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2011-11-16 / Opinion & Columns

FROM THE WRITER’S ROOST

Colleges and TV providing less ‘color’ in football
Willis Webb

Can you keep up with the daily madness that is happening to college football? Over the past few years, we’ve seen conferences and affiliations that several generations grew up with just disappear.

Yeah, I know. I’m an oldtimer, old-fashioned and so set-in-my-ways that some folks call me Gibralter.

I’ve missed the old Southwest Conference since it was dissolved back in the ‘90s. But, at least most of the quality college football programs in Texas stuck together and went into the Big 12 which was the Big 8. Now no one knows from day to day how many teams are going to be in that conference or any other.

Texas A&M is going from the Big 12 to the Southeast Conference (and, that was cut and dried before John Sharp was named A&M chancellor). The SEC is touted as the strongest conference in the country and the last five national champions have come from that alliance.

Can you say “Poooooor Aggies”?

The aforementioned Southwest Conference (SWC) was dissolved in the mid-1990s. We’re about to have high school graduating classes in Texas who probably don’t know it ever existed. But, those youngsters have seen four of the state’s major universities be members of the Big 12, three more in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) and one in Conference USA.

A case can be established that very major college football changes are going to occur at least once a generation. However, the fact of the matter is that money, as in major television contracts, has brought about significant upheaval for the last 20 years. Who’s to say that won’t change every few years as TV viewership coupled with rapidly developing technology could once again lay waste to the collegiate sports scene as the youngest generation knows it today.

In the most stable times of the old SWC, the 1940s, 50s and early 60s, fans who couldn’t attend games “listened” to radio broadcasts on the Humble Oil & Refining Company (now Exxon) football network. Humble-sponsored game broadcasts provided regional coverage to almost every SWC school at some point during the season. The oil company-sponsored airing for years featured great announcer Kern Tips.



TV telecasts took the college football scene by storm beginning in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In order to make the package attractive enough to sponsors and viewers, some former stars and/or coaches were signed to be part of the telecasts. And, some of those broadcaster choices were entertaining, but perhaps not altogether how the networks intended.

I never saw Herman Hickman play or coach but I certainly remember one comment he made during an early telecast.

But, first a little background.

Hickman was an All-American guard at the University of Tennessee, played pro a few years, followed by a fair coaching career, including a stint at Yale.

During a telecast that I happened to catch part of, Hickman was the “color man.” On this particular play, the quarterback dropped back to pass, dodged a couple of tacklers but was finally hemmed in and sacked. Hickman’s comment: “Well, in a sichayshun like that, about all you can do is peel it and eat it.”

Red Grange was an All- American running back at Illinois and was so hard to catch and bring down that he was nicknamed “The Galloping Ghost” by legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice.

His playing greatness landed him a TV broadcast job but nothing could be done about his regional, nasal accent: “We are seeing great kickeen, punteen and passeen...”

Radio and TV sports broadcasting was likely helped along by the fame of guys like Hickman and Grange. While that duo may have been totally devoid of sophistication and great grammar, they brought no small amount of color, and perhaps suspense, to college football broadcasting. Makes current slick announcers seem a little bland.

Today’s college football players are bigger, better and more athletic than Hickman and Grange’s generation, but this era’s sportscasters can’t compare in color and suspense — kickeen and passeen or peel it and eat it.

Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher. He can be reached by email at <wwebb@wildblue.net>.

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