‘Picture your radio dial as the football field,” the announcer would say — and so we did.
Action went left to right or right to left as our radios took us to crowded stadiums we had never seen in person, cheering for football teams we had never seen play, enraptured by colorful announcers whose voices were our season tickets.
In an era before ESPN and its band of good-haired broadcasters, play-by-play men were as familiar as the bulldog that prances along the sideline at Sanford Stadium or the eagle that soars above Jordan-Hare. These distinctive voices were as important to their teams as the coaches.
Every school had its own.
Georgia had Bill Munday, then Ed Thilenius and finally the irreplaceable Larry Munson. Auburn had Jim Fyffe. Alabama had John Forney, then Eli Gold. LSU had John Ferguson. South Carolina had Bob Fulton. Tennessee had John Ward. Florida had Otis Boggs and now Mick Hubert. Ole Miss had Stan Torgeson, and Mississippi State had Jack Cristil.
But the voice that was my eyes and ears was Al Ciraldo. His wasn’t the clearest voice, and you wouldn’t call him a poet. His gifts were the enthusiasm that oozed from the radio, his rhythmic patter and signature phrases that flowed from his microphone for 38 seasons of Georgia Tech football and basketball.
“Toe meets leather,” kicked off every game, and if the score was close, “Brother and Sister, we’ve got a barnburner.” His basketball jargon influenced the way I watched a game. When a player brought the ball up-court, he crossed the timeline. Hit a basket, and it was guut. Not good, but guut.
I was often his halftime or pre-game guest. The first time we talked, I found myself lapsing into my own version of Ciraldo.
My circle of friends all did Ciraldo. One of them did Al Ciraldo broadcasting the JFK funeral. When former Tech basketball captain Pres Judy married, we did Ciraldo as the play-by-play announcer for his nuptials.
Ciraldo died in 1997, so a generation of listeners knows nothing about him or his press box peers. They have missed some genuine characters.
He’s not forgotten though. Ciraldo has been tabbed for the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame and the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. He’s a worthy inductee to both bodies.
His profession has changed dramatically. A simple ballgame is a 10-hour radio event. Pre-game shows begin at dawn and post-game broadcasts continue into the night. Georgia games require a nine-man team of voices — and that doesn’t count the technicians.
Colleges hire the same companies to organize their networks, insuring the blandness and sameness of a chain restaurant. The voices are sterile and the blow-dry styles are straight out of the ESPN handbook. Gone is hometown charm and color.
Pardon me for remembering a friend. Pardon me for acknowledging Al Ciraldo’s entry into these halls of fame.
To me, this is guut.