Monday, November 03, 2003

O, John Ward, Where Art Thou?

Tennessee beat Duke Saturday 23-6 for homecoming. Boring game, team not good, yadda yadda yadda - I'll let others comment on the Vols themselves, but there's another facet of the UT game-day experience that bears some close scrutiny.

Now it's not my style to criticize, especially when the object of criticism is out of my field, but the current University of Tennessee football radio host, Bob Kesling, needs to have some serious reconsideration of his abilities as a play-by-play announcer.

Kesling, while a good sportscaster and speaker, clearly has deficiencies when it comes to calling a football game. In Saturday's game, for instance:
  • His descriptions of the plays lack accuracy. Several times he would say something similar to, "He's hit at the line and slides forward for a couple of yards", when in reality the running back got 6-7 yards. You're expecting 2nd down and 8, and all of a suddent it's actually 2nd and 3. Big difference when you're trying to follow the image in your head.

  • This didn't happen as much last night but it's been a big problem since he first started five years ago - getting the name of the running back or receiver wrong. Now I know it's tough sometimes to see the number of the ball-carrier in the piles of humanity but the Vol Network has spotters that are supposed to help him with that sort of thing. Worse is when the player is in plain sight, such as running in the open field. If #11 James Banks catches the ball and is sprinting toward the end zone, it's confusing and unfair to the players to hear Kesling give another player credit for the catch/run. Even when it's obvious who's got the ball, he doesn't correct himself until much too late.

  • After Tennessee went up 16-6 in the 4th quarter, numerous times he said the score was 16-10 (apparently he knew in his head there was 10-point lead and misspoke). Of course, there's a big difference in football between a 10-point lead and a 6-point lead, and when the game is only on the radio without the benefit of a TV or scoreboard in front of you, it's misleading. Again, he never actually corrected himself or made it plain he had gotten the score wrong.

    As I said above, Kesling has spotters that feed him names and statistics from time to time. You'd think that they would also give him a hand when there's been a glaring error, such as a consistently incorrect score. The only answer I can think of is that he's very strict about not being corrected and has created an atmosphere of "the big guy's always right" in the Press Box. That doesn't quite follow his public image of an affable, fairly genial kind of sports guy so it's difficult to reconcile, but I don't know how else to explain.
There are other examples, but it would be a bit excessive to sit with pen and paper and try to catch them all. And it's not the worst thing in the world, but when you follow a favorite sports team you'd like to expect the play-by-play man to be accurate at least 95% of the time. But Bob is not, unfortunately.

The ghost of the Voice of the Vols, John Ward, looms heavily over UT radio broadcasts (well, not literally - Ward's still very much alive) and it's impossible to measure up to such a legend. Trying to follow a legendary coach or actor is always difficult and you are never able to satisfy everyone. I've always respected Bob Kesling as a sportscaster and a local personality, but it's just getting difficult to listen to the game on the radio, when you can't be confident that what you're hearing is what's actually going on down on the field. And that's a shame.

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