Sept. 10, 2009
At the conclusion of the 2009 football season, the existing press box, which dates to the 1950s, will be torn down. Over the last several decades, countless memorable moments have been witnessed from the nerve center of the stadium.
In honor of this last season with the proud, old press box, an on-going feature called "Memories From the Press Box" will run on MGoBlue.com and in each U-M football game program. Written by the individuals who witnessed these moments from above, "Memories" will offer a different perspective of the events many of us remember after seeing them in person or watching them on TV. In some cases, it's describing pre-game rituals, in many cases, it's a specific game or play that took their breath away. Sportscasters, former coaches, athletic department staff, University President Mary Sue Coleman, they are but a few of the contributors who will be featured weekly. We hope you enjoy it!
Where Else Would You Rather Be?
By FRANK BECKMANN / Michigan Football Radio Play-by-Play
As Press boxes go, Michigan Stadium has never boasted the most modern facilities, but I wouldn't trade my experiences there - sensory and personal - for anything else in my professional life over the last three decades.
Let me take you on a little journey through game day at the Big House press box.
THE ELEVATOR AND DOOR NUMBER 11
Game day begins with a trip up the tiny elevator which seems overcrowded when six people cram in. We rise up past the President's box level, to the regular press level where the door opens to allow the writers out and where you get your first taste of the history of Michigan Stadium.
On the wall, right across from the elevator, are the plaques representing the "Michigan Media Hall of Fame," and you feel the presence of the media giants who have worked up here - from Bob Ufer to Bill Flemming to Joe Falls to Sam Greene to Ty Tyson.
The doors close and we press the button labeled "radio" to get to the upper level and our perch in the home broadcast booth.
We turn left out the elevator door, climb a couple of steps, and just to the left is door number 11. That's all it says on the door, "11," but it doesn't begin to sum up what the booth represents.
You see, the home broadcast booth represents more than a work place and a perfect view of the field from my seat on the right side up front, directly over the 50-yard line behind the Michigan bench.
The booth represents a great responsibility that I have felt for all of my 28 years broadcasting Michigan football. It's a responsibility that was emphasized to me by one of the men who assumed the same seat and broadcast Michigan games for four decades, none other than Bob Ufer.
THE VOICE OF MICHIGAN FOOTBALL, BOB UFER
"Ufe" was struggling with cancer in 1981 and while he travelled to Michigan's opening game at Wisconsin that year, he wasn't going to be able to broadcast the game. That opener was to be my debut as the so called "Voice" of Michigan football.
I visited the legendary Ufe in his hotel room the day before that game to learn all I could about the Michigan team. As you'd expect from someone who bled Maize and Blue, Ufe was eager to share all he could about the team, about Coach Bo Schembechler, and about the Michigan tradition.
Part of that tradition was the role of the play-by-play man in describing the action for the legions of fans who followed on the radio the most successful college football program in history.
Ufe left me with a lasting challenge. "Those kids on the field prepare for each game like it's their last one," Ufe told me. "I owe it to them and all the fans to do the same thing and you'll do that tomorrow," he encouraged.
I knew then that this was more than just a play-by-play job. It was a legacy, and one that I've tried to carry on with every broadcast since that first one with Bob in the back of the booth, his words resonating in my mind.
THE RADIO BOOTH
That goal of tireless preparation is one that's shared by my broadcast partner and friend, Jim Brandstatter, who sits two seats to my left, on the other side of our statistician, Marty Halaas.
Our small booth gets a bit crammed with spotter Brett Kurily standing right behind us along with producer Susan Schramm. Our engineer, Tony Butler, sits on a riser above us and actually has the most space. But don't get me wrong. This is a welcome claustrophobia and our booth has the feeling of a family gathering with everyone committed to making our broadcasts the best representation of the action on the field that you can get without actually seeing the game.
But our booth is just a part of the overall press box experience. We walk down a few booths and share great football stories with legendary coaches.
When Bo Schembechler was living, I always wandered down to his booth a few doors away to study football 101 under one of the greatest coaches and best people the game has ever known.
Bo could always break the game down ahead of time and never hesitated to share his thoughts. Our sessions were invariably interrupted by a steady stream of admirers and well wishers who always paraded in just to shake Bo's hand and exchange greetings. It was a weekly love fest and I never tired of witnessing the admiration first hand.
Bo is gone, but that tradition lives on with other great coaches on our broadcast level. Now, I get to share some of that pregame time with Lloyd Carr, Gary Moeller and Jerry Hanlon, equally knowledgeable, equally loved by Michigan fans, and equally anxious to share their knowledge of that Michigan football tradition.
The best time of the year is October, when the trees of Ann Arbor begin blazing their fall colors. It's a glorious view above the rim of the stadium all around and I've never grown tired of soaking it in during the autumn months.
IT IS THE BEST OF TIMES, IT IS THE WORST OF TIMES
The worst part of game day is the wait, the anticipation for the players to exit the famed eastern tunnel, racing onto the field and each leaping to slap the M Club's Go Blue banner. If you listen to our broadcasts, you'll notice that Jim and I always remain silent during that tradition, allowing the band's rendition of The Victors and the crowd's enthusiasm to fill the airwaves. It's the only way to do justice to the moment.
We also make sure we carry the National Anthem, although Tony turns our microphones off because Jim and I sing that standard at the top of our lungs. I'm thankful to Tony for keeping the mics off because I can't carry a tune and an airing of my rendition would spoil Jim's sterling vocals.
Then the butterflies start as the captains meet with the officials and the game kicks off down below. For the next three hours or so, it's the most delightful time of the week, not even work, because we're following the action and sharing the story of another Michigan Saturday with all of the Wolverines' loyal fans.
If you're going to sit with us in the booth, get ready to experience the elements. We keep the huge window open regardless of the weather.
The worst we ever experienced was the Purdue game in November 1995 when NFL Hall of Famer Bob Griese joined us in the booth to watch his son, Brian, lead the Wolverines to a 5-0 win on a day that featured a game-long, driving sleet storm.
We couldn't keep our charts and papers dry or on the desktop because of the elements and strong wind, but Jim and I enjoyed every minute of the broadcast and felt like we were able to describe exactly what the players were going through because we had experienced just what they had, minus the hitting!
When the game ends, with a Michigan victory much more often than not, there's a feeling of satisfaction at having enjoyed yet another Saturday in the Big House.
The only exception is the last home game of the year, because of the finality of it and the realization that we won't be back at our favorite work location for another 10 months or so.
But I'm left every Saturday with a feeling of deep appreciation for how lucky I am to be able to do what I do, to be a small part of the more than century old tradition of Michigan football, at a venue that is revered throughout the land, and with the best seat in the house.
As Jim and I are fond of asking one another each and every week, "Where else would you rather be?"
Read more "Memories From the Press Box" in the Michigan football game program, available for purchase at home games and at the media relations office on Mondays following home contests. In this week's Michigan vs. Notre Dame program, read Beckmann's partner, Jim Brandstatter's memories from the press box as well as those of Wolverine editor, John Borton.
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