Michaels. Also last year, Herbstreit agreed to an extension of his contract with ESPN to allow him to continue on GameDay, Saturday Night Football, and the NFL Draft, to go along with his new NFL duties for Amazon.

That double duty had to take a bit of a toll on him. That is three high-level positions that each require attention to detail and lots and lots of preparation. Herbstreit promises this year he’s going to take it a little easier. He’s had a year to get to know the ins and outs of the NFL and has created a nice chemistry with Michaels and the crew on TNF.

Before this season started, Kirk Herbstreit was asked about how he’ll approach this year as opposed to last. His comments appeared in the New York Post in August.

“I’m gonna chill,” Herbstreit said. “Last year, I know I was taking on something that was kind of unprecedented, really, doing an NFL game on a Thursday and then doing a three-hour ‘College GameDay’ studio show at a national level, and then calling a Saturday night game. There’s a lot of preparation.”

A year of doing the “tripleheader”, Herbstreit realized the importance of time management and taking some “me” time too.

“The execution of the actual job and those three gigs for me is fun, if I’ve done my prep, and I’ve built my entire career on being prepared, and having all the answers, and what I learned is I didn’t get to go to dinner with Al, Kaylee [Hartung] and our entire crew enough,” Herbstreit told The Post. “Or just go get a workout. I cannot tell you how much I prepared, because I didn’t want to let anyone down, including myself.”

HERBSTREIT/CONTROVERSY

Just Google, “Herbstreit, controversial comments” and get ready to spend some time looking at articles. It seems to me that most of the time he’s saying something controversial, it is because he loves the game of football so much. That passion makes him passionate and sometimes emotional. It’s raw commentary, coming from the heart, but it’s unfiltered which opens him up to criticism from time to time.

This passion comes out in every broadcast, whether it’s on the set of GameDay or in a booth as a game analyst. Make no mistake, Kirk Herbstreit will tell you what he thinks. His words can stir up emotions in others, like coaches and fan bases. He delivers his commentary without worrying about how they may or may not be taken.

One example of such commentary, on New Year’s Day in 2022, Herbstreit made some strong statements on players who don’t compete in their team’s bowl game, because they don’t mean anything.

“What’s the difference as a player when saying these games are ‘meaningless’ when, Des (Desmond Howard), we played in ‘meaningless’ games,” Herbstreit said. “I mean, I know you guys were here a lot. I just don’t understand. If you don’t make it to the playoff, how is it meaningless to play football and compete? Isn’t that what we do as football players? We compete?” Herbstreit said. “I don’t know if changing it or expanding it is going to change anything. I really don’t. I just think this era of player just doesn’t love football.”

Of course, that sparked a heated debate on social media. Some fans agree and think players need to be thankful they can play another game. Others think players having agency over their own futures is a good thing. It prompted Herbstreit to clarify his position on social media that same day.

“Just wanted to clarify some of my comments from earlier today. Of course, some players love the game the same today as ever,” he wrote on then Twitter. “But some don’t. I’ll always love the players of this game and sorry if people thought I generalized or lumped them all into one category.”

Polarizing, or controversial thoughts aren’t always a bad thing in sports. They certainly grab headlines, get attention, and get people talking on both sides of the issue. But, if you’re going to make the statements, you have to own them and at times walk them back. Herbstreit does.

WHY IS HE SO GOOD

I’ve already mentioned one of Herbstreit’s best qualities and that’s his passion for the sport. Any play-by-play announcer will tell you that an analyst who loves the sport he’s calling makes for a great broadcast. Herbstreit combines a knowledge of the teams he’s calling and an ability to make sense of things that take place during the game. Not every former player has that ability.

Kirk Herbstreit is a guy that fans either seem to like or really do not like. While he may come across as a little cocky at times, I don’t think he really acts like the all-knowing analyst he’s accused of being by some. I’m a fan of the way he teaches the game and goes in-depth on plays that happened. There is nothing ‘routine’ about the way Herbstreit calls a game. If you’re expecting the same ‘run of the mill’ commentary or answers, you’ll be disappointed. Viewers aren’t though, because Herbstreit deals in reality and if it’s a bad play, he’s going to tell you and explain why.

He and Chris Fowler are a great team, each gets the best out of the other. I’ve enjoyed watching Herbstreit with Michaels as well. It can be intimidating for an analyst to work with a long-time, big-name play-by-play guy, but he elevates to the occasion. You can hear the enjoyment, even when he’s being critical, from Herbstreit during a game broadcast. A play-by-play announcer can feed off of that energy in trying to match it. When the analyst takes it to the next level, the PBP announcer will as well. That makes for a great partnership and broadcast.

DID YOU KNOW

Herbstreit met his wife Alison at Ohio State, where she was a cheerleader. They were married in 1998 and have four sons.

Herbstreit was featured prominently in How We Lookin’?, a documentary about the life and career of longtime Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman.

He will be inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame this winter for his broadcasting of the game. Kirk Herbstreit never got a chance to play in the game, he will be calling his 16th Rose Bowl Game, which is the most ever, coming up on January 1st, 2024.

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