Though he remains on a quest to master soccer broadcasting, Gus Johnson’s biggest problems at the moment don’t involve that. Well, sort of.
“They pulled my passport today at the airport because they switched up the name on my passports,” Johnson said from London. I’ve been traveling with it forever. Now I’ve got to go to the American Embassy tomorrow at 8 a.m. and get a new passport.”
Johnson — a long time voice of college basketball and more recently Fox Sports 1’s lead play-by-play man for college football and Big East hoops — continues on his journey to conquer soccer. He will broadcast the FA Cup final, between Arsenal and Hull City, from Wembley tomorrow on Fox, before doing the same from Lisbon for the Champions League final next week. For Johnson, it’s all about perspective.
“I’m from the west side of Detroit, and never in my wildest dreams had I thought that I’d get paid to go watch a sport all around the world. Spain, Italy, Germany, England, Portugal… these places weren’t really on my bucket list. It’s just wonderful, but the travel can beat you up. It’s an embarrassment of riches, high class problems!”
Johnson calling the FA Cup Final probably makes as much sense as any soccer event: the past two years it’s featured a sort of David vs. Goliath matchup not unlike the NCAA Tournament upsets he would describe in years past, including Wigan Athletic’s upset of Manchester City last year. “Arsenal’s nervous, that’s the funny thing about it. They haven’t won a trophy in nine years. I just think if Hull can stay with them, it might get interesting, because the question is: will Arsenal tighten up?”
His life has definitely changed since taking on the gig. “I got soccer coming out of my pores,” he admits. “I’ve been on a such a soccer grind the past two, even three years. I watch about four or five games a week… I think I’ve watched about 10 games this week getting ready for Hull-Arsenal and Atletico-Real. I got off the plane when I called the last game from Munich, came home and the first thing I did was go watch Chelsea-Atletico.”
What’s next on his journey? Learning the women’s game. Johnson will take next year’s Champions League off to do research so he can call the Women’s World Cup in Canada in 2015, and will call qualifying from Cancun in October (UPDATE: After this interview was conducted, it was announced that Women’s World Cup qualifying for CONCACAF would be moved to the United States). He looks forward to taking that on, not only because he sees it as a separate challenge, but because he knows there’s a different standard to rise to.
“It’s a whole different sport,” he says, somewhat jokingly. “Same sport, but new players. I have to learn about the Alex Morgans of the world, which is a treat. Our American women are considered the best in the world, and I’ve got to be on that, and I’m looking forward to it.”
For now, however, Johnson continues to call the men’s game and do his homework. He won’t attend any of the World Cup in Brazil, as his bosses John Entz and Eric Shanks will, because that’s when he’ll be adding to his research.
Much can be doubted about Fox’s choice to bring Gus Johnson in as their lead soccer voice. One thing I noticed, however: whenever Gus is describing Europe’s — particularly England’s — best soccer voices… they don’t necessarily sound too far removed from the kind of work he does.
Though he says, “they’re calmer.” He also points out that “they’re eloquent, they use bold words, they can summarize what’s happened in the game in two seconds.” While he says that’s something American broadcasters normally don’t do… who usually comes closer to that than Gus Johnson in the big moments?
For Johnson, it’s part of a conscious effort to keep his career evolving and moving forward.
“I could have just stayed doing what I was doing. For me, I always want to know what’s next. I want to see what I can do and who I can be and how I can learn and how I can grow. I just want to get better, I want my mind to grow and I want my spirit to grow, and I think that calling this sport is the greatest challenge of my career.”