Mama mia, it’s Papa!
You have to have a bicoastal background like I do – or for some other odd reason, you’d have to be a fan of the New York Yankees and the Oakland Raiders – to see the analogy of Yankee radio man John Sterling and Raider radio man Greg Papa; both turn out to be equally buffoonish in their approaches to sports broadcasting.
During the preseason, Papa does simulcast radio-TV play-by-play announcing of Oakland Raider games. In the first preseason game, I was reminded of all his buffoonish tendencies.
Most notable is his steadfast ability to definitively tell us precisely what would’ve happened if something else hadn’t happened instead. Here are three examples from Raider preseason game one in Minnesota:
- Tight end Jonathan Murphy drops a pass on about the two yard line, surrounded by three Viking defenders. Papa declares that Murphy, “dropped a touchdown”. Well, it might have been a touchdown had he made the catch. He might have made it the additional two yards, or he might’ve been stood up by any or all of the Viking defenders that were around him. We’ll never know, but Papa somehow knew.
- A Raider defensive lineman came within about a yard of the Vikings quarterback before the quarterback threw a pass. Papa told us that the Raider defender, “almost had a ‘strip sack’.” Huh? Not just a sack, mind you; but a more specific “strip sack”? How could he possibly know precisely that – had the defender gotten there a second sooner, that he not only would’ve tackled the quarterback, but the ball would’ve come loose?
- Soon after, a raider cornerback dropped an interception, and Papa couldn’t just leave it at that, he had to go with the more specific, “he dropped a ‘pick six’.” Again, Papa knew that the cornerback not only would’ve caught the interception but would’ve proceeded to ramble about 40 yards for a touchdown.
Now that’s buffoonery. The key also is that there’s a tinge of hyperbole that’s always part of the mix – i.e., it’s always something “big” that almost happened. Papa also has the annoying tendency to make premature calls, his favorite being that a ball is “caught!” and then dropped by a receiver. Basically, as soon as a thrown football hits the hands of a receiver, he declares it is caught, many times to discover that in fact the ball was not caught. Someone needs to tell him that a reception actually occurs after a ball is handled by a receiver with two feet down in bounds; not as soon as it hits his hands. In other words, a ball, by definition, can’t be caught and then dropped – or if it is, that would be a fumble after a catch, not an incomplete pass.
Papa is also one of those football announcers who – as Phil Mushnick often cites – can’t see correlations between penalties and results. In this game, the Raiders completed a 16-yard pass for what would’ve been a first down, but the raider left tackle was called for holding. Papa told us that the holding call wiped out the first down, not understanding that – and I have to caution about knowing what would’ve happened because we don’t – if the Raider player had not held the Viking defender, we have no idea if the quarterback would’ve been able to complete the pass in the first place. So yes, if everything had happened the same way and the referee hadn’t thrown the flag, then it would’ve been a Raider first down. But you can’t definitely say that the Raider player guilty of the infraction was the reason the first down was erased.
In so many ways Papa is exactly like Yankee radio man John Sterling. Sterling is also gifted with premature home run calls as well as “caught-then-dropped” declarations (his eyes very often deceive him but his mouth rarely seems to wait until his eyes are sure of what happened).
Sterling is also adept (or inept) at the definitive “what would’ve happened if something else didn’t happen instead” proclamations. For example, “If the pitcher doesn’t touch that ground ball, that’s a double play.”
Yes, it doesn’t matter that the Yankee infield has struggled defensively all season long; Sterling still knows that a ball would’ve been cleanly fielded and thrown to second and then cleanly fielded again and thrown successfully to first – if the pitcher hadn’t touched it instead.
He also is guilty of telling us, for example, after a baserunner is caught stealing and the batter then hits a home run, that it would’ve scored 2 runs had not the baserunner been caught stealing first. Really? How does he know the pitcher would’ve thrown the same pitch with no runners on base? Or, a player is picked off third base and then the batter hits a flyball to the outfield; Sterling tells us it would’ve been a sac fly. Again, how does he know the pitcher would’ve thrown the same pitch he threw once he knew it was okay to give up a flyball with no one on third base?
He says these things which are dichotomous to his often-used adage, “You never know in baseball.” (Again, a Phil Mushnick reference.)
But one thing we do know is sportscasting buffoonery is rampant enough to see from East to West – and yet somehow the bicoastal buffoons manage to keep their jobs.