I had the pleasure of catching up with Kevin Harlan today as he was preparing to fly to Los Angeles for TNT’s coverage of the Lakers/Spurs game on Thursday night ahead of flying to Dallas for this little thing called the Super Bowl. Kevin will be announcing his first Super Bowl for Westwood One alongside Boomer Esiason. James Lofton and Mark Malone are the sideline reporters and Jim Gray will be the pregame & halftime host for Westwood One’s coverage. In this interview, AA chats with Kevin about being one of the hardest working men in sports broadcasting, the differences in radio and TV broadcasts, announcing Super Bowl XLV, and the origin of “with no regard for human life!“
Q: You call so many different games, how are you able to work across platforms and prepare for multiple games in a week, especially this week with an NBA game and the Super Bowl?
A: It’s like when you’re in school going through finals and you have two tests on one day and three tests on another day. You’re working maybe three or four days in advance, but the closer you get to a specific game you zero in on that and throw yourself totally into that game. Now that I’m zeroing in on tomorrow’s game, I’m all NBA. Then when I wake up Friday morning to work my way back to Texas I’ll continue my football preparation and really intensify that.
Q: Many sports fans know you as a TV personality, but you have an extensive history on the radio side of broadcasting. How does doing play by play change from working TV as you will on TNT to radio for Westwood One’s coverage of the Super Bowl?
A: There is a bit of an innate mechanism in us in the business that can switch to a different gear and speed. On radio, you want to make sure you’re covering as much as you can before the snap. On TV, you’re more accenting the pictures. What you might do on a TV broadcast is point out a third receiver, an extra offensive tackle, or an extra defensive back. The job of the play by play guy on TV is to point out substitutions as they are going on, things that the average viewer might not notice coming off replay and looking at the screen for three to five seconds. With radio, you’re trying to point out where the QB is and who’s got the ball and tackle, more yard lines and gains.
On TV, while I might prepare 50 to 60 little stories to feed my analyst, on radio it is more making sure I’m as buttoned down as I can be with names, numbers, formations, and getting the nuts and bolts right. Where I focus more on leading my analyst on TV, on radio when the game starts it’s more of just a pure play by play call.
Q: You have a rapport with a lot of viewers and listeners because of your energetic style and your catch phrases. How did you come up with phrases like, “with no regard for human life?”
A: When I was doing the Timberwolves we had so many horrible seasons that we were trying to keep our attention and focus in like the seventieth game of the season, so to keep us more focused and keep it entertaining we used to screw around a little bit and make it entertaining for the fans.
Kevin Garnett was with the team and had a dunk in one game and he went up so ferociously and came down with such incredible force that the guys that were defending him truly backed up a step or two and said “Oh my God, what happened.” It just kind of came out, it wasn’t something that was planned, and I’ve only used it three times. The next time I used it was with Kobe in MSG and the last one was when LeBron came down on Kevin… unplanned and unscripted, and I don’t know if it’s that great of a phrase, but people have gotten a kick out of it since we’re in that video game era. It does speak to the ferocity of the dunk by those three guys and if it draws a picture in someone’s mind then I’ve accomplished something.
Actually, Doug Collins almost knocked me off my chair with the LeBron dunk because he was so amazed by it. Then, with the Kobe dunk at MSG that was unbelievable too and Danny Ainge pushed me because he could not believe what was going on. When my partner, who is one of the best ever to play the game is that excited, I’m thinking whoa, this is special.
Q: How did you develop your style of announcing?
A: To be quite honest, I don’t go into a game thinking “boy I’m going to get excited and show a lot of emotion and passion.” In my mind if I step back I would rather be like Summerall and Scott and some of those more distinguished voices. When I was growing up that’s what I envisioned. To be honest, I cringe more than I applaud when I listen back to my games. I go into every game hoping that I don’t go bananas and can stay right. So, it really is emotional and it is something that truly just comes naturally. I’m more of a fan. My dad was with the Cardinals and Packers and I’m such a fan and admire some of the players that I see and it comes out vocally and I get wrapped up. When I go into it though, I try to say to myself let’s make sure that you don’t begin this thing at eighty miles an hour.
Q:What’s your most memorable moment as an announcer and your favorite game that you’ve called?
A: I don’t know if I’ve got a favorite game, they’ve all had a degree of entertainment. I don’t know if I’ve had that moment because of what’s happened on the court or the field. I’ve never really done a game where I’ve had that kind of moment, like Gus for instance has had. I’ve done some enjoyable games – the Northern Iowa/Kansas game from last year. There was a kid from VCU that beat Duke on a last second shot and I said, “is this the dagger” and the kid made a shot on the move and that was big because it was a last second shot and it was Duke. I did some Chiefs games on radio and got to call Joe Montana and he was exciting to watch, but I don’t know if I’ve had any moments that really stand out.
Q: Is there any sporting event that you haven’t worked that you would like to do before your career is over?
A: I don’t really think so. What I think would be a lot of fun is college football and I don’t really have a chance because of my pro football schedule, but I do enjoy when CBS sends me to do college basketball after the NFL season is over. I enjoy that atmosphere and I’m thinking college football would be very similar to that. I think hockey would be incredibly hard, I listen to Mike Emrick and I’m in awe of how incredibly good he is. That’s the thing about this business, there are people like Mike that you shake your head at and say I wish I could do what he does so well. I listen to Marv and just have so much admiration for him as a broadcaster, or Al Michaels doing NFL on TV. Everybody that does their sports at the top level, it’s just like art.
Q: As a broadcaster, what are you expecting from the entire Super Bowl experience calling the game for Westwood One?
A: It’s the biggest game that we have and I’m just lucky enough to be there and I have to make sure to be focuesd. I’m just so excited to get this chance to do it and it’s going to be fun to work with Boomer who has worked a few Super Bowls before. My dad actually worked with the Packers for almost forty years and I was a ball boy for the Packers and grew up with the team. It doesn’t color how I feel about the broadcast but it does make it special. My dad and mom will be in Dallas and he was actually the one that hired Ted Thompson, so that makes it very special to share this wonderful moment with him.
Once the game starts I have to be locked in and ready to go. I don’t think I’ll be as nervous as much as I’ll be grateful. So many broadcasters have great careers but never get to do the big game. I’ve been lucky enough to do five Final Fours and now the Super Bowl on radio, it is very humbling. I think of all the incredible broadcasters that never get a chance to do this so I’m sure my thoughts will be to get organized and enjoy the process. I’ll keep the same routine and mindset to Monday Night Football and keep the routine I’ve done all season long.
Kevin was awesome to talk with and I have to thank him for taking the time to talk while actually boarding his plane to begin the trip to Los Angeles and the Westwood One staff for helping to arrange the interview. Westwood One’s coverage of the Super Bowl starts at 4 pm ET if you are seeking for an alternative to the Fox broadcast, they do a consistently great job with the NFL.