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The Hoos, Radio Daze and a Special Day

Another game, another nail-biter. Virginia Tech engaged in another of its stock in trade during this 2006 basketball season, the close game. Unhappily, the ball bounced the other way this time, allowing the Hoos to pick up a second close win over Tech in as many tries. This communication takes a look at that, along with a milestone reached by a legendary ACC radio guy and another famous birthday. In about that order.

Tech losing to the Hoos in basketball is certainly nothing new. The Hoos have dominated since 1979 when Ralph Sampson matriculated at Mr. Jefferson’s University. That, combined with the Hoos enjoying a long-term and stable membership in the ACC while Tech bounced in and out of a variety of leagues, enabled the Jeffersons to establish dominance in what had been a very spirited and close rivalry. Tech looked to finally throw in the towel during what is acknowledged as the Lost Years, otherwise known as the Ricky Stokes era, while the Hoos attempted to compensate for their built-in advantages by hiring Pete Gillen, but for the most part, the Hoos have won over the last two decades-plus a heck of a lot more than has Tech. That is likely to continue.

In Fallback Dave, the Hoos appear to have a coach who actually knows what he is doing. The Gillenization of the program appeared to be complete by the time Petey was escorted off the Grounds by Hoo AD Craig ‘I’m Calling Tubby’ Littlepage. While Petey’s former assistant Skip Prosser appears to be attempting to keep Petey’s spirit alive at Wake, Fallback Dave has proceeded to put together a fairly decent team out of the wreckage. He also has displayed an ability to beat Tech, always a good way to gain popularity in Hooville.

The strength of this depleted Tech team is its guards. The Hoos have slightly better ones. That, and the ability of Fallback Dave to change defenses enough to keep Seth and the Tech team off balance has resulted in two Hoo wins this year. Oh, well. I doubt many Hokies would trade the smackdown Frank administered to algroh this past year for a basketball win.

The basketball future looks pretty bright in Hooville. Next year the John Paul Jones arena will open for business. It is a magnificent structure that will prove to be a recruiting magnet. A first class, state-of-the-art facility will be a much easier sell to prep hotshots than the one employed by Seth: “Come to Tech and watch outside the door at how well our football players are treated.” It had been hoped that the Hoos would negate the advantage of their new arena by keeping Petey around, but, alas, that was not the case. Darn those Hoos for always staying ahead of Tech in basketball.

There was another milestone reached Saturday aside from Tech losing for the last time in U-Haul. Bob Harris, radio play-by-play guy for Duke, called his 1000th Duke basketball game. That is a lot. I have heard a few hundred of them.

I am a radio guy whose FM dial delivers access to the radio networks of Tech, Duke, Carolina and Wake Forest . The Hoo network is available too, but the last time I heard Mac McDonald describing any action it was during his tenure at Wake. When any of those teams are on the tube I invariably turn the television sound down and listen to the radio call. I did just that during Saturday’s Duke-Maryland game. The pre-game ‘Salute to Bob’ that included his calls of all of Duke’s last-second wins contained one that was a bit irritating.

A team’s radio guy is the most personal link a fan has with his team. They always broadcast with a definite awareness of who is signing their checks. Tech’s Bill Roth and Mike Burnop are excellent football broadcasters who are passable in basketball, certainly not as good as the basketball-oriented North Carolina networks. I suspect that has a lot to do with the orientations of their fan bases.

Bill Roth definitely makes you aware of his rooting interest, but does at least make a stab at describing action as he sees it, home team warts and all. He is a consummate professional, as are Wake’s Stan Cotton and NC State’s Gary Hahn, at least during the rare opportunities I have to listen to the Voice of the Wolfpack. All three have very similar deliveries.

That is not the case, however, with the Old North State ’s two broadcasting legends, Duke’s Harris and Woody Durham, Voice of the Tar Heels. To say that both are outrageous homers is understatement on a par with claiming that Hillary Clinton is only a little left of center. The game descriptions rendered by Bob and Woody often bear little resemblance to the game that is being seen. Both go off the deep end as they view games through their respective shades of blue-colored eyes. I love them both.

Both are basketball guys. During Duke football games, Harris sounds bored to tears, not unlike everybody else watching Duke football. When the Devils fall behind by forty or so, which obviously happens quite often, Bob will take to describing how beautiful the Duke campus looks, or how many days are left until basketball season. Woody tries during football games, but, like much of his fan base, he has little knowledge of the sport. These are basketball guys working at places that are passionate about their basketball.

All of those claiming that ACC commish and UNC alum Little Johnny Swofford is running a vast conspiracy to give arch-rival Duke officiating bias should really listen to Bob Harris call a game. According to Bob, each and every game the Blue Devils are faced with having to deal with three referees conducting personal vendettas against Duke and Coach K. Duke broadcasts are Bob pointing out one blown call to Duke’s disadvantage after another, calls so obvious to every sane person that the only explanation, according to Bob, is that the Devils are victims of massive discrimination, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the days of Jim Crow.

Woody is Bob’s equal. In the eyes of Woody, the Tar Heels have never once lost a game in the thirty-five years that he has been calling the action. There have been a few times when Carolina has been on the short end of the score, but, according to Woody, they all were the result of officials stealing what was a rightful win by the Heels. Back during the days of the Great One, Woody would invariably begin his postgame interview with the Legend following a rare Carolina loss with, “Coach Smith, I know you can’t discuss officiating, but have you ever seen worse?” Those believing that the turncoat Little Johnny orders officials to favor Duke have Woody as their spiritual leader. Every single one of those sixteen Duke wins in the last nineteen games against Carolina came from officials handing the game to Duke.

Both are given to a bit of hyperbole, at times straining the limits of credulity. Harris’ enthused screaming about the defensive invincibility of Shelden Williams- “The Landlord collects the rent”- or his gushing over another of JJ’s shots- “How sweet it is”- contain every bit of the hero-worship found in all of those teenage girls professing true love for Redick. Woody has been known to make strong statements, such as his claims a few years ago that Mack Brown had been a mere figurehead at Carolina and the real brains of the operation had been NASCARL Torbush. Woody claimed that with Mack out of the way, Carolina football would really take off. Then there is my personal favorite, Woody’s declaration a few years ago, “I have never felt more secure about the future of Carolina basketball than I do with Matt Doherty at the helm.” Yep, that was certainly the case.

Bob and Woody are great, providing a color to games that cannot be found elsewhere. They have had much to do with the fanatical fan support each school enjoys. They have also been at it a while. Guys latch onto these radio gigs and never let them go until the microphone is pried out of their cold, dead fingers. Bob Harris has been at Duke longer than Coach K, while Woody was on hand describing the action as Dr. Naismith hung up the peach basket. Longtime Maryland voice Johnny Holliday waited impatiently at courtside for Marconi to invent the radio so he could begin broadcasting Terps’ games. The late Jim Phillips of Clemson, one of the all-time greats, called over 2000 Clemson events and came very close to dying behind the mike. I love listening to these guys, even when I don’t share their rooting biases. They make the game far more personal and exciting than the vapid television guys. Congratulations, Bob; hopefully you will call a thousand more Duke games.

While meting out the congratulations, another is due to Coach K on his February 13 birthday. Coach K gets very little attention paid to his special day, mostly because it is lost in the hoopla that surrounds another. It was his misfortune to have been born on Alderson’s Birthday. Coach K is fifty-nine and counts five more birthdays than I. He has also won a few more basketball games. He definitely has more sales receipts for Grecian.

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